Enter the World of Transportation for Mega-Sport Events

Enter the World of Transportation for Mega-Sport Events

Sengerio caught up with the industry leader and expert Manuel Reimann to learn about what it takes to organize transportation for some of the world’s largest sporting events.

Hosting a mega-sport event is a costly endeavor that has a short duration. Yet cities all around the world compete to host them. Hosting such an event draws a global audience, bringing in a huge economic boost and uniting the local community.

Cities come forward during the initial bidding process to propose the best of what they have to host an event whose legacy is going to remain written in the history books.

At the heart of these proposals is a city’s transportation strategy that plays a fundamental role during events so that the thousands, if not millions, of people — from athletes and the media to spectators — can get to and from the venue.

This strategy typically builds upon a city’s public transportation system to prove just how efficiently a potential host is going to accommodate the sharp increase of people during the event, with questions typically arising as to how the event will affect local traffic, the local public transit system and what measures are to be implemented to reduce the background traffic.

So what does it take to put together a successful transportation plan for a large event? To learn more, Sengerio had the pleasure of speaking with Manuel Reimann, a leader in Strategic Planning, Event Operations and Project Management.

Manuel Reimann
Manuel Reimann leader in Strategic Planning, Event Operations and Project Management.

Manuel holds an impressive portfolio of managing and planning transportation for some of the world’s largest and most famous sports events, including the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup. More recently, Manuel was the transportation consultant for the 2023 Ryder Cup held in Rome.

Source: Manuel Reimann via LinkedIn.

Who Gets What: Budget-Juggling and Defining Service Levels

To kick things off, the selected city signs a hosting agreement following the bidding process that effectively binds it to the organizer and specifies the service levels that are to be implemented during the event. The service levels are the essence of planning and establish what each and every client of the event receives.

By referring to the hosting agreement as a starting point, the exhaustive task of organizing a large event begins to be divided up into smaller, more manageable ‘chunks’ — transport and logistics being one of them. Each area is managed by a planning committee that makes the decisions regarding the service levels, budget, policies and procedures.

There are many groups of people who attend an event for different reasons, each with their own respective priority at the event. Manuel described the best way to strategize each group and determine their priority is via a client pyramid.

In a client pyramid, an event’s President and Executive Committee (ExCo) members sit at the top with the Athletes/Teams just below. Media and Broadcast represents another important category because event organizers want to ensure complete coverage of what’s happening and keep the event in a positive light. Towards the base of the pyramid are the numerous spectators who will be attending the event.

When it comes to managing each group of the pyramid, Manuel explained that there isn’t one particular group of the pyramid that’s more challenging to cater for than the others. One important thing to consider, however, is that each group requires a different means of accessing the venue.

Pyramid chart ofclient-related categories
A pyramid chart representing the different client-related categories of a mega-sport event. Image courtesy of Manuel Reimann.

“Once we have an understanding of the client pyramid we can then begin mapping the venue to identify the different areas we can access to use for transport services and start to attribute the entrance area to the site according to the priority.

Priority is given to the members higher up in the pyramid, such as the athletes, who are transported directly into the venue site. Important guests also have access very close to the venue’s vicinity. Whereas the spectators may arrive slightly further away from the venue entrance and be required to walk to the site. The media and sponsors, on the other hand, represent a particular case because the event organizers strive to keep a good reputation of the event in the public’s eyes so it’s important to offer an especially accommodating service to the media.”

Another important element to consider when it comes to service management is the prediction of how many people are going to be at the event. Planners often have to navigate in the dark when it comes to anticipating the number of guests attending an event.

While the planning committee has a more accurate number of how many athletes are participating, given that they’re pre-registered for the event, when it comes to guests and spectators, planners are often faced with a big question mark.

“This is a question nobody ever knows the exact answer to. I remember for one event, we were told that the Executive Committee members and their guests could range anywhere between 100 to 2,000. This makes the planning more difficult and consequently requires a more elaborate contingency plan which ultimately bumps up the budget.”

Piecing Together a Transport Model

Once organizers have an idea of how many people intend on traveling to the event and by what means, they can start putting together the transportation model.

The foundation of such a model is based primarily on the hosting city’s public transport system and requires a strict collaboration between the event organizer and the hosting city to implement the eventual changes to accommodate the event.

For the 2023 Ryder Cup held in Rome, for example, the Italian Golf Federation (IGF) worked alongside the Municipality of Rome and the Lazio Region to negotiate the eventual transport model to be put in place. After considering the accessibility options to the venue along with the expected number of people heading to the event, more trains were added to the main metro line. This included more services during the peak times before the event opened each day.

