Bob is promoting a race for the first time, and knows nothing about insurance, sanctioning, or liability.
All he knows is that sanctioning is a pain, insurance is for cars, and liability is only if he personally hurts someone.
He wants to be his own boss, and build his races the way he wants to build them.
Bob doesn’t want sanctioning since he wants keep all the money to himself, and keep all the control too.
Even if he has to do it all with self-generated funds, Bob is focused on doing it all himself.
Besides, Bob knows all about this racing business. He raced for several years before deciding to become a race promoter.
He knows everything he needs to know about race promotion because of his race experience.
He greatly enjoys the idea of having ownership over course design, categories/classes, and overall costs.
And he cannot wait for the money to start rolling in!
But along the way, he discovers that building a race is expensive.
Especially when he reads about other race promoters being sued by injured racers.
An insurance policy can’t hurt, so Bob starts to shop around.
But when Bob finds out how much an insurance policy will cost him, he starts to freak out!
Because insurance is expensive.
If Bob has to buy a policy, it will cut into all those fat profits!
So, Bob starts to think of alternatives to insurance.
He can’t remember the last time someone was seriously hurt at any of the races he participated in.
In Bob’s experience, racing is a tough sport, and most hurt racers tend to walk it off.
Bob also remembers that most racers sign waivers.
Every race requires it. Isn’t that just as good as insurance?
With a waiver, all his racers will know the dangers of off-road racing, and take on that risk with clear knowledge that they could be hurt.
Bob thinks this will remove him from any liability, especially if his racers know better.
Bob decides that a well written waiver will replace his need for for an expensive insurance policy.
What a savings!
However, at Bob’s first race, the sky rips open and rains so much that is creates a flash flood.
The rushing water sweeps a racer into a culvert drainage pipe.
That racer has to be rescued by firefighters, and rushed to the hospital.
Worse yet, that racer then turns around and sues Bob for not stopping the race in time.
That is when Bob finds out just how little his well written waiver protects him, his company, and his livelihood.
Don’t be like Bob
The above story, although somewhat fictional, is a cautionary tale of what not to do.
Since waivers do not protect you from litigation, you should never conduct a race without a reasonable insurance policy.
The first reason is you need liability coverage in case someone gets hurt (or worse, killed).
Getting sued will destroy more than your race promotion business; it could destroy your personal life too.
An insurance policy will help cover the costs of injury of death if — God forbid — something horrible was to happen during your race.
The second reason is connected to your permit.
Unless you get a park official or private property owner who does not look too close at your operation, they will not approve your permit without proof of appropriate injury coverage.
Remember: no permit, no race.
This makes an insurance policy the legal document that protects you, your business, your racers, and your property owner, from accidental injury or death.
Is it a get out of jail free card?
No. Insurance is a just an arrangement in which a third party (i.e. the insurance underwriter) provides a guarantee of compensation for a specific loss, damage, or death.
In other words, your insurance policy is designed to help pay for the medical costs of an injured racer, before you have to pay for it out of your own pocket.
Not all insurance policies are created equal, and some have very strict rules.
But overall, most insurance policies you obtain for a race will cover you up to US $1 Million in liability.
However, providing that US $1 Million in liability coverage can cost you thousands of dollars, and create a funding dilemma.
It’s a cart-before-the-horse scenario.
Think about it: You want to build a race and protect your riders, but don’t have the money you need to buy an insurance policy, but you cannot get the money you need to buy the insurance policy until you host the race, but cannot host the race with out an insurance policy…
It’s a vicious circle that makes any bootstrapping options difficult to solve.
Finding strength in numbers
So what options do you have if you don’t have the money to buy the insurance policy to get your race off the ground?
The answer may be sanctioning.
In every sport that exists, there is a governing body that acts as the regulatory authority over it in national and international competition.
These governing sports organizations are the creators of official rules, deciding authority for rule changes, and disciplinary authority for rule infractions.
Here are some examples of the national sports organizations that govern most off-road and outdoor recreation sports:
- In mountain biking and cyclocross, it’s USA Cycling (USAC), which is a member of the Union Cycliste International (UCI) for purposes of racing in World and Olympic events.
- In running it’s USA Track & Field (USATF), while trail running can be both USATF and the American Trail Running Association (ATRA).
- In triathlons it’s USA Triathlon (USAT), which governs the rules for off-road triathlons like XTERRA.
- In adventure racing it’s US Adventure Racing Association (USARA). However, adventure racing is still relatively new, and has yet to establish an official intentional governance organization.
- In orienteering it’s Orienteering USA (OUSA), but variants of orienteering (e.g. mountain bike orienteering) does not have a strong presence in the United States, making it still rely on the International Orienteering Federation (IOF) for rules and guidance.
- In canoeing and kayaking, it’s USA Canoe and Kayak (USACK), which use to be only USA Canoe until kayaks were added to the Olympic Games. Now the USACK governs national-level racing for both canoe and kayak racing events.
Each of these sports governance organizations are focused on managing, regulating, and growing the sport they represent.
This means that your race may align with a national organization’s mission to grow the sport.
It’s a strategy word. It means that your race fits into their vision of how to increase their membership numbers.
Each time they get involved in a local or regional race, they have the chance to introduce racers to the benefits of being a member of their organization.
Think of it as a national tribe. The more members of the tribe, the more influence and power the tribe has.
Make the tribe big enough, and they take control of the entire sport.
This can include great benefits, but not without a catch.
There’s always a catch!
Let’s focus on the benefits to getting sanctioned first:
#1 — Reduced cost or free insurance
The first benefit of having your race sanctioned, or supported by a national governance organization, is access to insurance.
As a big organization with lots of members, you can benefit from their ability to obtain insurance polices at a fraction of the cost.
Their purchasing power gives them something known in business as “economies of scale”. By being big and buying lots of policies for their member’s races, they save on the overall cost of each policy.
The end result is an insurance policy you can afford.
Sometimes, that policy might even be free.
A free insurance policy? What’s the catch?
Oh, there’s a catch. There is always a catch. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
First just know that insurance can be obtained with little or no cost to you.
And that can be a life-saver for a bootstrapped race promoter.
#2 — Officials provided
The next benefit is officials.
These organizations certify all sorts of volunteer-ish folks so that they can make sure your event uses the correct rules, and is scored/timed correctly.
They can replace your timers while also becoming finish line marshals.
The advantage to you is that you no longer need to find someone to man those positions.
The national organization will man it for you.
Does this has a catch too?
Yup. But this catch is easy to understand. Officials are not free.
But you don’t have to pay for them until race day, which means that you can pay them directly out of your pre-registration or race day registration take.
For a bootstrapper, this is a great way to guarantee help with timing and rules without having to finance it in advance.
#3 — Advertising access
The last benefit to sanctioning is advertising.
When you ask to be sanctioned by a national sports organization, you get to place your race on their calendar.
This is a huge advantage for your little race because it will be seen by more than just locals.
Being on their calendar means you now have a national audience.
You cannot afford to buy this kind of publicity, but it comes free with sanctioning.
I’m going to guess this has a catch like the rest?
Not really. Nothing is really free, but by just having a permit, you get your event placed on the national calendar.
This makes a permit worth the price if you compute advertising dollars into the mix.
You can use any pre-registration company you want, but if you use the sanctioning organization’s pre-registration software, you often get a discount in per registration costs.
Sometimes that little bit off each expense can add up into big savings and should be looked at very closely when every dollar counts.
Ok, What’s the REAL catch?
You’re probably wondering what I mean by a catch when it comes to all those great benefits.
By catch, I mean that the benefit you receive comes with rules, conditions, and behavior that the national sports organization requires you to follow.
If you do not follow their rules, conditions, and behavior requirements, then you will either not receive their sanctioning, or if you have already been given it, be penalized (financially or officially), and never sanctioned again.
If these requirements could be summed up in one word, it would be control.
Sanctioning means that you give part of your control away to the national sports organization.
You play by their rules, or you get none of their benefits.
But what are these catches, and are they really that bad?
That depends on how independent you want to keep your race. But for the most part, many of the catches are strictly administrative.
Here are the top conditions you will need to adhere to for sanctioning. You be the judge of what you think is reasonable, and what is overreaching:
Catch #1 — Insurance requires a permit
Getting your low cost or free insurance requires an approved permit from your sport’s national sports organization.
Most have created online permit applications that require you to detail your event in its entirety.
That bears repeating.
You need to have every detail of your event ready BEFORE you can complete these applications.
This means that you need to have your venue, course, categories/classes, fliers, land permission, and emergency plan, all ready to go before you will be able to finish submitting your application.
If you view this as only an add-on to your permit process to getting access to the venue property, then you will not have too much trouble completing a majority of this work.
Considering that you need to have permission to use the property before you can submit the sanctioning permit, most of the sanctioning application will be repetitive.
Catch #2 — Permits require membership
However, before you can complete the sanctioning application, you will need to have taken care of a few important prerequisites.
What do you mean by prerequisites?
Prerequisites are requirements before you can meet the requirements! Just like in school, it is the steps you need to take before you can move forward with the next steps.
Most national sports organizations require you to be an Active Member before you can fill out an application.
That comes with an annual fee.
For example, my annual membership fee (domestic license) to USA Cycling is $70.00, and gives me access to their online application process.
The license also is useful when I want to race in USA Cycling events (by not requiring me to purchase a One-Day Only License each time I race).
Being a member puts you under the insurance policy umbrella you’re about to request. You can’t get the benefit without being a member, and your membership dues goes to paying for that benefit.
So in a way, you get your dues back when you ask for a race day policy.
Presto! Cart and horse becomes horse and cart.
But wait, there’s more!
Catch #3 — Permits require training
Another prerequisite is that you need to become a licensed race director and/or official.
Not all national sports organizations do this, but many require you to complete some level of race direction training before they will give you a permit.
Why do they do this?
Often, it is to make sure you understand all the policies and processes you need to abide by.
Does it teach you how to become a race director?
No. It teaches you how to fill out the national sports organization’s paperwork.
Yup! And they have a form for everything!
Some one gets hurt? Incident report.
Race is completed? Post-event report.
Number of Race-Day Licenses sold? Annual License Sales report.
There a ton of forms, and you are required to fill each one of them out.
Back in the day, this use to be all physical copies and mailed packages. But today’s sanctioning bodies have the Internet to help digitize many of these forms.
Most are self-explanatory, with many never getting used.
But you need to know what is used and when. Hence, the training.
Catch #4 — Permitted races require racers have a license
Once you get a permit, your race now has to follow the sanctioning rules.
This means your racers have to meet those rules before they can compete in your race.
Mostly this involves some sort of license. With many organizations, a license and a membership are the same thing.
But what do you do with those that do not want to buy a license or membership?
Then they have to buy what is called a “One-Day” license for a fee.
An example of this is USA Cycling’s One-Day License that riders can purchase for an additional $10.00 (on top of their race registration fee).
This allows the rider to participate in the race for that day, and that day only.
It gives them the protection of the insurance umbrella, but does not give them membership into the organization (unless they want to transform it into a membership down the road).
Having your racers pay an additional fee for a One-Day license can make you start to cringe.
Will they pay it?
Will they be put off by the extra fee?
Will I lose pre-registration money due to this extra burden?
The answer is a tough one. Chances are, some racers will be put off by the fee. Others will not.
Those that already have a license won’t even see the fee. And those are the racers that a national sports organization wants to see come to your race.
They want new members for sure, but they also want to be giving their existing member’s special access to races for the fee they already paid.
This is why your race, and their mission, are aligned.
They give their members a benefit, you get your race insured.
Catch #5 — Officials are not free
Receiving those officials at your race is a great thing. It’s a technical advantage to have a certified member of the national sports organization on-site.
They can help with rules, be your official timers, and help license holders with questions regarding license changes and upgrades.
They are a great resource to have at your race.
However, they are not free. Each official comes with a pro-rated cost per day that includes their travel and lodging.
The sanctioning organization does offset the cost, but you are required to pay for their travel and lodging expenses — usually at the end of the race day.
But how much will it really cost me?
As I pointed out before, you don’t have to pay these officials until race day, which is a nice break from all the other things you need to buy before hand.
But you do need to pay them ON race day. Giving them a check 30-45 days later is a perfect way to never get officials again.
They also pay for their travel and lodging out-of-pocket. Your check on race-day is how they get reimbursed for that expense.
Normally, a pair of officials (e.g. Chief Judge and/or a Timer/Referee) will cost you around $300-$400, depending on the location of your event, and distance to that event from the official’s home.
These folks don’t become officials to get rich, nor do they make a ton of money officiating races.
Most do it for the love of the sport, and a chance to get invited to a national or international race.
Think of an invitation to a national or international event as an officials version of a winning lottery ticket.
But to get a chance at that lottery ticket, they need to be good at what they do (skilled), officiate alot of races (experience), and have a good track record within the community (reputation).
This makes your race an opportunity for an official to use their knowledge and training to build their portfolio.
They almost need to be at your race as much as you need them to be their.
That being said, not all officials are created equal.
There are some duds out their, and the last-in-their-class official to graduate official’s training is still called — you guessed it — an “official”.
Hopefully you get a good set of officials to come to your race, but make sure you tell the national sports organization about any bad ones.
How important is control to you?
Can you buy your own insurance policy that will meet any property manager’s requirements?
Yes, you can.
Can you create your own rules and hold your racers accountable to those rules?
Yes, you can do that too.
Can you train your own staff and volunteers to officiate your event, time your racers, and be referees?
Yes, that is very possible.
When it comes down to sanctioning, you need to decide what level of control, or lack of control, you are comfortable with.
When you start planning your race, sanctioning is one of the first decisions you need to make.
Why is it one of the first?
Because it will set your race requirements in virtual stone.
National sports organizations have very strict rules that have to be followed to the letter.
If you pick to be sanctioned, then many of your race development decisions will have already been made for you.
For some, this is a good thing. Less to think about and a very repetitive way to organize your event.
But for others, this level of intrusion is too much. They don’t see the benefits compared to the cost.
Does having your race sanctioned bring in more pre- and race-day registrations?
Those numbers are hard to come by. Many non-sanctioned race promoters say that the added cost does not generate the turnout promised.
This is why several race promoters have elected to stay away from sanctioning bodies and do their own thing.
It could be that some race promoters do not like the process, or do not want to go through the effort to get all the prerequisites needed to get a permit.
These promoters could be simply bitter about past decisions made by the sanctioning body regarding rule changes and eligibility.
Some promoters hold long grudges.
Regardless of the case, sanctioning is not for everyone.
You will have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of going through the trouble to sanction your event.
To sanction, or not to sanction, that is the question
I am of the belief that sanctioning can help you bootstrap an event, get you support you need in the beginning, and aid you in building a race promotion business.
It will require you to give up some control in the beginning, but it is not something you have live with forever.
You CAN hold events that are non-sanctioned!
How do I do that?
Easy. Don’t apply for sanctioning.
If you have the resources to pay for your own insurance and staff, then more power to you!
Many local races don’t need sanctioning, especially if it’s a backyard style event that only involves your community racers.
When it is all said and done, sanctioning is a means to an end, not a requirement. But it can help you with obtaining insurance when you are first starting out.
Obtaining a reasonable insurance policy — not matter how you get it — should be your primary goal.
Just never promote a race without insurance ever again!