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Event Strategy, Event Technology

Accreditation Management: An Ultimate Guide for Sports Events

by Erin Chesterton
on January 5, 2022
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No matter your live event's location or size, a strong accreditation management process is a must. The ramifications of this process when done poorly, are grave. It takes just one person with the wrong access to have a major impact on the event as a whole. But when done well, accreditation can bring a new level of clarity, cost-savings and peace of mind to event operations teams as a whole.

With COVID still impacting the comeback of sports events, credentialing managers are under more pressure than ever before to uphold accurate data and systems that promote safety and security of their people. In this article, we'll deep dive into all things accreditation management—what it is, who's involved, what to look for in a system and steps for success to implement a winning strategy for your next event.

Accreditation Management: Quick Definitions

Before diving into the accreditation management process as a whole, let’s quickly define some of the key terms and players involved to help lay the framework.

What is Accreditation?

In its most simple definition, accreditation refers to the process by which someone is identified and recognized as having a particular status at an event. Also referred to as credentialing, it helps to control and restrict access across the event and provide information to staff about those who have access. Whether, VIPs, staff, vendors, contractors, press, or media—accreditation keeps people organized and ensures the right people have the right access to the right areas at the right time—in turn helping promote safety and security of the event.

What are Credentials?

Credentials are the identification tags used to establish and validate a specific person’s identity in the accreditation process. Credentials serve as the physical source of proof that the people surrounding your event are who you say they are. Credentials include unique identifiers like name, photograph and zone which are connected to the access within the event. Based on a person’s unique credential, they are assigned different levels of access and permissions across the event. 

In sports events, credentials are also commonly referred to as badges or passes and they can come in different formats. Below are the most common types of credentials sports events issue:

  • Badges/Laminates 
  • Wristbands
  • Supplemental Wristbands 
  • Parking Passes 
  • RFID 
  • VIP Passes
  • Media Passes

What is Accreditation Management? 

Accreditation management (also called credential management) is the process by which information is consolidated, managed and approved in order to get people in and out of any event. It establishes identity for everyone on-site who is not a ticket purchasing attendee by associating a level of access to promote safety and security.

This spans VIPs, sponsors, vendors, production staff, security, press, media, volunteers, assets, and equipment. Credential management helps event organizers designate the proper zones to provide appropriate access to staff, media, players, and personnel. 

Who is Involved in the Accreditation Management Process?

When it comes to overseeing the accreditation process, there are typically a few main players involved. For most organizations the process is either run completely under one department, but some organizations may have the work distributed cross-departmentally.

  • Credentials Manager/Accreditation Manager - Credential managers (also called accreditation managers) are responsible for executing the entire database and accreditation process by serving as the main point of contact to issue, manage and approve all credentials. Typically they are taking action and are more hands-on and in the system to manage, issue and approve the entire process.
  • Credentials Director - Credential directors have similar responsibilities to credential managers, but typically oversees them by providing quality controls, implementing protocols and operational oversights over the process and are not as directly involved in managing the accreditation process, but overseeing it. 
  • Director of Ticketing - The Director of Ticketing may execute on credentials, but typically has responsibilities ranging wider across the event. They oversee ticket sales, train and hire staff, resolve customer complaints, oversee box office operations and manage inventory and reporting.
  • Box Office Manager - The Box Office Manage typically sits under the Director of Ticketing and is responsible for overseeing ticket prices, sales, orders, arrangements, schedules and subscriptions of the box office. Job duties include managing the box office staff members, accounting for ticket transactions, and ensuring the proper operation of the venue.

Why is Accreditation Management Important?

Credential managers need systems to manage massive amounts of data about the people surrounding their event and a means to also identify their relationship to the event (i.e. VIP, athlete, staff, volunteer, etc.)

