Leach branding at World Cup 2019

Bringing an iconic sporting venue to life

Dressing an iconic venue is no problem for the graphic display specialists at Leach, with brands ranging from Siemens and The Royal Mint, to HSBC and the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Centre, among their client roster. Every brief is different, but the objective is often the same – to deliver a wow factor environment for the people who will use the space.

But how do the challenges vary when bringing a televised sporting venue to life? What key considerations must be made to ensure a visually impactful, on-brand backdrop? And can the reuse of graphics be ensured, even in an unpredictable all-weather environment?

Tom Foster, head of projects at Leach, offers his thoughts…

When we were first approached by British Canoeing regarding the dressing of their upcoming competition venues, our eyes lit up. Like this sporting giant, we share a passion for innovation, and knew we could draw upon our 125-year-history of engaging imaginations, to bring the spectator experience to life.

The brief was clear, yet complex. The ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup would take place at the London 2012 Games legacy venue – the Lee Valley White Water Centre – in the summer of 2019. We would need to manufacture and install more than 1200sqm of bespoke external graphics that would adorn the main entrance and buildings, wayfinding across the site, course-side branding, and the ‘kiss and cry’ area on the finish line.

A total of 400 graphics including a 6m x 2.5m lightbox that would illuminate the podium backdrop, where medallists would be presented their prize for each canoe slalom sprint.

To understand the role that each individual graphic played in the bigger event picture, we visited the venue to locate the key positioning of materials and better anticipate the impact of our site-wide installation. We did this with seven months to spare, but the more lead-time the better for such a surveying exercise.

This also enabled us to get closer to the client and better comprehend the key deliverables of the project.

Whilst the event wouldn’t take place in the dark, we knew the careful introduction of lighting would add an extra dimension to the visuals. For instance, the illuminated podium went on to provide a real showpiece, with crystal clear branding seen across all media outlets, and the introduction of more backlit graphics is now being considered for future competitions. The visual impact of illumination should not be underestimated and whilst additional budget is usually required, high definition, reusable lightboxes no longer cost the earth.

Everything had to be weather-proof to withstand the pressures of the British climate and ensure reusability for the upcoming ECA Canoe Slalom European Championships in May 2020, for example.

We also needed to be mindful of the commercial role of the graphics. The majority would act as a promotional mechanism for the event’s partners, including headline sponsor Jaffa. Maximum exposure for both on-site spectators and the public watching the televised event in their homes, was paramount. Alongside visual impact we also had to ensure every individual sponsor’s brand guidelines were upheld, whilst ensuring a congruent, unified look and feel, in-keeping with the image of the event itself.

Artwork deadlines that are normally subject to the approval of a small handful of people, must therefore factor in the involvement of far more parties on a project such as this. Recommended timescales of course vary from one assignment to the next, but confirmation of all assets three months ahead of production feels like a suitable target to work towards.

The installation of venue graphics likewise requires meticulous planning, particularly if working around other stakeholders. For this project, for example, we had to be careful not to disturb athletes’ training time, and site-specific considerations also had to be incorporated. Some graphics needed to sit on the course’s block toppers, for instance, so the water flow had to be turned off to ensure everything was in place.

Naturally, it isn’t possible to plan for everything. With this project, rainfall meant it was difficult to affix vinyl directly to the slalom ramp’s surface, but installation teams almost come to expect the unexpected, which emphasises the importance of working with experienced professionals who are able to adapt, react and problem solve in real-time.

We also had to be on-site to dismantle all graphics before the venue re-opened to the general public the next day, ensuring they were carefully removed and packed for reuse next spring.

The event’s partners commented that they were delighted with their brands’ exposure, with the dressing of the venue being the ‘best ever’. But those of us in the creative industries always have an eye on ‘what’s next’, and ideas have already surfaced regarding how to deliver an even bigger wow factor for the May competition. Encouraging the flow of people around the site and driving greater spectator interaction is one of our key strands of thought at present, for instance, as is how to enhance the VIP experience.

But for now, we toast what is one of the UK’s most rapidly-emerging sports and an extremely exciting event to have been involved in – even if we are already planning the next one!