The day of your race is fast approaching.
You’ve convinced the park to grant you a special use permit just under the wire.
Some last minute sponsors have provided you with the resources to purchase those pesky awards you have yet to buy.
You even found a way to get the local trail club to help you clear brush the week before the race.
But the big win was that you managed to hire one of those fancy timing companies (you know, the ones that bring the latest in finish line chipping technology) to your event at a great price.
Now all you have to worry about is marking the course, setting up the registration tables, and hope racers show up.
And that’s when everything goes wrong!
How Pre-Registration Works
Getting an event set up on an event registration site like athleteReg is not difficult.
All you need to do is get an account, follow the steps, and publish the race.
This type of event registration software works for most race disciplines.
It’s not efficient, has more features then you would ever use, but will get the job done.
Even though it does not have many bells and whistles, it does get the word out to those racers in the community you hope to attract.
The cost is either felt by the racer in the form of a small fee or paid by you out of your pocket.
Nonetheless, it gets your event on their front page, in their search engine, and out on the Internet for your racers to hopefully find.
This allows you to generate a cash flow long before your event’s race day.
For many small event management companies, this pre-registration cash flow can become an essential part of their revenue stream, help to buy consumables needed for the event, or be used to pay for the next event.
The Pre-Registration Sellout Myth
Popular events have created a huge mythos around the success of online pre-registration.
When events like the Whisky 50, Shenandoah Mountain 100, or the Sea Otter Classic open their pre-registration web gates, they tend to sell out very quickly.
This has created a false impression for most new race directors that think that pre-registration is the end all and be all of getting folks to their races.
Unfortunately, what registration websites do not provide you with is a guarantee that racers will actually register early.
A non-established race company, or a first-time race director, is already fighting an uphill struggle against established race brands and racer dollars.
If nobody knows you or has better things to do that weekend, you are not going to get much sleep.
Low Pre-Registration Fallout
Additionally, professional timing companies (especially the ones with those nice radio frequency identification, or RFID, chips) don’t come to races that cannot attract more than 100 pre-registered racers.
It’s just not worth their time to do small events unless you are willing to pay the overage fees it will cost them just to show up with all that expensive equipment.
If your timing company pulls out just weeks before your event because your pre-registration numbers are non-existent, the impacts to your schedule or how many pizzas you need is the least of your problems.
But to make matters worse, venues like State and Regional parks also have issues with low pre-registration turnouts.
Many parks have to chase away the normal influx of public users to make room for your event.
If they have to shut down a whole mountain bike trail for the day just for the Acme MTB Derby, there better be something like 100-200 racers showing up to make it worth their while too. Otherwise, these parks are also liable to cancel your event for you!
How to Survive Pre-Registration
The good news is that not all is lost.
With a little practice and some discipline, you can use the following tactics to improve your next events pre-registration numbers:
#1 – Create a Brand Identity
Create an event name that is memorable, not boring.
You must also attempt to stand out from the rest of the competing events by not using words like “classic”, “fest”, or “challenge”.
George Mason University has a mountain bike race on the ACCC calendar called the Wolf Bouncer MTB Derby.
Yup, the race is named after the big male whitetail deer that terrorizes a local park.
Since there are no wolves in that park, this buck is rumored to be the “bouncer” that keeps them out.
True story? Who knows.
But it creates a certain element of intrigue that makes the event it is connected to memorable.
Another good example is the Applecross, a race that kicks off the MABRA Super 8 Cyclocross series.
Nothing classic or challenge about the Applecross, but it is a race that takes place in and around local apple orchards.
Since few races are held in actual apple orchards, this event is iconic in that its name and location both connect riders to the name.
The end result is a cyclocross race that everyone always seems to remember.
Because it is “that race in the apple orchard” which connects the rider’s memory to the event name.
This is why memorable names add value to your advertising dollars.
A customer that can remember the name of your event will most likely remember it nine months later when it comes time to sign up and race it again.
#2 – Create Collateral
Develop your own trail maps, event flyers, and branded materials that you can give to racers and businesses.
Having handouts — both printed and digital — is a quick way to share your event without having to explain it over and over again.
Your own collateral is also a great way to get your own brand name, logo, and style in front of your target audience.
The more they see your brand in relation to your events, the more they will connect the quality of your races with your reputation.
This could go as far as have all staff and volunteers wear branded shirts during race day, having pop-up tents emblazon with your logo and brand colors, and even bib numbers plates with your company name across the top.
Getting an audience to recognize your brand is tough at first, but if you keep being consistent about showing them in conjunction with quality event productions, you will become memorable.
#3 – Have a Real Website
Having your race posted on an online registration site works for the first few events you manage.
However, you will eventually need a location for past and current results, routine blog posts, social media links, and photos.
Having a real website for your event — complete with a domain name that makes sense — give your event an automatic leg up on the competition.
A real event website not only states that you are serious about producing your event but also creates a home for building a branded product.
Unlike the online registering sites that flood the borders of your event with all their sponsors and ads, you now can control the negative space, headers, and sidebars of your event website.
You can show off your own sponsors and ads on this site that benefit you and your company, not some other sites company.
Or you can keep these areas clear of in-your-face ads and keep the overall theme of the site clean and simple. Either way, a real race website gives you control of your message.
#4 – Create Advertisements
Now it’s time to get the word out to your audience.
The rule of thumb is it will take contacting your customers at least five to seven times before they commit to your event.
This means that your contact methods must be span multiple mediums to be effective.
An example of this would be a newsletter blast sent out to your existing customer list of what events you have planned for the year and have your website (or websites) updated with the most current information and dates.
This is about the time you start reaching out to existing and potential sponsors so that they can build in sponsorship of your event into their annual budget ahead of time.
Next, you inform everyone that one of your event dates is approaching (within three months).
This is when you open your pre-registration site or page on your website, advertise how early registration can save them money, and add any new info (videos, blog posts, sponsors) to your website.
You can also schedule out your social media content (Twitter tweets, Facebook posts) at this time so you have them ready.
Creating your social media posts early allows you to just cut-and-paste your messages into each of your accounts without having to worry about writing something new each time.
Once all your advertising preparations are made, your pre-registration engine should be primed for the next step.
#5 – Open Pre-Registration
If you’ve primed the engine of anticipation with your customer base and determined your graduated pricing levels and change dates, you can now finalize and open pre-registration at least two months before your event.
This allows pre-reg revenue to trickle in (which you can withdraw to help with expenses) and builds the “who’s racing” roster up to encourage new customers or last minute racers to sign up before the event is sold out.
If you can create the illusion that your event is so popular that it is about to become full, you could potentially create a run on pre-registration purchases and actually sell out your event weeks before race day.
Having pre-registration opened early also saves you from having your vendors lose faith in your event and pull out at the worst time.
Some timing companies (if you are contracting race timing out) like to see good pre-registration numbers (50-60 percent of cap) a month before the event.
Many public parks like to see good pre-registration number too, with some of the larger parks needing to see an event draw a large crowd before finalizing their permit with you.
The Early Promoter Catches the Racer
If you follow the above five tactics as part of your event management process, your pre-registration numbers should improve.
What’s even more important to note is if you follow these steps and your pre-registration numbers do not improve, you now have the time to adjust your plans, alter your advertising methods, and try new ways to communicate with your target audience.
Proper planning and early management of your event are critical to giving you enough time to effectively change tactics if things start to go wrong.
Without the luxury of a time cushion, attempting any of these steps within only a few weeks of your race will most likely end in low turnout or worse, having to cancel your event.
And now you know.