Credential management systems have evolved to become fundamental in validating people’s identity and maintaining health and safety measures in a scalable and more efficient way. Credential management tools help automate and streamline the complex and fragmented processes that come when issuing and managing credentials across the event. When run properly a holistic credential management system can bring operations teams:

1. Enhanced Security - Advancing requires a clear picture of your status with each group and individual involved with your event setup and eliminates room for errors or forgery when assigning zones, managing equipment or issuing credentials.

2. Increased Time Savings - Event teams will gain back hours in their day by eliminating the time spent tab switching across multiple spreadsheets and digging through their inboxes to track down critical information. 

3. More Flexibility & Mobility -  Live events are constantly in motion, and you need systems that can support your operations on-the-go. Credential management tools keep you on track and focused at the task on hand, giving you the flexibility to confidently make critical and informed decisions anytime, anywhere. 

4. Accurate, Real-Time Communication - A credential management system allows you to track tasks in real-time to get notifications on progress or completion, approval directly, and more. 

5. Easier Permissions & Controls - While spreadsheets or Airtable allow you to spread information far and wide, they make it difficult to drill down into specific permissions to uphold the security of your event operations and access controls.

With everything changing for the live events industry day by day, it’s important for credential managers to consider new systems to eliminate multiple platforms and the manual, error-prone tasks that come when managing your event's credentials.

The State of Credential Management in Sports Event Operations

No event is static and it’s important that credentials do not stay static. Yet many event operations are still leveraging outdated tools like spreadsheets to run their accreditation management process. While spreadsheets are low cost and flexible they often lack the permissions, controls and real-time data needed to empower teams to stay on-the-go and operate from crystal-clear visibility. 

Any credential manager knows the information can regularly change or expire—and after a year like 2021, this has never rung more true. Because continuous edits and updates must occur system wide, managing and issuing credentials has only become more difficult.

Here's what what Chad Ladov, Security Expert and Founder at Unified Command says about the old way of advancing, and why now is the time to rethink your approach:

“Spreadsheets, Google forms, old databases and legacy software aren’t cutting it any longer. If you can’t get it organized in advance of the event, then there is no chance you are going to have a credentialing system that is going to provide real access control at the event.”

creds roundtable

These shortcomings, coupled with elevated health and safety challenges presented in the aftermath of the pandemic, put more pressure on sports event teams to uphold stronger access controls and security measures in their credentials plan. 2021 proved that "because we've always done it this way" isn't a strategy that stands the test of time and event operations teams have an opportunity to re-evaluate the why behind everything they are doing. Here's what Evan Gross, Database & RFID Manager at Outside Lands says about the road ahead:

"There's a long standing practice (in credential management) of 'what they got last year, they get that this year,' but this year that same method didn't apply. It was a much needed new approach to re-evaluate what people actually need from a credential standpoint, and why." 

The 6 Phases of Effective Credential Management

Now that you understand the shortcomings of the current accreditation landscape today and  benefits of adopting a centralized system, let’s explore the frameworks you need to bring the right infrastructure to your event. When setting up your accreditation process any system, it’s important to keep these 6 phases in mind:

Phase 1.  Access Point & Credential Setup

The first step in any effective accreditation process starts by understanding the ecosystem of your event. That means the people, places and access points involved. Here's how Rebecca Throne, Director of Ticketing, Burning Man & Black Rock City approaches the accreditation process:

"View your event from a holistic perspective first. Look at the entire picture and treat it like an ecosystem so you can understand how the different sectors impact and relate to each other. If you are designing the segments in a vacuum, you may end up with one segment that’s at odds with the other functions."

