The inventor of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc, had a very unique view of venue.

He once said that the secret to success was not how you made the burger, or the people who serve the food — although those are important factors.

In fact, Mr. Kroc would say that he wasn’t in the hamburger business at all, but rather in the real-estate business.

This is the major part of the 2016 movie The Founder, that stars Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc.

To him, location was more than a factor in his success, it was the reason McDonald’s is now the largest fast food chain in the world.

Without successful locations, McDonald’s may have never become the popular franchise that it is today.

The same is true with the development of a sports venue.

A prime location for your event needs to be:

  • Accessible to your customers
  • Useful to your off-road discipline
  • Far enough away to be considered country, but close enough to the city

This is why location development is one of the most important processes in event management.

It’s also why the location of your event — just like the location of a McDonald’s for Ray Kroc — is often more important to the sales of the event than the event itself.

The beginnings of your location development strategy

The first phase of any location development strategy is in the understanding of three key issues:

  • The amount of property you need to conduct your event
  • What features your event requires to be successful
  • How you will turn a location into a venue

Since we’re focused on off-road race promotion, obviously we need a good size chunk of property.

A park with roughly 500-1,000 acres of land with a good network of singletrack, fireroad, or natural use trails.

Without these mixes, your course design may encounter significant difficulties creating a course that is both interesting and challenging.

Plus, if depending on the discipline you’re promotion company is focused on, you need enough of a trail network to prevent doglegs, two-way traffic, and simplistic features.

Additionally, the size of the property might also limit the number of racers you can have participate and the type of event distances you desire.

No one wants to try and fit a course into a park that only has 3-miles of the trail, nor do they want to choose a location that can only accommodate parking for 10 cars.

The features of the location also require some thought.

Take for instance one of the most popular mountain biking trails in Northern Virginia, Fountainhead Regional Park.

Fountainhead has by far the best singletrack MTB trails around, but 90-percent of those trails are connected by a series of one-way traffic loops.

These trails are mountain bike only, preventing trail running without some negotiation with the park manager.

Loops also make other kinds of events like gravity and mountain bike orienteering (MTBO) very difficult.

Then there is the difficulty level.

Fountainhead is a mountain bike park reserved for intermediate riders due to its technical (and often tedious) terrain.

While some riders would find this park to be a fantastic venue for mountain biking, most riders new to the sport might not have a good experience.

Could you imagine hosting a mountain bike race in a park that contains several hills so technical that they have their own names?

Hills with names are always a bad sign.

Not to say that another kind of off-road event could be held there.

In fact, several off-road triathlons and adventure races have been successfully promoted at Fountainhead.

However, this venue is most likely not a location designed to accommodate new or beginner racers for mountain biking.

That being said, it IS a fantastic location for trail running.

Just so happens the park is bi-polar in its use.

While one area of the park is exclusively designed for mountain biking, the remaining two-thirds of the park is perfect for trail races.

This is the research you need to do about any given park.

When a park appears to be too difficult to accommodate one kind of discipline, also consider other disciplines that it could be good for.

Deciding on your location evaluation process

The next phase of your location development strategy is understanding what roles you need to fill before evaluating a location.

Ideally, you need to have defined roles for:

  • How you will scout a location?
  • How you will plan a location layout?
  • How you will set your course design?

These can be filled by three individuals within your organization, or have all these roles achieved by one person.

Regardless of your process, the importance of these specific roles are as follows:

How you will scout a location?

This is the location scout role and is responsible for discovering potential locations for events by typically researching, visiting, exploring, and documenting the potential of each local, regional, and national park, private property location, and/or public real-estate venue idea.

The primary objective of this role is to determine if a particular location can support a specific event based on three primary criteria:

  • Allowable use and/or tolerance
  • Significant trail network
  • Rider and spectator accessibility

How you will plan a venue layout?

This is the venue planner role is responsible for locating a venue specific areas that can serve as the central location for registration, timing, start/finish, and spectator viewing.

This role also determines how participants will:

  • Enter/exit the location
  • Where and how they will park
  • Where bathrooms are located (or if portable bathrooms need to be obtained)
  • Any need for security
  • Where emergency medical service is located (if not on location)
  • How trash will be collected and disposed
  • How many staff/volunteers will be needed to support it

The primary objective of this role is to focus on where all customer interaction will take place, before and after the race course.

How you will set your course design?

This is the course designer role is responsible for locating venue specific areas that can serve as the primary race course, what areas can and cannot be accessed during the event, and identifying risky and/or dangerous property features.

The course designer is focused primarily on the race course layout, flow, and direction to determine:

  • Where racers will start and finish the race
  • Where they should and should not be in the park during the event
  • How to best control the outcome by limiting route choice near specific features

Documenting your research for future use

The final phase of your location development strategy should be documentation.

Each role provides you with a specific product that will become critical to event management process.

The location scout will help you develop a list of properties that can and cannot support various styles/types of courses.

This will enable to you weed out locations that do not provide you with the necessary resources before you ever try to use them.

Having a list of locations and all their available features aids the venue planner in determining if a location is even possible.

For each location, the venue planner should provide some kind of ranking based on whether or not it can:

  • Supports a course of X-size
  • Does/does not have power
  • Does/does not have public bathrooms
  • Does/does not have parking
  • Is/is not packed on the weekends

A ranked list will allow the venue planner to put more time and effort into locations that are more suitable for racing first.

The remaining locations that are missing something, or that require the venue planning to develop some kind of workaround, to be saved for a later time.

The final product of the venue planner should be a rough diagram of how the location would be set up and information related to what resources are available.

This is equally true with the course designer.

Working with the location scout and venue planner roles, the course designer should know which locations can support a course and flow racers without overwhelming the area.

Working in unison with the venue planner, the course designer can also figure out where the best spectator locations will be, where the danger areas are likely to need attention, and how to best utilize staff and volunteers.

When your event is hard pressed for manpower, the course designer can be useful in determining how many people are needed for each given course design.

They can even figure out which locations need a specific size of support due to their size.

Obviously, small events can fit into small locations with limited manpower, while big events will need large locations and extensive manpower.

The course designer’s ultimate product should be (at a minimum) a draft course map and an understanding of what size event can be supported by the property.

Once you have achieved these three phases of your venue development strategy, you should have a very good idea of what properties can support your races.

It should also inform you of what resources are available to you at each location, and what courses you can potentially finalize for your next race.

And now you know.

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!