Thursday, January 06, 2011

Racing - Promoters -> Racers, Racers -> Promoters

Yesterday I posted about how to form a club. Well, not really, but it gives you an idea of what you'll need to think about if you want to form a club. It's really pretty straight forward. You fill out some registration fields in an online form at USA Cycling. You pay some money.

Voila, you're a club.

But the big thing is that if you want to renew your club next year, you need to hold an event.

Eh... what? Why is that?

Well. Gather 'round all y'all (that's plural for "y'all" according to a person that spoke that stuff... but he told me back in the mid 80s so if it's not right feel free to correct me) and let me explain.

Why Clubs Hold Races

You can register as a club or team and then not hold a race. The only catch? You cannot renew the club license the following year without proof that you held a race (permit#).

Nowadays, with USAC you have one year grace period to hold your race. Realistically it's very hard to hold a race. Not because it's very hard to hold a race, it's because the inertia you have to overcome to hold a race is really significant.

Let's put it this way. If it weren't so significant I'd be promoting more races.

Therefore most clubs "race" on race permits for races they do not actually hold - they either pay money or volunteer some help or sponsorship to the actual promoter. For example you could offer some help to a local promoter in exchange for being listed as a (co-)promoting club. USAC limits the number of clubs per permit to two for this reason - it used to be 5? I don't remember, but the two is recent. In the old days it wasn't unusual to see 6 or 8 clubs on one permit. I think one roller race that attracted only a half dozen riders had probably just as many clubs on its permit.

This "have to hold a race" mamby pamby is a real pain. It's just another way for the Feds (as the USCF used to be called by some of its members) to get you, right?


The whole reason for requiring clubs to hold a race is so that there are races for racers to enter.

That's important so let me repeat it, this time in bold.

The whole reason for requiring clubs to hold a race is so that there are races for racers to enter.

If everyone acted in a similar way (race but not promote) there would be very few races. Promoters tend to promote races because of the love of the sport, not because it makes money. I know a promoter that spends upwards of $15-25,000 a year to have racers yell at him, complain about his hard work, and ask for more prize money or lower entry fees.

I don't spend that kind of money to have the honor of holding a race - it's closer to $0 to $2000 a year for me to get yelled at. (I say that facetiously - people seem to understand and appreciate what I do so I rarely get yelled at and I really appreciate it. So thank you all.)

In Belgium (and perhaps other countries) the cycling federation helps subsidize races. Entry fees remain largely symbolic (a euro or three) and prize money seems to be equally high (a few euros for a place). A license, though, costs a lot of money - a few hundred dollars worth when I raced in Belgium.

(When I raced in Belgium I thought that would be the way to race - get a license in the US, about $30 at the time, then race in Belgium for free. I'd basically race for free. The worst scenario is a Belgian racer of that era coming over to the US. They'd be paying the subsidy for Belgian racing but gain none of that benefit in this country - they'd pay for their racing twice.)

We're not like Europe. Clubs have to promote the races.

Become a Promoter

So how do you become a promoter?

Usually by accident.

Seriously, most promoters I know got into it because they ended up the one doing the work when a group of people decided to "promote a race".

I promoted my first race because someone else did a lot of work to create it and I felt like I owed him the effort to keep his race going. He was also my first leadout man, my boss at the shop, and he taught me a lot about what I know about bikes and bike racing. When he moved away he asked me to hold the races. I've done so since that year (1993). Carpe Diem Racing has been in existence for a long time because I promoted races for a long time (that's the name of the club/promotion-group that promotes the race officially - I'm just a member of Carpe Diem Racing).

You don't have to promote a race, even as a club. That whole "race on someone else's permit" works just fine for many clubs around. Heck, if you want to be on the Bethel Spring Series permit, let me know. Just ante up some cash (I'll start at $1500 and negotiate from there, and that's PER RACE, not the Series) and I'll be glad to put you on one of the two very precious "promoting club" spots on the permit.

You'll help racing in Connecticut, that's for sure. The way I see it, there's nothing really wrong with that. Giving money to a race (and, if possible, a bunch of volunteers to help out as needed) is one of the best things you can give a promoter.

But it's not really the best way to approach racing as a whole.

I'm not saying that no one does it. I'm just saying that if you give a little to the sport (by helping an existing promoter, for example) you won't have to worry about the club "name changing game" thing.