First, determine how many different access points you will have at your event. Below are different examples of access points you may encounter:

  • VIP Areas
  • Parking Passes
  • ADA Access
  • Vehicle Access
  • All Access
  • Field Access
  • Daily Passes
  • Back of House 
  • Front of House

Once your access points are mapped out, you need to define what you want your credentials to look like and how you want to deliver them, which can range vastly from event to event. When determining the look of your credentials and what to include, always consider function over form. When it comes to the type of credential to create, sports events can choose from the following options:

  • RFID badges or wristbands
  • Bar codes for manual scanning
  • Holograms
  • Printed badges or lanyard
  • Custom wristbands
  • Simple colored wristbands

Phase 2. Manage Your Permissions & Approvals

By clearly mapping out your access points and determining your levels of credentials, the process of managing permissions becomes a breeze. Every single person associated with your event should have a unique level of permission associated. When it comes to approvals, make sure you have a select few team members, managing the process. The fewer final approvers you have, the more smoothly your process with run as a whole.

Phase 3. Issue & Collect Your Credentials

Once you’ve determined the type of credentials you need to issue, the information you’ll require from your groups and the technology you’ll use to distribute them, you need to begin the issuance process.

It’s important to give yourself plenty of time for this process (at a minimum two months) but given the volatility of events post-pandemic, the more lead time you give your people, the better. It’s important that the system you choose has the ability to capture all of the information you need to append to the credential (headshot, vaccination card, proof of employment, etc.)

Organize & send out communication to all of their constituents who they are credentialing in order to collect any additional details to make sure they credential the right person.

Phase 4. Streamline & Automate Your Communications

Effective communication is at the heart of any effective accreditation process. Groups like VIPs and sponsors can be notorious for providing critical information or updates at the last minute that change accommodations, so the more foresight you can have and proactive communication the better. Here's what Evan Gross, Database & RFID Manager @ Outside Lands Festival says about the need for clear communication in credentials:

“One of the biggest things I realized in 2021 is the importance of strategic and efficient communication—because things were changing so quickly and we needed to provide updates to internal staff, to vendors coming to help us produce the event. We needed an efficient system to communicate the changes that were happening on almost a daily basis. Information was constantly changing and evolving."

Start by mapping out key dates for items to be delivered and work backwards to create your communication calendar. Establish deadlines and weave in emails, tasks and reminders to ensure everyone is reached out to in a timely manner.

By investing in a tool that supports email templates and automation, you can set up simple steps that keep tabs on outstanding requests for information and trigger follow ups instantly. Centralizing and streamlining these communications can remove hours of needless project management work off your plate and make your people self-sufficient in the process.

Phase 5. Fulfill & Print Your Credentials

Perhaps one of the most challenging (and stressful) aspects of the process—fulfilling and printing the credentials. You need to ensure every single detail is locked down and accurate and with this often comes a mad dash for last minute approvals or requests. To avoid these headaches, staying organized under one source of truth is crucial for a smooth fulfillment process. 

During fulfillment process, the credentialing manager gathers all approved credentials and gets them prepped for distribution (whether through printing or RFID).  For distribution, you can either mail ahead of time or have them ready for pick up on-site.

During this point in the process, you will also want to set up your on-site access controls flow (i.e. set up your box office, establish key zones and access points and set up any integrations you may need for successful printing of the credentials. A few printing providers that work best in the sports space include Populous, ID&C, and PDC. 

Phase 6. Monitor Your Database & Setup Reporting

As the final phase of the credential management process, it is critical to implement a sound system to report on the progress of the accreditation for your people. This is where you have an opportunity to begin to tie value back into the way your team is operating. 

This gives you an opportunity to prevent delays or discrepancies before they occur and give your team a centralized system of record to keep tabs on the onboarding and fulfillment of credentials. 

With supply chain driving up costs for your operational budgets more than ever, taking time to develop reporting at your expenses and where you can become more strategic is worth the investment of time.

  • Are you operating from past benchmarks, or starting new each year?
  • How much do wasted meals cost your operations?
  • What are you spending on extra equipment or last minute add-ons?

    By keeping tabs on this throughout the entire event, you'll begin to establish data points you can refer back to to improve your planning in the future. 

