Mr. Murphy loves rain.

Rain is great at getting your race canceled.

Let’s face it, health and weather are both unpredictable forces. As a race promoter, you will have to deal with both at least once in your life. And chances are it will be more than once.

If you ask five people what the weather will be like tomorrow, you will most likely get five different answers. This is true with modern technology weather prediction as well. One weather reporter tells you it will be sunny, while the other weather reporter tells you it’s going to rain.

Who’s right?

It won’t matter when the rain clouds start to appear overhead, and the sky gets dark over your venue on race day.

Rain ruins all.

Rain not only impacts visibility, but too much water can saturate trails, create mud, and make every surface slippery. All bad things to have during a race. Meanwhile, rainwater will make creeks and rivers swell, creating hydraulic forces that can flood roads, swamp trails, flip canoes, and even drown racers. Never mind the park managers need to protect their trails from 200 pairs of trail shoes or mountain bike tires.

As a race promoter, when it comes to bad weather ruining your race, you need to have three things ready to survive:

#1 — Always Have a Policy

There is a point during race planning that refunds become a problem. Usually, it’s right around race day. Racers will suddenly realize they have other plans and want a refund.

Should you give it to them?

Maybe.

Maybe?

You should be straight up with your racers from day one. On your website, race registration site, or newsletter email, you should tell racers when it’s too late to get a refund.

This does two things for you. First, it draws a very big line in the sand. Refunds should only be possible up to this date and no further. Logistically, refunds become a problem months after the race was canceled. If you give everyone an understanding of the rules then all your racers know how to get a refund, when to get a refund, and what happens if you forget and don’t ask for your refund after a certain date. If you wait too long, then it’s either too bad or at a penalty.

Penalty?

It’s your policy. If you want to provide a portion of their registration back after a certain date, you can. But make it clear what your policy is and put it in writing. You may even need to consult a lawyer about the proper wording. However, and I cannot stress this enough, it is YOUR POLICY! You make the rules, you make the decisions, and you can decide how long a racer has to get a refund. Just make sure it is in writing — both on the website and on your liability waivers. Communicate with your racers early and often so that no one is confused on uninformed.

The second thing it does is give you a clear understanding of when certain funds are available. If no one asks for a refund after the deadline, you can now use those funds for your race. Plus it frees you up from having to process refunds. Some racers will not want a refund. They just won’t. And it is not your job to hunt them down and ask them. If your policy is clear and only 25-50% of your racers ask for a refund, then the remaining registration funds are the cost of doing business. That might sound cold but it is a reality of business.

That being said, you can always offer these people a chance to redeem their registration with an upcoming race. In a way, they are paying their registration forward. I’ll talk about that next.

#2 — Always Have a Rain Day

You could call this a Snow Day, a Black Flag Sun Day, a Sick Day — but let’s face it: rain and your own health are the biggest threat to your race. As your biggest threats, you need to plan for their arrival.

Because Mr. Murphy loves rain!

The race you plan without a rain day is the day Mr. Murphy decides to show up. Besides, most park managers want you to have a rain day and require you to pick a rain date as part of your permit. They don’t want you to wreck their park, but they also don’t want to lose the revenue. Park Managers are known for being very generous when it comes to Rain Days and often work with you to give you the first pick for the next open date.

Yet, a rain date comes with its own challenges. It’s your job to make sure you can actually deliver the same race on this new rain day. This is why having your rain day even on the very next day is never a good idea while a week later is better.

Why not have it the next day?

If it rains enough to shut you down, the water is not going to be gone in 24-hours. Save your trails by giving them time to dry out. This is why having it the following week is a good idea.

Unfortunately, while pushing your rain day out a week is good amount of space, during some seasons, the following week is already booked. Same with the week after that. And the week after that. You get the idea. The park’s schedule may force you to push your rain day out by months. To deal with this possibility, you need to build rain days in parallel to your race schedule. In other words, you need to plan for Mr. Murphy at every level of your race development including your schedule.

BTW — If you need help with building your schedule, please check out my article Strategies for picking your race dates.

The point is to always have at least one rain day planned, announced, and easy to find on your website.

At least one rain day?

You could plan for two.

Why two?

Because it will hurt more?

No, that’s a spoon. Sorry!

By planning for two rain days you prepare yourself for the possibility that your first rain day will not work. When I was in US Navy, I used a time-tested principle that went something like this: “Two is one, and one is none.” By having two rain days, you can overcome the potential for your first rain day to be rained out as well. It’s not a perfect system, but it gives you two possible days to hold your race and still make your annual revenue targets. If you end up not using those Rain Days, you can always think about including an additional race on your schedule that does use that day.

Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

#3 — Always Plan for Refunds

If this is not your first race, then hopefully you have some money on hand to work with.

Why have money on hand?

Because you need to save back at least 50-percent of your pre-registration fees in case you need to give refunds. If the race goes off without a hitch, then those funds can go to paying the park or profit. However, you need to have a portion saved aside for contingencies. If 50-percent saved back means you cannot hold your race, then you need to evaluate your situation and find additional funds.

It might even be the motivation to go find sponsors.

Remember, not every racer is going to want a refund. If you have a rain day, many of your original racers will move their registration to that day without complaint. They know races get canceled and the few that do ask for refunds should get it. At least that is one of my principles when it comes to race refunds. I always put customer service first, profit seconds. You should too.

Yes, your business needs to make money to stay in business but you can’t do that if you don’t have any customers. I believe they call that a catch-22 or vicious circle. It’s not worth your time to argue with customers regarding refunds. Most race directors belong to a race community and you serve that community better by keeping your integrity in check.

If putting your customers first is a tough concept for you, my article How to retain customers for life with the Disney Way will help you understand where I am coming from.

Now, if your policy is to not give refunds even after a certain day, you may still want to give them a refund on a case-by-case basis. However, if you DO NOT have a rain day, and NEVER hold your race, you should give everyone back their money. EVERYONE! Even if it goes against your policy of “no refunds after a certain date.”

Period.

Why give it all back?

Think about it. If you paid for race registration, and the race never happened, how would you feel? You would be angry — and rightly so! If you never deliver a service — in this case your race — you do not deserve that revenue. Regardless of the reasons you have for canceling your event, holding on to racer registration money without delivering a race has a legal name: fraud.

Your problems are not your racer’s problems. Although it sucks to have to give full refunds it is the right thing to do. And it is much easier to give refunds than to go to prison. Additionally, giving everyone a refund will benefit you in the long run because most racers respect ethical businesses. They might not all come back to your race, but they WILL remember that it was you that gave everyone their money back.

Those that remember, will become fans for life.

Take the hit. Do the right thing. You will sleep better at night for it.

Stop Mr. Murphy with Contingency Planning

Contingency planning is probably the MOST important event management process there is. It is also the thing Mr. Murphy hates the most. When you’re prepared to deal with race cancelation issues BEFORE they happen, you minimize the impact Mr. Murphy will have on your race, even if you never have to use it.

Yet, contingency planning goes beyond potential risk. When you have already prepared for the most likely problems, these plans can protect your reputation, and more importantly, your customer’s faith in your business. Nobody ever wants to find out that the race they have been looking forward to has been canceled or postponed. Fortunately, off-road racers are a rugged lot that understands that weather, park policy changes, natural disasters, health issues, family tragedies, and Acts of God are all beyond your control. And they will forgive you for canceling races due to events beyond your control.

Honesty is always the best policy.

If you are always communicating and telling your customers the truth, most of them will follow you to the new date versus asking for a refund. But when in doubt, just give them their money back.

Chances are you will see that money come back to you tenfold.

Now Go Build Better Races!

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!

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