Picking what kind of race discipline you want to base your race promotion efforts on is tricky. Mostly because your passion for wanting to do it is based on a combination of factors that are hard to explain.
What kind of factors?
The squishy kind!
Yes, squishy. Those elements of your desire, love, or attraction to a sports discipline that makes you enjoy it, obsess over it, and fixate on it, before any other.
Simply put, it is the sports discipline you identify with the most.
When someone asks you, “What kind of racer are you?”, what do you tell them?
Do you say, “I’m a mountain biker”?
Do you proudly state that you’re an “ultra trail runner”?
Do you love the look on people’s faces then you tell them you’re an “adventure racer”?
Maybe you like the conversation that starts when road riders ask you why you “cyclocross”?
Whatever your passion, it’s YOUR passion. You have very personal reasons for why you enjoy the races you enjoy.
But can you build a race, or race promotion company, off of your passion?
The short answer is: ABSOLUTELY!
In fact, it is your passion for that kind of racing that will help you build races that you would want to race yourself.
You have all the intimate knowledge of why you like that particular race discipline. And that knowledge gives you an edge over other race promoters when it comes to course design and marketing.
Why does it give you an edge?
By being a fan of your own race discipline, you already know what other racers expect in a good course, and where to find them when you need to sell it.
Make no mistake, your passion is an advantage, and a great advantage to have!
It will help you keep going when building race building gets hard and be the main reason you go from a racing hobby to race promotion business.
However, you need to understand that your desire to build this kind of races is only based on your personal preference, not research or data.
Why is it important to understand this? Because of the next question you need to ask yourself:
Can I make any money building races based on niche or fringe race disciplines?
This time the answer is, unfortunately, No.
Three reasons: Market forces, competition, and customers. The trifecta of why things do and do not sell.
You could love a race discipline. It could be the greatest challenge you have ever experienced and be the reason you started getting into racing in the first place. But if nobody else wants to do it, you will never make any money building it.
You could find a way to build a niche, and create a good following for your fringe race discipline. But it will take serious dedication, and time, to establish it as a sport that people will want to participate in.
Time you may have. Money you don’t.
Case in point?
I love mountain bike orienteering (MTBO). This is a sport where the mountain bike course is determined by how you find a number of orienteering flags (in order) using only a map and compass.
It is huge in Europe, a big part of adventure racing in the United States, and much safer than the typical mountain bike course (due to limited rider packs).
It also adds a nice balance to cross-country mountain bike racing (XC) when your speed is determined by how fast you can make route choices. Super fast riders, that cannot navigate out of a wet paper bag, are slow in MTBO. While slow riders that can make multiple route choice decisions in advance are the actual fast ones.
I love this sport above all others. But why is it not more popular in America?
Think about it. Have you ever heard of mountain bike orienteering before this article? Exactly. Nobody knows anything about mountain bike orienteering, which is why it is still a niche sport.
Some orienteers do, but they don’t like mountain bikes. Go figure.
Most mountain bikers don’t. And if they did, the map and compass thing is a barrier.
This leaves adventure racers.
All adventure racers have done some form of mountain bike orienteering, with many of them supporting the growth of MTBO events. But there are about 2,000 adventure races in the United States — TOTAL!
If ALL the adventure racers in Virginia (where I live) were to show up to one of my mountain bike orienteering races, I would get a turnout of about… yeah. You do the math. It would never be enough.
Therein lies the rub.
If I built a race promotion business solely around a niche sport like mountain bike orienteering, I would go broke in the first year.
How do I know? Because I tried to do it, and it failed.
America was, and still is, not ready for MTBO.
It is not impossible to think that fringe race disciplines will never make money. But if the market is not there… well… the market is not there!
Take Mountain Bike Enduro racing for instance. Enduro racing started much in the same way most niche disciplines do. Few people knew about it, and even fewer people were promoting it. It didn’t make anyone any money in the beginning. But over time, and some promotional experiments, Enduro started to take hold.
Once customers started to show an interest in the discipline, the races started to materialize. But when you are first starting your race promotion business, you do not have the luxury to conduct promotional experiments.
Promotional experiments take a long, long time, and some serious dedication, before they turn into something that makes money. And that, my friend, is the wrong way to build your new race promotion company.
When you’re big and profitable, you can experiment with niche sports.
But when you’re starting out, you need to focus on keeping everything simple.
Let’s begin by understanding how your market forces impact your discipline choice:
Step 1. What are your market forces?
The easy way to describe market forces is to say that they are the economic factors affecting price, demand, and availability of something that you buy or sell.
Whatever sport you’re thinking about starting with has a core discipline, and this core discipline is the key to directing your passion into something that you CAN make money doing!
Remember my mountain bike orienteering example? I love mountain bike orienteering, but I know I cannot make a living from it (at least not right now).
There is no demand for the sport, and no demand means no matter how available I make it, it will take time before any significant number of racers will want it.
That is a difficult place to start a race promotion business from.
So what ARE the core elements of mountain bike orienteering (which is essentially mountain bike racing and orienteering combined into a single sport, or a cut-down segment of adventure racing) that I CAN make money building?
Easy. Who has the biggest market?
Clearly, it is mountain bike racing. Adventure Racing and Orienteering are tiny sports compared to the behemoth that is Mountain Biking.
Additionally, mountain biking isn’t just cross-country mountain biking. It has several different types of sub-disciplines that can be fun too. If you consider how you could create interest in events like short track, downhill, uphill, dual slalom, endurance, enduro, marathon (the list goes on and on), you could capture the attention of all kinds of different rider types.
