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People profile: Roger Woodall

Founder, Bournemouth 7s Festival

Published in Sports Management 2019 issue 2
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Roger Woodall launched the Bournemouth 7s Festival in 2008
Roger Woodall launched the Bournemouth 7s Festival in 2008

Can you tell us a bit about your background before starting the festival?
I was a PE and Sports Science student who graduated from Loughborough University in 2000. During this time I played rugby union for Leicester Tigers Academy.

In my final year at university, I saw an opportunity to throw weekly student parties in the local nightclub on Wednesday nights. These parties massively took off and I made the decision to quit playing rugby at the early age of just 23.

At my peak I was throwing 12 parties in nightclubs each week, up and down the UK. I did this for ten years.

How did the Bournemouth 7s Festival come about?
I could see that for the students coming to my parties, everything revolved around sport and team culture, and I really homed in on that. I saw a gap in the market for a British Festival that involved playing sport during the day and throwing a massive party in the evening.

I was well connected with a lot of the England rugby boys, and I knew how to promote and throw a party. I decided to create a unique sport and music event that would take team sports tours to a different level by combining them with a music festival. In 2008, age 31, I launched Bournemouth 7s Festival.

Can you explain the festival’s core concept?
By day, over 400 rugby, netball, dodgeball, hockey and volleyball teams compete in a range of elite and social sports tournaments across the 65 acre festival site.

By night, the festival offers 12 beautifully themed arenas with a truly unique festival atmosphere inspired by the sporting audience and created by a host of 40 live bands and DJs.

It’s a party for people who love sport, fun and music – I’ve basically created something that I personally would love to go to.

How do people get involved in the sport side of the festival?
Simply by entering a team into one of the sports available. There’s rugby, netball, hockey, dodgeball and volleyball. Select your sport and the cup event you’d like to enter. Choose your team mates. Tell us your team name and number of players and you’re in.

You pay a price per team member and you can come for the day or camp for the weekend, as if on a sports tour.

You can also upgrade to VIP or VVIP & Glamping, which has become really popular.

In what ways has the festival evolved since you started it?
It’s gone from 4,000 people in 2008 to 30,000 people in 2019. In the beginning it was largely based around rugby, but we wanted to attract more women, so we later introduced netball. This was the best move we ever made as it took off massively with the female crowd.

The festival soon caught the attention of the general public, as word was flying around that it was one hell of a party and, even better, it was on a bank holiday weekend!

Every year we make the festival bigger and better, investing heavily in new festival arenas. We’re always looking at taking it to a whole new level to keep our fans excited and wanting more year on year.

What challenges have you had to deal with?
In 2008, when we first started, with team entries coming through quicker than anticipated, the size of the festival was quickly growing and the costs of the festival were triple what I was expecting.

It was the start of the recession in 2008, banks were being extremely cautious with lending and they saw a new festival as a big risk. Sponsors weren’t throwing money about and I ran out of money six months before the first festival and had to make the difficult decision to remortgage my home.

I honestly thought it was going to cost £100k in year one, but it ended up costing £300k, which put us under huge pressure. It was a massive gamble and looking back today I’m so glad the risk paid off.

What are your future plans for the festival?
We will continue to be considered and strategic in our growth plan and protect what we have right now. We don’t want to change how the festival feels and it’s really important to us that the sport focus remains.

We’re keen on forging even more links with world class brands who want to showcase themselves at a world-leading sports-focused festival.

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