And you'll get an appreciation for what it takes to hold a race.

If You Haven't Promoted A Race

If you don't hold a race or help hold a race, then one thing I'd suggest - if you have any complaints about a race, any at all, I'd keep them to yourself until you've promoted a race.

Most "problems" races have are due to compromises the promoter had to make to fit budget and demand into a workable box. This mainly refers to categories (i.e. which categories are racing) and prize money.

Day of race problems can often be traced to a lack of help (i.e. organization). If you realize when you're in the portapottie that there's no TP left, the promoter probably forgot because they had to focus on other things. If a promoter has 30 extra helpers (like, say, your club's members), one of them could easily keep an eye out on the TP situation, including buying more if, say, the coffee in the area is stronger than expected. Heh.

With no helpers it's a lot tougher. I know I send people to buy things I forgot or ran out of, and I've been doing this a while. When there's no help, or very little help, it gets really crazy really fast. That's when the complaints start pouring in.

A benefit to those that assist is that helpers usually get free entry and some level of "VIP" treatment. For helpers at my race that means parking in the reserved spots close to registration (the rest of the lot is off limits to racers due to other tenants in the space), a place to sit/hang-out, indoor bathroom, free food, stuff like that.

You want to use that beautiful, heated, well lit, comfortable bathroom (that we promoters diligently clean up at the end of the day)? Just help out for a few races and you're welcome to use it.

Co-Promoting a Race

Co-promotion of races is very, very standard. I think in 8 years the club I belonged to (1983-1991) promoted 1 unique event, a great road race that had an excellent course winding through a few towns in lower Fairfield County, Connecticut. But it left such a sour taste in our mouths (police chief commented he ought to ticket every single racer for not riding single file) that we just rode other permits until 1992. After that I've always promoted an event personally.

Clubs Need To Promote Races

On the other hand the philosophy of clubs promoting races is the essence of grassroots racing. It's an obligation at some level. A lot of racers complain of the "talent dilution" where teams split into multiple teams due to something. Then each team gets really small. It multiplies the work required to keep a given group of racers racing, but for some reason (usually self promotion) the racers want their "own" team. If the whole "club has to put on a race" thing really worked out, the teams would remain larger, have members whose passion is holding events, and they'd all hold events. When teams start splintering but fail to contribute to the scene (through holding races, especially in race-scarce areas), it hurts racing. The larger club, the one with the promoter, loses a lot of free help and ideas and motivation. The smaller clubs look to other promoters to get a yearly pass on doing an event. So no new events, more stress on existing events... it's not good.

In CT there are a LOT of races that are gone. A lot. It's kind of depressing but the costs and effort aren't worth it. I know a local road race (one day event) has a budget of over $100,000. And that's just a regular road race, not anything special. It takes many clubs to hold that one event, or, like last year, one large club with a lot of available help.

So I think new clubs are okay with "permit passes" for a few years but they really ought to put on an event at some point. Something to contribute to the sport.

Regarding help at races. Since volunteers are less reliable than paid people, I decided it was worth the stress reduction to pay for help at my races. I pay substantially less than $600/year which is the 1099 threshold so that no one has to claim stuff on their returns.

Only one helper races (and he races for free). Three don't have bikes. Four actually. They're mainly family of people who are involved in racing. I also allow volunteers to race for free and I get a LOT of help through that channel, especially on sweep day (we hand sweep the 0.9 mile course, and coming at the end of a Connecticut winter, there's a lot of sand and sometimes ice/snow).

I also grandfather in the folks that helped in the past - co-promoters and very involved helpers. So if you work the race for 5 or 10 years, every week, every race, with the passion befitting a promoter, then you race for free at my races for the rest of my/your/race's life.

There are only a few people who qualify for this perk. Like one person, at least for the last couple years.

I also try and let guys who've raced the whole series (meaning from 1992) race for less or free or get their second race gratis or something. I talked to one guy in summer 2010 who has raced every year at my Series since its inception. He actually apologized for not making the 3 hour one way drive more often when the weather was iffy and such (he lives up near Canada).

Promoting is a living, breathing co-existence with the venue folks (tenants in the area), racers, and officials. Things go both ways.

Promoters -> racers.

Racers -> promoters.

See you out there!

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