Not so much with adventure racing or orienteering. They also have some variation, but each of their sub-disciplines just makes small into smaller.
So, keeping with my example, I may not be able to make money off of mountain bike orienteering directly, but I can make money off of mountain biking itself.
What is the discipline you are most passionate about?
Is it a core discipline, or a fringe niche like mountain bike orienteering?
Whatever it is, find it’s core and write it down.
That is your market.
Step 2. Who are your competitors?
Once you have established what market you are in, you need to know who else is already promoting that kind of race disciplines, in the area you want to operate in.
Competitor is a strange word in race promotion. Most race promoters say they like friendly competition, provided it doesn’t take away from their customers base.
They see competitors as helping increase the demand for the sport by providing a variety of race options. The more races there are in that discipline in a particular metro area (e.g. in and around Washington DC for instance), the more demand will be generated.
More demand means higher turnout.
Higher turnout means more sold out races.
More sold out races, means more profit for them.
In a way, race promoters see this kind of demand as a “rising tide that lifts all boats”.
Unfortunately, where race promoters part ways with the “friendly” part of competition, is when it comes to their perceived territory.
They do not want any of their competitors encroaching on the parks they use, the established routes they have created, and the dates they like to reserve.
They see more races as a good thing, so long as it happens someplace else.
If you think that sounds illogical, you must also consider that many of your would-be competitors also adhere to an unwritten code of so-called ethics that states:
- Do not hold your event on my established course
- Do not hold your event on my established race date
- If you do use my date, do not hold your similar event near mine
Truth be told, many race promoters will object to you setting up similar events near their territory, and make the claim that becoming their competitor is somehow unethical.
Sure, if you went about copying everything they did, right down to the same venues and race courses, that could be considered unethical. However, opening a race promotion business in the same area, and making them have to work a little harder to attract customers, is not unethical — it’s business.
Can you name a business that does not have a competitor? Me neither.
And although a race promoter cannot trademark a route, and certainly cannot reserve exclusive use of a date, they will try to convince you otherwise to shut you out of their territory.
Why? Because race promoters do not want competition. Ever.
Which is why you need to know who these people are, and what businesses they run before you select an area to set up shop in.
It would be better for you to avoid the competitors that sound like the one’s I described above. You do not want to pick a fight with them right out of the gate. The time to pick a fight with them might come sometime later, but for now, stay away from the promoters that think they own everything.
There is plenty of parks and private lands in the United States for you to consider using for your first race. Consider exploring those areas first.
For now, without getting too far into how to deal with competitors in your chosen market, all you really need to do is figure out who else is doing what you want to do, in your area.
Once you know who those people and businesses are, make a list of them.
These are your competitors.
Step 3. Is there a potential customer base?
Customers are your goal. Without them, your race will not make money.
This means you need to pick a race discipline that has a potential customer base in the area you want to work in.
I know from my earlier example that mountain bike orienteering does not have a large enough customer base to be a good starting choice.
It is virtually an unknown sport right now. But I do know that there is a huge demand for its core discipline, mountain bike racing.
How do I know this?
Research! There is literally a race for every weekend on the calendar in the United States, with most of them posting start lists and results. Registration sites, forums, blogs, social media, and sport organization websites are all great sources for finding out what kind of events are happening in your area.
But customer demand can really become a reality if you can get your hands on your competitor’s historical race results. With this data, you can find out what their turnout was year-to-year, and analyzed the trends.
Although you may have seen the turnout numbers with your own eyes, finding this kind of data strongly backs-up your observations, and helps support your entry into the market with real numbers.
This is why it’s hard to be the first to a given market, but easy for someone to be second. The first one in has to make all the rules, find all the customers, and build the market share. The second one in gets to benefit from the first one’s efforts.
In the case of race promotion, if you have competitors already putting on races in your area, you can use their results to establish customer trends and market demand, for free.
Knowing that you can now look up the results of your competitor’s races, it’s now time crunch some numbers!
Make a chart, plot the points, and start to visualize the data by comparing apples-to-apples, trail runners to trail runners, or mountain bikers to mountain bikers.
Chances are, the customer trends will appear right away. And you will get an idea of just how big or small that particular competitor’s market share really is in that discipline.
Up or down, the data will not give you complete insight. It might show you races that had fewer racers this year than last year, or races that had an average turnout for several races, then a surge in registrations for one particular race. Making heads-or-tails of this data will take some time.
Weather, insurance, permits, illness, time off, competition, reputation, etc., are just some of a dozen of reasons why your competitor’s data will not always be clear. But the point is not to hyper-analyze your competitor’s race results, it’s to understand the size of the potential customer base within that market.
WHY customers are attracted to one race or another, is not as important (right now) as finding out that there ARE customers in the first place.
All your research needs to do is prove that customers actually exist in your chosen market area, and are willing to spend money on races.
If you’re paying attention, the answer to this question is likely going to be, Yes!
Some analysis of your competitor’s race turnouts should give you a ballpark of how large this customer base is.
This is your potential customer base.
Putting it all together
So how do you choose a discipline after going through your market forces, making your competitors list, and finding out there are potential customers?
By working through each step in this process, you should end up with your race discipline choice that best fits the kind of race you want to build.
This choice is essential to building a race promotion business that makes money.
Hopefully, you have already determined what race discipline you want to promote based on the data you collected. But if not, please go back through and write down what each step requires you to find.
Once you have made your race discipline choice to base your race promotion business on, it will be time to start building your first of many races.