Peter and Dianne McDermott head a team of enthusiasts at Vintage Sport and Leisure – the company behind the Golden Oldies festivals and numerous other events. They could be retired, but they’re having way too much fun.
It’s funny how your life can suddenly veer off in a totally unexpected direction.
It happened to Peter and Dianne McDermott.
There they were living the quiet life in the seaside town of Tairua, on the Coromandel.
Dianne had retired from her food business. Peter was doing a little part-time consulting for the sports industry after a successful career in business, sporting management and administration – including five years as chairman of New Zealand Cricket, co-chair of the 1992 Cricket World Cup, and chairman of Life Saving Bay of Plenty.
Life was good – until they started getting approached by New Zealand cricketers unhappy with the destinations being selected for the Golden Oldie tournaments (Peter had been the first chairman of Golden Oldies Cricket in 1984, and the couple were volunteers for the tournaments until 1996).
Peter and Dianne decided to set up Vintage Sport and Leisure (VSL) and an alternative ‘boutique’ brand to the then Air New Zealand-sponsored Golden Oldies.
Their first Vintage Sports Cricket Carnival took place in Adelaide. Peter’s extensive network resulted in 18 teams fronting up for a highly successful tournament.
Upon their return from Australia, the rugby fraternity approached them to do the same for their code, followed by women’s softball. The McDermott’s retirement plans suddenly seemed a distant memory.
The following year they doubled the number of teams at the Cricket Carnival, this time held in Perth, with guests West Indian bowling legend Joel Garner, ex-New Zealand test captain Geoff Howarth, and a number of other ex-international players.
The Vintage brand has continued developing to this day; its popularity has never waned, thanks largely to repeat business which Peter estimates to be up to 60 percent of all ticket sales.
As the business boomed the McDermotts looked to sell it. In the end they entered a joint venture with Australia’s General Travel Group – a company closely associated with sports events across the ditch. Although high costs from the Aussie side of the operation eventually forced the partnership to cease in 2014, the two companies still work closely together.
Peter and Dianne couldn’t sell the business, so they decided to go all-out and build it. They moved office to Takapuna, on Auckland’s North Shore. Welshman Paul Guest was hired in 2012 after, as Peter jokingly puts it, “Wales failed to secure the 2011 Rugby World Cup!” Paul is now GM of marketing.
Another significant step was purchasing the Golden Oldies brand from Air New Zealand. The brand has been around since 1979. VSL has since successfully organised five Golden Oldies events in Argentina, Hawaii, San Diego, Capetown and Germany. In 2016 VSL will stage a Golden Oldies Rugby Carnival in Cardiff, which is expected to attract 150 teams, up to 4000 people, and features a gala dinner in the Millennium Stadium. “Guests will actually dine on the field; it’s attracting a lot of media interest,” says Paul.
“The great thing about Golden Oldies tournaments is that they’re a gentle way for participants – aged 35 right through to 85 – to keep going in their favourite sport,” explains Peter, “unlike Masters events which are competitive, involve serious training, and are based around trophies and medals.”
As well as the Vintage and Golden Oldies brands, VSL also runs the World Schools Challenges, covering golf and cricket, and soon hockey and rugby.
2018 promises to be a vintage year for Golden Oldies festivals. Seven are planned for Christchurch in April that year. “Up to 15,000 people from 30 countries will descend on the city,” says Peter. “It will be the biggest participation sports event ever held in the South Island.”
VSL has also signed a five-year contract with USA Rugby to introduce Golden Oldies type rugby to North America. With rugby the fastest growing sport in the US “by far”, Peter, Dianne and Paul see this as an exciting opportunity.
Also on the horizon and currently being researched worldwide is an extended range of separate women’s festivals – feedback has been very positive. VSL currently caters for women’s hockey and netball, but also under consideration is rugby, football and cricket.
“They’ll be given their own brand though,” explains Peter. “Women don’t want to be called Golden Oldies!”
With tournament participants scattered around the globe, it’s understandable that the bulk of VSL’s marketing effort is based around it’s rather extensive database. The business has created its own tailormade event management and CRM system, because there’s nothing out there that suits their needs. Dianne has been overseeing the integration of the accounts and admin functions into the system – which is no mean feat considering the diversity of currencies they deal with when selling tour packages and festival merchandise.
There has been major investment in the online platform too – 11 separate websites are being rolled into one new site to create efficiency around content marketing.
Paul says one of the most effective platforms for engaging with the over-35s is Facebook.
VSL has 11 staff in New Zealand, one in the UK, and a network of agents and ambassador ‘celebrities’ worldwide. From January 2016 there will be a full-time office in the UK which Paul Guest will manage. The UK and US are the next big focus for the company. Europe is also showing a lot of promise in the over-40s market, says Paul.
One aspect of the business Dianne is particularly passionate about is the policy of supporting a local charity with each event. She recalls one Capetown tournament that resulted in 900 pairs of shoes being donated to local townships. The teams are also generous with sports equipment for local school children. Since VSL was launched around $400,000 has been donated in goods and money to various charities around the world.
“We’re in business to make a return, but we’re also very conscious of looking after our clients, and the sports communities we’re involved with,” says Peter.
The events generate an endless supply of fun moments – after all, they are as much social occasions as sporting tournaments. As expected, there’re frustrations too – like the hotel that cancelled 140 rooms on them two weeks out from an event.
So do Peter and Dianne see the day when they’ll finally retire once and for all?
“We can see ourselves staying on for another three or four years,” says Peter. “After that we hope our senior staff would want to keep it going.”
Organising events worldwide from a New Zealand base also has its drawbacks, so a relocation sometime in the future is also on the cards. But not any time soon.
And what’s the biggest buzz Peter and Dianne get from the whole VSL experience?
“Try watching 2600 people having the holiday of their life at Mar del Plata in Argentina, and remembering that it’s all been organised by a tiny office in Takapuna,” says Peter.
“That’s truly a great feeling.”