Rain is great at getting your race canceled.
Let’s face it, the weather is an unpredictable force.
As a race promoter, you will have to deal with more than once in your life.
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.
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 manager’s 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?
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 are possible up to this date, then they are not possible.
It gives everyone an understanding of the rules.
Refunds stop on a certain date.
If you waited too long, then it’s either to bad or at a 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.
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.
#2 — Always Have a Rain Day
You could call this a Snow Day, or a Black Flag Sun Day — but let’s face it: rain is the biggest threat to your race.
As your biggest threat, you need to plan for its arrival.
Mr. Murphy loves rain.
And the race you plan without a rain day is the day Mr. Murphy plans on showing up.
You need to pick a rain date and make sure it is part of your permit.
Most park managers want you to have a rain day.
They don’t want you to wreck their park, but they also don’t want to lose the revenue.
Parks will be very generous when it comes to rain days and often work with you to pick the next open date.
It’s your job to make sure you can deliver the same race on your rain day.
Having it the next day is never a good idea.
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 the trails by giving it time to dry out.
A week is good, but during some seasons, the following week is already booked.
Your rain day might not be for months.
You could go from worrying about rain, to worrying about sun or snow.
This is why you need to build your race schedule alongside your rain day schedule.
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.
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 fist rain day will not work.
In the US Navy, this is one of a few time-tested principle known as Marcinko’s Rules of Warfare.
It goes 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, then 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 provide 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.
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.
The few that do ask for a refund should be given it.
Remember, customer service comes first, profit second.
You need to make money, 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 it to argue with customers regarding refunds.
If that sounds like a foreign concept to you, you might want to read my article How to retain customers for life with the Disney Way to get your head right first.
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.
Even if it goes against your policy of “no refunds after a certain date.”
Why give it all back?
Think about it.
If you paid for a race registration, and the race never happened, how would you feel?
Would you be angry?
Would you ever register with that racing company again?
If you never deliver a service — in this case your race — you do not deserve that revenue.
This is regardless of the reason.
Your problems are not your racers problems.
It sucks to have to give full refunds, but it is the right thing to do.
But it will benefit you in the long run too.
How are refunds a benefit?
Racers respect ethics.
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 issues BEFORE they happen, you minimize the impact Mr. Murphy will have on your race, even if you never have to use it.
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.
Let’s face it, nobody 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 officials, natural disasters, and events beyond your control do happen.
By treating them like the valued customers they are, they are very likely to forgive you for events beyond your control.
Remember that honesty is always the best policy.
If you are always 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 given them their money back.
Chances are you will see that money come back to you.
And now you know!