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Starting a Skating Event

It is a major effort but can be very rewarding to start a recreational inline skating event in your area. Following are 10 things to consider when planning a new event. (Copyright Allan Wright of Zephyr Adventures, with input by skating event managers across North America.)

1. Find an outstanding race site. This is by far the most important step you will take. If you cannot find an outstanding course, you might as well give up the idea of creating a skating event. Items to consider:

• A marathon is generally considered a good distance for a skating event, long enough to be a challenge but short enough to be achievable.

• A one-way course requires transportation either to the start or back from the finish, which adds logistical work. An out-and-back course is feasible only if an entire roadway can be used. A loop course is often the best solution.

• Important factors in choosing a location are 1) pavement quality, 2) scenery (can be either downtown or rural and still be nice), 3) ease of blocking off streets.

• It is important to have an experienced racer evaluate the course for hills, turns, width, and pavement quality.

2. Decide on a legal organizational structure. A recommended structure is to create a non-profit legal entity with one or two staff members who get paid if the event makes money. A for-profit event makes it harder to recruit sponsors. A non-profit event run only by volunteers has proven to be less effective than having paid staff, since volunteer organizers often get overwhelmed by the amount of time they must commit. Even a local skate club that decides to organize an event might consider hiring an organizer who will get paid based on a percentage of the race fees.

3. Create a proper support network. Running a successful event takes more than one or two committed organizers. If you attempt to create an event on your own or with a small group, experience shows you will burn out within three years. Following is one method for securing additional support:

• Create a “skater advisory board” of local skaters who will agree to advise you on specific aspects of the race. Make sure to include skaters who are not in your inner circle.

• Create a “board of directors” of non-skater leaders of the community, including representatives from major sponsors and governmental organizations.

• Create a team of volunteer organizers, each of whom will be responsible for one aspect of the event. (These volunteers might or might not be on the Skater Advisory Board and Board of Directors.) See point 10 below.

4. Create a long-term plan including yearly goals you can track to judge your success. A long-term plan is important not only for you but also to show to local organizations. Items to consider in creating your plan:

• You should have realistic short-term goals, especially for the first year when the primary goal is to run an efficient and effective (rather than large) event.

• It is okay to think big in the longer term.

• The most important part of your plan is to create a “scorecard” that will allow you to judge your success year by year. Common scorecard indicators include: number of participants, number of sponsors, profitability, participant feedback, and sponsor feedback.

• To record participant and sponsor feedback, you should actually survey both participants and sponsors. Include at least some numbers in the survey so that you can tabulate and compare results with prior years. Remember that the simple fact that you ask for feedback can make both participants and sponsors happy!

5. Approach government authorities, business organizations, and possibly a charitable organization. This step is absolutely crucial but you should really have a race course, organizational structure, support network, and plan (steps 1-4) in place, so you are fully prepared before approaching your local government. Items to consider:

• Start right at the top (city council or mayor) and ask not only for their blessing but for their support, especially in terms of closing roads and providing free police protection.

• Be prepared to detail benefits the local city will accrue, including positive publicity and local spending (both from in-town and out-of-town participants).

• If your city authorities are not receptive to the idea, you should strongly consider starting over by finding a new course in a nearby city! The support of local government is that critical.

• After you have secured the support of your local government, consider approaching local business organizations (chamber of commerce and convention & visitor’s bureau) and possibly a non-profit organization. In choosing whether to align yourself with a non-profit, consider 1) whether you expect to have any funds to donate, 2) whether the non-profit will be able to help supply volunteer labor, and 3) whether the non-profit will be able to help promote the event.

6. Select a date. Select a date based on historical weather patterns (see www.weatherbase.com) and that doesn’t conflict with another event. Consider picking a date that is in conjunction with a local celebration, especially if you can tie-in to that organization.

7. Get as many sponsors as possible. Try to get as many sponsors as possible, realizing that an event with more sponsors is seen as more credible. Items to consider:

• Make a list of benefits you can provide sponsors, including website links/logos, logos on t-shirts, fliers in race packets, etc.

• Attempt to gain national skating sponsors but your real focus should be on local sponsors.

• Many sponsors will prefer providing product rather than cash. Make a list of everything you will need (water, snacks, portable toilets, printing, newspaper advertising, radio advertising, medical personnel, t-shirts, website, race bibs, timing system) and ask local sponsors to donate these items.

8. Create a plan to attract participants. Most skating events get around 85% of their participants from local skaters, so this should be your priority. Means of attracting participants:

• Try to get media partners to help with promotion in return for sponsor benefits.

• Ask your local skate club to hand out fliers to skaters they see on local paths.

• Make a deal with non-skating events in the area to cross-promote the events.

• Create a website that is solid and answers all potential questions rather than flashy.

9. Make sure your event is financially viable. If you lose money your first year, the event will likely never take place again. The following will help the event become financially viable:

• The key to a successful event is to have a well-organized race rather than having flashy extras. Keep it simple at the beginning by eliminating extras such as prize money, fancy medals, payments to top athletes, massages, etc.

• Have the goal of getting all your needs covered by sponsor donations! That will allow you to put all (or almost all) your money back into the event and into paying key organizers to compensate them for their time.

• Keep your entry fees low enough to attract participants. Plan to have an online booking form such as on www.active.com.

• Consider not having a “tradeshow” the first year.

10. Divide responsibilities and make sure people are accountable. Make sure each member of your team of volunteer organizers has a specific task with accountability to complete that task. Tasks to assign include:

• Communications: website, printed fliers and entry forms, and t-shirts.

• Event-Day Volunteers: recruit, organize, and train volunteers for course monitoring, first aid, registration, etc.

• Registration: creating the registration process, entering data, race-day registration, etc.

• Publicity

• Sponsorships

• Race: race packets, water stations, first aid, weather contingency plans, event timing, prizes, participant problem solving, etc.

For another, more detailed perspective please see this article on starting a skating event.


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