Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bethel Spring Series - Promoting a Race

(A past interview about the race here. It's sort of a mission statement for the Bethel Spring Series.)

I was told a long time ago (by a racer) that before I complain to any promoter about their race, I have to earn the right to do so. The only way to earn that right? Promote a race myself.

And you know what?

Since I started promoting races, I've rarely found anything to complain about at a race.

I thought of this because as the Connecticut State Rep and as Carpe Diem Promotions (we offer free help to all promoters), I inevitably end up talking to people who want to promote races. Some have the most basic questions. Others ask for actual help with the whole process.

Whenever I talk with a fellow promoter, inevitably the topic turns to how stressful promoting a race can be on oneself. It's so true. For me the most stressful thing about promoting a race is dealing with irate racers and irate townspeople.

The absolute worst thing a promoter can have is an irate townsperson (tenant, resident, or town official). The irate townsperson has the ability to shut down the race pretty quickly and pretty decisively, and oftentimes they are irate not because of the promoter but because of a misbehaving racer. Speaking as both a racer and a promoter, a misbehaving racer is simply inexcusable. A doping racer only affects other racers in that race (by doing better than normal). A misbehaving racer affects everyone - the local residents, officials, promoters, and other racers.

The next worst thing a promoter can have is an irate racer. Sometimes the irate racer is absolutely correct, and if a promoter makes a big mistake, it's the promoter's responsibility to fess up and correct it. Racers need things like some semblance of a registration area, bathrooms, parking, timeliness, and a course with pedestrian/traffic/rider control. Missing crucial and necessary elements will provoke even racers who promote to complain.

Sometimes the racer is only technically correct - perhaps a marshal couldn't stop a car or gave unclear directions or the pace car got lost or slowed up in the sprint. I say technically because these types of incidents can occur even though they were not supposed to. I have been pushed by cars entering the course - standing in front of the car didn't stop the driver. At that point, what can a marshal do?

However sometimes the racer is simply venting about something they don't like about the race - perhaps the prizes, the number of places, the categories, things like that. Inevitably, these types of irate racers have one thing in common - they have never promoted or helped promote a race. That leads back to the advice passed down to me.

The reason why this advice applies?

Promoting a race is a whole different ballgame.

Like many other things in cycling, promoting involves making compromises. When you set up your bike for a road race, you may think primarily about weight - reducing it, to be precise. You'd choose your lightest wheels, remove your training lights and saddle bag, maybe put a wider bar on (for easier breathing on the tops), etc. However, if you were to set your rig up for a criterium, you'd probably emphasize speed and agility - aero wheels and narrower bars. A time trial would call for aero bars and aero wheels. Each setup is optimized for a particular type of event.

Likewise, promoting a race means a LOT of compromising.

First, you have to choose your venue. Crit? Road Race? Do you have a lot of resources? This means volunteers/helpers, registration gear, finish line gear, etc. Lots of helpers means a RR is viable (marshalling the various intersections). Fewer would point you to a controlled course Crit (say in an industrial park).

Next you have to set your budget. Sponsors help but I've always been leery of depending on sponsors. So we try not to use any sponsorship money. We'll take product of course, and anything that would help make the race more interesting. For example, we have leaders jerseys which are donated to us by Champion Systems. But we typically don't ask for money and we don't rely on sponsorship to make our race.

If you have no sponsors, then determining prizes becomes sketchy. Without knowing how many racer you'll have (your sole source of revenue), you don't know what you'll be able to give out. To work around this, we do a sliding scale prize list. We offer a minimum for up to a 39 rider field, then for every increase in the 10's digit (4 for 40 racers, 5 for 50, etc.) we offer an increased prize list. Our minimum (assuming sub-39 rider fields) is anywhere from $955 to $1700 per week. We are actually budgeting based on higher field numbers but when starting I'd recommend working off of a minimal turnout.

Part of the prize list process is figuring out what races to hold. A promoter decides this based on time available (availability of course and helpers determine this), minimum race distances (certain categories have certain expectations), and potential or past demand (i.e. you can be nice but a race has to support itself at some level). Some people are all for a "Pro" race - just Pro/1/2's and Women. A sort of a star-studded race held, say, just before or after Fitchburg or some other important race. Others want more Masters racers. Still others want Juniors or Women or Cat 5's or Cat 3's. At the Bethel Spring Series we hold Cat 5's, 4's, M40+/Jr, Women, Cat 3/4's, and Pro/1/2/3's. We've tried to accommodate everyone we can with the limited time we have. We cut down on some of the race lengths in order to do so - but then again who wants to race 50 laps on the same circuit? Recently we added the Women's race as we feel it will support itself.

Once you think you can put on a race, you need to make it official. File paperwork, get insurance (no race is worth losing your life and future savings), get officials, get town permission, and basically do everything to make the race "official". Once done it's very hard to go back. It's like the difference between going out with someone and booking a wedding venue. You can simply break up with your significant other if you're just dating, but once you're engaged, it's a different story altogether. (Canceling the race on the day of the event is like canceling a wedding).

When the race is official, you really have to get your act together. You need to coordinate your helpers, officials, the town, and anyone else involved so that things work smoothly. You'll have to publicize your race (we use but all USCF races are listed in the USA Cycling website as well).

Finally you have to show up on race day with your gear, hope that everyone else shows up, and do the actual race.

If things go well, then after the race you can give a big sigh of relief and go and celebrate however you celebrate big accomplishments.

And if you think about doing it again, you have a few months of stress-free racing before thoughts of next year's event start intruding into your life once again.

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