Choosing the Right Sports Accreditation Platform: Top 6 Questions to Ask

Working with credential managers from organizations and events of all sizes, we get a lot of questions about what to look for in platform. We’ve compiled the top six questions anyone investing in a system should ask when evaluating accreditation management solutions.

1. Can we manage requests?

Clear and constant communication is essential for any credential manager, and the platform you choose needs to have the ability to intake and aggregate new requests in an orderly and timely manner. A comprehensive platform can eliminate email, team chat tools, spreadsheets and SMS and consolidate it all under one system of record to keep everything organized.

2. What does the approval process look like?

Make sure you have a system that helps you visualize the map the flow of the event with dashboards that aggregate all submissions and track approvals in one central location. You need to ensure the system allows for different levels of permissions to be set across your users. This helps safeguard the process and gives your team visibility into who makes changes and when.

3. Can we fulfill and issue in the system?

Finding a system that both fulfills and issues credentials will save you countless hours during the often overwhelming process of issuance and pickup. Rather than tracking multiple tabs of spreadsheets, a credential management system can help you set statuses as issued or picked up and give visibility across the entire event.

4. Can we design and print custom badges?

Badge creation and printing is by far one of the biggest pain points for anyone in the credential management space. The need for a flexible system that allows for custom design with simple drag and drop functionality is essential. Finding a provider that allows you to design, manage and print under one roof is critical, so make sure to ask about integrations upfront to save a headache in the long run.

5. Do we have built in email and communication?

Anyone in credentialing knows timely and accurate communication is key for success. The right platform should provide email and SMS tools that allow for automation so you can save time shuffling through inboxes, emails threads and team chats with outdated information. These real-time channels ensure you have crystal-clear communication across your people and groups.

6. What does the reporting look like?

Credential managers are used to operating with data blind spots as a result of fragmented technology and data. The right credential management software will have data insights built in to give managers data points to help them more effectively do their jobs. At a minimum you need a system that has the ability to report on the following data points on your event credentials:

  • What was issued?
  • What has been fulfilled?
  • What’s been approved?
  • What is outstanding?

Lennd—the Leader in Accreditation Management for Sports Events

The future of accreditation is coming and the old days operating across multiple systems, disjointed data and outdated spreadsheets will soon be a thing of the past. By investing in one centralized credential management system you can double down on security while providing your people one seamless experience that helps you stay organized and makes them self sufficient. 

cred-roundtabe

While credentialing managers may feel bogged down by new problems presented by the challenging landscape post-pandemic, now is the time to focus on solutions, as Nick Schling, Director of Operations at the Farmer's Insurance Open notes:

"With the lapse in events it gave us a pause and the ability to determine what worked but ask if there’s a better way to do it. I've seen a greater adoption of technology and the need for a structured system to operate by is in higher demand. I think initially people thought the digital way would be hard for people to accept and comply with, but that hasn't been the case."

Lennd's credential management platform helps time-strapped teams get more done with features to help them:

  • Centralize requests, approvals and management
  • Streamline operations and maintain security
  • Authenticate, authorize and account for everything in one system
  • Send emails and SMS to key groups and people
  • Create email templates to easily send repeated emails
  • Track what has been sent and who has received it
  • Accept payment for approved requests and orders
  • Generate on-brand event badges for your credential applicants
  • Print your badges on-site or pre-event and take photos for new attendees on the spot
  • Unlock data insights you need to make profitable decisions to help you scale, year over year

Discover why some of the world's leading events including The PGA, Outside Lands, The NFL, Freeman and Electric Zoo trust Lennd's credential management platform as their event's source of truth. 

About Lennd

Lennd is a technology company that builds infrastructure to help bring events of every size to life. From small music festivals to major conferences, sports gatherings and everything in between—event leaders across the globe trust our software to manage their event operations and provide their people with one streamlined experience.

Lennd's powerful event portal is trusted by some of the world's leading events, including Rolling Loud, The PGA, Outside Lands, The NFL, Freeman, and more. 

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