Picking your race dates is an important part of your strategic process.
Usually between October and December, you sit down with your list of potential race offerings, pull out your calendar and a pen, and start considering possible dates.
You’re going about this without all the facts.
All the facts?
Those bits of information that will greatly impact your date choices.
You need to collect them first, THEN go back to the calendar and start considering dates.
Now you’re asking the right question!
The type of information I’m talking about is directly related to maximizing your turnout for each of your races.
It includes the following questions you need to ask yourself:
- #1 — How many races will you offer next year?
- #2 — What days of the week will your races be held on?
- #3 — How many races will your competitors offer next year?
- #4 — What weekends will you consider blocked or blacked-out?
- #5 — What weekends are a risk?
By going through these questions one-by-one, you start to create a list of dates that will NOT work for your next season.
When you remove all the wrong dates, the right dates emerge from the calendar like a secret map revealed by lemon juice.
Look up invisible ink for that one.
In a world that only has 365 days in it (366 on those pesky leap years), and only 52 weekends, you have a total of 104 days available to you and your races.
When you take away all the dates that will cause problems, that number is greatly reduced.
Some dates will be easy to pick.
Others will require you to either embrace some risk, or make a change to improve your chances of a high racer turnout.
Make a change?
The change here could be to your venue location, the discipline or format of your race, or maybe a need to offer something completely different.
Thus is the life of a race promoter.
Like any other business, you need to adapt to constant change.
Picking your dates is no different.
The dates you had last year, will not be the same dates this year, or the next. And you need to be okay with that.
Be flexible during this process.
If you fixate on a particular date because “you have to have it”, you will create problems for yourself and your business.
You can stand your ground on some dates, but be willing to move away from competition on others.
Competition is great for customers, but lousy for business.
I thought competition was good?
Not if you and your competitor are fighting over the same finite set of customers.
Customers love having all those choices.
However, the risk in competing directly with your competition is that customers might not pick you.
Then your turnout will suffer.
I don’t want my turnout to suffer!
Then shall we work through the process BEFORE we decide on dates?
Time for the first question:
#1 — How many races will you offer next year?
This should be an easy question to answer.
You are planning a certain number of races for your first (or next) season, right?
How many is that?
Is it one?
Is it ten?
Is it twenty?
Whatever the number, this is the number of weekends you need to find.
#2 — What days of the week will your races be held on?
Now after finding this number, think about who your customers are.
Are they “no-matter-what” weekend warriors? Or are they “Sunday’s are for church” racers?
Your customers will be mix of the two, but finding out what that mix is, is a challenge.
If you don’t know, then you need to hedge your bets by either making a principled decision, or conduct a market experiment.
Think about Chick-filet. They are closed every Sunday, no matter what.
That is a principled decision. Chick-filet made a bold business decision to not have employees work on Sundays.
Considering there is a strong American tradition of going to church on Sunday’s, you’re going to have to make these decisions too.
Do you make the principled decision to only hold your races on Saturday’s, or do you decide to have your races only on Sunday’s?
If you make that kind of decision for your races, you obviously limit your choices.
Maybe you decide to make it half Saturday’s and half Sunday’s.
Whatever you decide, your decision will appeal to a percentage of your customers.
Which means your decision will also NOT appeal to a different percentage of your customers.
It’s your job to figure out which percentage is more important to you and your business.
The decision you make is not right or wrong, it’s strategic.
Which means it can change over time as you learn new things about your customers.
You could take the number of races you plan on hosting, and host half of them Saturday’s, other half on Sunday’s.
Then collect your data based on turnout for each of those days and see which day is more popular.
My hunch is that Saturday’s will be a winner.
The point to your principled decision is to MAKE a decision, and then stick to that decision until you learn new information.
#3 — How many races will your competitors offer next year?
This one seems easy, but can be challenging.
Sure. Some off-road competitors are obvious.
They offer the same race disciplines as you, and they might even use the same parks as you.
It is highly likely they also have the same customers as you.
You can check out their schedules, see their planned dates, and know what venues they’re targeting for the year.
It’s the competitors that are not so obvious that you need to be on the look out for.
Who are they?
These can sometimes be direct competition.
Those up-and-comers that are putting on races just like yours but have yet to announce their presence.
They can also be indirect competition, and take the form of events that will suck your customers time away.
Customers have a limited amount of free time each weekend.
With enough planning, they can see your race far off in the distance and work their life around everything else.
Unfortunately, there are things that take up a customers time — especially here in America — that are important to family, communities, and even the culture.
What are those?
Holidays are the first the come to mind.
Holidays come in two flavors: a holiday that get’s customers to come outside and play, and the other kind that takes all your customers away.
Knowing which holiday is which is important for maintaining a healthy turnout.
Columbus or President’s Day might be great for turnout.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are never great for turnout.
Knowing which holidays work for your business is critical to turnout.
Especially when it comes to getting your permits in early to capture a particular weekend before your competitors do.
When it comes to special events, graduations are easily the first to come to my mind.
The impact of graduation time is always something to consider when picking dates.
Customers that have kids, or are kids, are likely to be impacted by the rotation of May and December graduations.
First and last days of school are another kind of special event to avoid.
Again, customers with kids may not have the energy to come to your race around that time.
You might get the one or two that just needs a break from everything, but your overall turnout will take a hit.
This goes to for college kids too. They start much earlier then K-12 kids, and have things like orientation and move in days to consider.