Metro station full of people

A contingency plan is put in place to anticipate eventual disruptions to the transport model and provides a backup plan to avoid eventual problems while protecting the public’s safety.

If a problem had arisen, for example, on Rome’s main metro line that brought people to the Ryder Cup, the backup plan would have been to use another line which left people some distance from the venue, meaning that additional resources would have to be reallocated to the metro station to bring people from there to the event.

Alternatively, dedicated car parks for the event had been put in place to accommodate approximately 60% of the spectators. However, with a greater number of spectators arriving by car would ultimately have had a knock-on effect on local traffic levels. Without forgetting, of course, that with the majority of spectators arriving from foreign countries, they would have had to rent a car in order to reach the event.

Realizing the Model: Bringing Operations into the Equation

With the transport model set and the service levels and budget are clearly defined, the next stop is procurement.

Bus operations include transport providers that are either recruited via advertisements or they are approached directly by a planning committee. The latter, of course, comes down to the reputation of a transport company’s experience in such events.

Depending on the size of a bus operator’s fleet, a large sport event typically relies on several providers to meet the demand of people needing transportation. There are different solutions when it comes to managing these operations. One solution is to introduce a temporary association of companies that acts as the central body to coordinate the many different services, similar to the role of a broker. Another solution is to identify one of the transport providers who then assumes a leadership role in coordinating the services with other providers.

Fleet of parked buses
Li-ion battery electric buses for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games parked at a newly built electric bus charging station.

During the interview, Manuel pointed out that the size of transport companies can differ quite a lot depending on the city, which ultimately affects the complexity of managing the eventual services.

For example, during the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome, the size of the transport companies was relatively small, meaning that many different companies were brought in to meet the demand for the event. Consequently this meant there needed to be a more elaborate management system between the transport providers to ensure they knew where and when they’re needed.

Whereas during the FIFA World Cup held in Russia in 2018, the local organizing committee only needed a couple of transport providers because this couple of transport companies could provide hundreds of their own vehicles to meet the demands of the event.

Bus driving in Moscow
One of the big white city buses that traveled through the streets of Moscow and brought football fans during the 2018 World Cup.

A Transport Model & Operations Are Only as Strong as the Workforce

In addition to the operational side, organizers usually have to consider the accommodation of the drivers during these events. Despite the importance of driver accommodation, especially given that many drivers come from different areas other than the event, this aspect is often overlooked and even left out when the budget is being distributed. As Manuel explains

“A lot of mistakes can happen during the acquisition process if it isn’t carefully thought through. Quite often the planning committee doesn’t want to use a budget that’s too hefty so it tightens its fists and prefers to direct the budget to other aspects, overlooking the necessity of accommodation for the bus drivers.

Then we arrive at the moment when we realize there’s no accommodation for any of the drivers and everybody is left scratching their heads!”

As well as accommodation, the conditions and expectations of the drivers are to be clearly defined in their contracts, including the guaranteed minimum pay.

Any slight mishap or unspecified condition in a contract can bring about unwanted surprises for planning managers. Manuel put light on the fact that he is more than familiar with these types of scenarios —

“I had an experience where the local organizing committee had contracted a fleet of rental cars with drivers. These transport providers were getting a considerable amount of daily money from the event owner — I remember it being really expensive. Then, when the event started, some of these drivers never showed up! From the airport to the city center, there wasn’t a single car. “How is it possible?” — I thought.

After investigating, we noticed that in the original contracts the minimum pay for the drivers hadn’t been specified. In the end, what happened was that these drivers pocketed the money and used our cars to do their own private taxi services.”

Incentivizing drivers can range anywhere from providing uniforms to make them feel part of the event, to rewarding good services by giving bonuses to the transport provider.

“The quality of a transport provider is observed via key performance indicators, which usually comes down to punctuality, and if a transport provider meets a satisfaction rate within the pre established margins, they receive a bonus.”


Planning and organizing transportation for world’s largest sports events is always going to be challenging. Events of such grand scale are composed of many interdependent systems that ultimately render each event unique in its characteristics and what it has to offer.

Similar to a conductor whose fine ear recognizes that every section of his orchestra is playing in tune, transportation strategists and planners of large events are masters of harmonizing each area of a transport model to ensure that there’s an overall symphony.

Sengerio would like to thank Manuel Reimann for sharing his experience as an expert of the sector and for shining a light on the complexity of strategic planning.

Scott Frankland

Scott Frankland is Head of Content at Sengerio. His spirit of inquiry leads him to the world of transportation and mobility to connect with the industry’s leading experts and shine a light on the hot topics.