Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

A Winning Supply Chain


There’s a lot of distance between the London 2012 Summer Olympics in the United Kingdom and TMC’s Kicks for Cure kickball tournament in Grant Park, Chicago, but the two events owe their success to the same kind of supply chain.

Sports event supply chains take a long time to build and have to hit peak performance during the tournament. As soon as the competition comes to an end, the supply chain goes into reverse at top speed because the whole show must be dismantled quickly without leaving a trace. 

The experience is like running a marathon on a course that is constantly changing, knowing that you can blow the whole race in the final 100 yards.

The supply chains that support big international events such as the Olympics are in a class of their own. Here are a few choice statistics from official estimates of the resources needed to stage the London Games.

  • A workforce of 160,000 people, 31 venues, and 955 competition sessions
  • 23,900 athletes and team officials, and 20,600 broadcasters and press
  • 14 million meals, and a food menu in the Olympic Village that required more than 100 metric tons of meat and 19 metric tons of eggs

The event was recognized as: “The largest peace-time catering operation in the world.” Throw in all the athletic equipment for teams representing 205 countries, and the scale of the supply chain needed to meet the needs of this huge gathering can be appreciated.

Our Kicks for Cure tournament (see TMC’s Field of Dreams for more information on this year’s competition) is tiny by comparison, yet the operational challenges are, by and large, similar.

Planning for the summer tournament starts in February. Even though we now have nine years of data on the annual event, forecasting demand is not easy. Historical and current head count numbers are available, but any outdoor competition that involves a lot of people, entertainment, and celebrities is difficult to predict!

Four weeks out the planning and organizing becomes a full time job. At this point there is a lot of email traffic and promotional activity as we try to drive interest in the charity event.  In addition, we are building the supply chain that has to deliver a wide range of consumables and gear such as sound systems, griddles, generators, and, of course, kickballs.

The night prior to the tournament six trucks arrive at Grant Park (assuming all the appropriate permits and passes have been obtained beforehand) to set up the tents and the reefer units that will keep the foodstuffs – including 60 kegs of beer and 600 cupcakes – refrigerated. Vehicles from some 20 vendors also show up in the early hours to deliver the supplies.

If our planning has been effective, and it always has been (albeit with some near misses such as securing a beer license the day before the event), the tournament begins on time.  This year 63 kickball teams, hundreds of spectators, 10 sponsor companies, and 40 volunteers, congregated at Grant Park for the event.

During the games, our risk management strategy is the Bandit Vehicle, a car available for emergency missions, along with the watchful eyes of our volunteers armed with 10 walkie-talkies.

At the day’s end our reverse supply chain kicks into gear. Six to eight tired people pull up stakes and pack all the equipment in just two hours. There is a hefty fine if the clean up does not pass muster, so we have to get it right.

What metrics do we use to measure success? Familiar ones such as on-time delivery are relevant, but the more important indicators such as customer happiness and level of enjoyment are not as easy to define. And let’s not forget the amount of money we earn for the cancer charity Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation, the main reason for the event. This year we raised $175,000.

Kicks for Cure may never rival the Olympic Games as a spectacle, but the effort that goes into building, managing, and reversing the supply chain that underpins the event is Olympian, and the volunteers that make it possible deserve a gold medal!



Someone told me you guys arranged a flyover after the national anthem...



Aaron Huffman

As a participant at Kicks for Cure the past 3 years I can attest...there are so many moving parts. To that end, Jason and the whole team of TMC volunteers that coordinate the event do an outstanding job of ensuring all of us from out of town just have to show up, play, and let the rest fall into place. As many of us know, there's alot that goes on "behind" the scenes for each and every shipment we handle at work, so it was interesting to hear about some of the "near misses" the event has experienced that we, the participants, were completely unaware of. Keep up the great job TMC, Michael Phelps ain't got nothin' on you guys!!!!



Kevin McCarthy

Keep up the good work!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *