[There are 27,000 results in Google for "bike race promoter." Of these, 16,200 also contain the word "thankless." That seems about right. Thank the stars for folks like Karen Hanson (Team Rostello p/b Fiorucci), one of the Mid-Atlantic's most vaunted promoters, who suffers for months so that we may do the same for but an hour. Here is Karen's contribution to the Not like a wussy series on GamJams.]
How to not promote a race like a wussy
by Karen Hanson, Team Rostello presented by Fiorucci
Race promotion is one of those things that every cyclist should be forced to do at least once. Everyone THINKS they know what is entailed, but its shocking how few cyclists, even the long term ones have a clue about rules and why races are run the way they are run.
The first rule of thumb is to come up with a battle plan. The first rule of war is to have a goal for WHY IN THE HELL YOU ARE DOING THIS… It certainly isn’t for the money, because you most probably make more money at your real job. And if you are me, you do this for free. I do it because we have to promote a BAR race for our association and to be a club in good standing with USA Cycling. The race we put on at Ft Lee is a labor of love, as a military brat to give something back to the ARMY, and those who serve. Oh yeah, I also do this because I really love cycling, and want to do what I can to help the sport.
Now that you know why you are doing it, you have to have a plan and a schedule. I start my planning a year in advance. Yes, it takes that long. Micky Rooney and Julie Garland could put on a show in a weekend, bike races that are well run take longer than that. After you have a plan, you have to have a goal. My goal is to put on a SAFE race. Then a fair race, and a top notch race. Safety is job one.
- Get approval from the location to have the race.
- Get approval from the local police and DOT to have it in that location. You need to suck up to the police and make the arrangements for the police you will need, for how long and at what rate. Do it well in advance and plan that the cost will go up. A nice token of appreciation, doesn’t hurt, either.
- We have a meeting in Nov. in our association to schedule races. You probably have a similar meeting. Race dates are precious things, the earlier you get your date scheduled, the less chance that you will have to go back and re-do 1. and 2. You will probably want to make sure that there are no competing races on your date in a nearby state. Sometimes it happens and there is nothing you can do about it, but you don’t want to have your race against a very popular race that the people you are trying to draw are sure to go to.
- You need to get your flier and permits approved. All of the forms are on USA Cycling.ORG, but I bet your local permit coordinator can give you a hand. The earlier you get this step done, the better. There are fines that escalate the closer you get to your race. (Plus, haven’t you noticed that the races that have the flier come out late tend to be not well run?)
- You need to decide if you need to make money on this race. I’m not kidding. I have the luxury of not needing to make money on our races. But if you start out with that premise in mind, you will lose money. Guaranteed. Things always cost more than you think they will. Look at your club’s budget and decide worst case scenario how much money your club can afford to loose. If the answer is zero, you may want to put on a time trial vs. a road race. Clubs have gone under putting on road races. Seriously.
- From day one you have to line up your sponsors. People think that money and prizes for cycling fall from the sky. They don’t. You need to be creative. One year I ate cereal by the case to get coupons for copies of Breaking Away to give the junior riders. Think outside the box. Wherever you are, be thinking, can I snag a prize from here? It takes me over a year to get everything for our races, and trust me, come race time, I’m still scrambling. You can’t put this off.
- And while you are lining up sponsors, be thinking of how you are going to thank them. I have BEGGED riders to send a note or an email after the race . Want a sponsor to donate again? Make sure that a rider or two writes them and thanks them. Sponsors are like gold, make sure they get a bit of polish and thanks for their bucks or stuff.
- Do you have enough team members to cover all the jobs that need doing? Plan that half the people in your club or less will actually do the job they were assigned. Start courting volunteers early, and again, think outside the box. You may want to give a free entry or two to someone who can bring you volunteers. No volunteers, no race. And don’t forget to polish your volunteers, too. You need them for the next time you do this…People need to know exactly what their job is, why it is important, and how long they will be needed. And you have to plan on the niceties of life, like feeding them, watering them and letting them go to the bathroom. Yes, they need to do that.
- Have you actually PROMOTED your race? You can email the various lists, put fliers on vehicles at races, in bike shops, etc… Don’t assume that just because your race is on the calendar that people will come. You need to remind them, again, and again and again.
- Talk to your chief ref and make sure that he/she is happy with you. Your officials will do everything they can to make your race be a success. Anything you can work out prior to race day will help you out. They may need to come inspect your course, plan where your course marshals will be, etc… If they have any special needs, you should move heaven and earth to get them for them. Officials make our races happen.
- Are there homes or businesses near your race that will be affected? If so, a little pre-race good will will go a long way. Make friends, not enemies. Unless you don’t want to have your race, or any race there in the future.
- Rainbow Racing gives USA Cycling a discount on race numbers. Its on the USA Cycling website. You should order your race numbers at least 8 weeks in advance in case there are any errors. And order extra pins while you are at it, people eat pins. I swear it.
- Make a race kit. I have mine in one of those Rubbermade tubs. In it are extra boxes of pins, staplers, note pads, pens, duct tape, marking paint, flagmen vests and flags, a medical kit, toilet paper by the case and garbage bags. You will never remember all this stuff. So make a kit in advance, and keep it stocked for the future. You never know what you will need. Oh, and pop up tents, chairs and if you have a generator… you need it all. Probably more than one.
- If you are accepting race day registration, you had better plan on some sort of money control. Money does disappear and you don’t want it to be on your watch.
- You probably need prize control, too. I regularly have a thousand dollars or more in prizes. You’d be surprised at the people who will dip their fingers into your prizes and walk off with them. We have a dedicated prize person, and the racers sign for their prizes. Anything that is not picked up, is a prize for next year.
- Oh, do you have bathrooms? How many? Who is going to check them and make sure that they are usable during the day and replace things like toilet paper? If you don’t have enough bathrooms, in convenient places, your racers will find alternative places to go. If you want that race site again, you better think about this. My book, four potties are the MINIMUM.
- Run your volunteers thru the registration process before the race.. On the job training just stresses people out and makes registration a nightmare. If you can have all the forms printed out and matched with the race numbers before race day, good for you. Do it. Registration will go much smoother.
- I always hate to think about it, but what is your medical plan? Will you have an ambulance on site? Or a race doctor, nurse or EMT? If not, how long will it take to get one to the race site if something bad happens? You had better know in advance. Crashes are a fact of life racing, and prompt care can save a rider’s life.
- After the race, get the results up and to USA Cycling pronto. Many racers don’t stay around, but they want to know who won. And they want their results to count. You owe them that courtesy. When you send out the results, thank the participants, the venue, the sponsors and your volunteers.
The week before a race I’m promoting I go into what I affectionately call “psycho-bitch mode.” If you promote a race, you probably will, too. The closer you get to race day, the more crazy emails you will get from people who are sure that they know far more than you about how you should promote your race. I try to have some canned responses so that I am not spending too much time answering the same questions over and over again. I also try to remember that emails are a very impersonal mode of communication, and that sometimes people leave off certain “niceities” that you would use in in-person communication. Getting into a war of words is futile. Trust me. Forget what people say in an email to you. They will.
The last words on how not to promote a race like a wussy… thick skin. As a cyclist we are used to pain and suffering, with the occasional win. Out of 10 people that say something untoward, one will thank you. It's like that occasional win. One thank you makes it all worthwhile. Remember that. Especially when you are racing. Your one thank you may be the one that keeps someone promoting that race you love.