Avoid future conflict by understanding your community’s schedule is ALONG WITH your competitor’s schedule.
Then look for those days that have nothing planned, and pounce on them as soon as possible.
#4 — What weekends will you consider blocked or blacked-out?
The competitor that enjoys taking all the “good” weekends away with early permits, and likes to plan all their events on the same day as your races, is not your friend.
These might be the same competitors that use your company as an example of why they are better.
Those are also not your friends.
Fortunately, when competitors do this sort of thing — call you out and jam up your turnout — they are doing you a favor.
Doing me a favor?
Yes! When they call you out as competition, they are declaring you as THEIR competitor.
This makes it easy to identify them as competitors.
They may not have anything on your business in a sense of quality or value, but they are gunning for your customers.
A competitor that makes their intentions known are easy to spot.
Once you know who they are, you need to see what they are offering.
Once upon a time, race promoter’s released their seasonal schedules in January.
Then one day, a race promoter decided they wanted better dates, so they release their schedule in December to beat the others to the best dates.
This started a schedule arms-race to see who could release their schedule the earliest.
Now schedules are coming out as early as October — before the season is even over!
This kind of one-up’s-man-ship is ridiculous.
Pretending that releasing a schedule early allows you to call “dibs” on certain dates is nonsense.
Why is it nonsense? Don’t I want to release my schedule early too?
First off, no one can call “dibs” on a date.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Why can you not call dibs?
Simple. Park managers do NOT approve permits that far in advance.
Not only do they have fiscal year issues to deal with, but race promoters do not have first right to the park.
Camps, after-school events, other sports, farmer’s markets, club activities, etc. — all these organizations have rights to the park too.
Not to mention contracts.
Now, off-road racing is very special when it comes to park permits.
Mainly because of all the other organizations I mentioned, off-road sports usually does not interfere with their operations.
A softball tournament can take place at the same time as a mountain bike race.
But a park manager has to worry about more than just land use. They are also concerned about traffic, parking, utilities, and emergency access.
The result is a decision making process — at least with venues throughout the United States — that can only be reserved as early as 6-months in advance.
Other venues require you to submit your permits in the SAME YEAR as the events.
If you submit them too early, the park may just sit on your application for months before they approve it.
Or worse, ignore it outright, and make you submit it again.
When a competitor claims a date for a certain venue, and it is on the same day and venue that you want to host your event, take it with a grain of salt.
Some race promoters release schedules first, and apply for permits second.
If you want that date and venue to, you might have to call their bluff.
Call their bluff?
Contact the park manager and find out what the reality is (for more on this, read Get your next race permit approved).
Is there a real permit in the works, or did they just post a schedule without the paperwork?
Remember what I said about competition only being great for customers, and lousy for business?
If you find out your competition has not submitted a permit, you’re not going to make any friends by scooping their venue with your own permit.
Unless that date is critical to your business, AND you are willing to stand your ground, this could be a bold move.
A bold move that you could end with you loosing the fight.
But you could also win the fight!
There is only 52 weekends in a year. Fewer if you add in holidays, weather, and time with yourself or your family.
Your competitors cannot have them all.
Can you afford to let your competitors have all the good dates and venues?
You can either concede those dates to your competitors, or fight your competitors for the important ones.
The choice is yours.
But choose your battles carefully.
No matter how flexible you are, you will (at some point) have to fight for a specific date at a venue.
If this fight fails, take a deep breath and keep an open mind.
Sometimes having your venue snaked away by a competitor will lead you to an even better location.
#5 — What weekends are a risk?
Weather can make your race, or destroy it.
Depending on where you live, weather can be a benefit or a curse.
Why is weather so fickle?
Because it is so unpredictable.
Sure, a week out, you might have a good idea what the weather is going to be like.
What about 6-9 months out?
You will have no clue because you cannot tell the future.
What was a sunny October in Virginia one year, my be the month that gets a foot of snow for the first time in 100 years.
You will never know.
But you can guess!
I can guess?
Sometimes, old tools like the Farmer’s Almanac can help you make a decision about your weather chances far in advance.
Is is perfect? No.
Seasons will have variations from year-to-year that will be make your life difficult.
However, if you live in an area long enough, you’ll start to get an idea on what months are the reliable ones.
Then you roll the dice with the months are not reliable.
These are the “risky” months.
Why are they risky?
When the weather is so unpredictable, you gambling on the chance that your race will not be canceled due to bad conditions.
Most established race promoters will have few races during these months, which opens all sorts of days up to your races.
But the financial loss from a canceled race can be devastating.
Hence the risk.
Your risk can be minimize by backing up your dates with rain dates.
You can also check out How to bounce back when everything goes wrong for other ideas on how to mitigate your risk.
It can also be minimized by finding venues that will allow you to race rain or shine.
Both of these options can open up new possibilities.
It could work, it could not.
Do I chance it?
Go back to the principled decision process from earlier.
Do you use dates in months that you KNOW will have bad weather?
Does your season start in April and end in October? Or do you run your business year round?
Again, the choice is yours, and has an impact on the available number of weekends you can use.
Make a choice and stick to it.
Start Considering Dates
You can now make some intelligent decisions based on all the information you just collected.
Which race dates and venues are good, and which one’s are bad?
You should know that now, right?
If so, NOW is the time to sit down with your list of potential race offerings, pull out your calendar and a pen, and start considering possible dates.
You have all the facts now.
Pick your dates already!
Now you know