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Randolph Garcia
May 03, 2016

How to Sell 500 Race Entries in 10 Minutes


This post comes from the desk of our Account Manager Randy Garcia. Randy (and all our Account Managers) have a unique, behind-the-scenes perspective from a wide variety of events across the country and industry. Which means their know-how is incredibly valuable when it comes to giving pointers on how to grow your brand, grow your revenue, and reduce your workload. Without further ado... Randy.


What if I told you you could sell 500 race entries in 10 minutes?  Trust me, there are many event organizers who would be thrilled to fill that many race registrations for their entire event let alone in the first 10 minutes of launching registration. So how do you sell 500 entries in the blink of an eye? Putting together a successful race registration launch is not a one-size-fits-all, but there are some strategies that can be applied effectively across the board.  


Manufacture the Buzz

Build buzz

Manufacturing buzz around registration launch is what the Philadelphia Marathon and Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon have done to kickstart their respective marathon seasons. Their annual traditions have resulted in such fanfare that this year, Philadelphia sold out its first 500 marathon registrations in 10 minutes while Detroit ran through 1,000 event registrations in just 13 minutes. Very impressive!

You may be thinking, ‘But both of those races have name-brand awareness and thousands of athletes that participate annually, how does that relate to my race?’ And yes, while the fact that they are big-city races does help drive some of the excitement, their tactics are what makes their race registration launches so successful. Their results haven’t been by happenstance.   

So what is the key to a splashy registration launch? I teamed up with the Philly and Detroit teams to learn their tricks of the trade.


Familiarity is your Friend

FamiliarityWhile most would say that familiarity breeds contempt, in this case, the opposite is true. Both Philly and Detroit have picked a registration opening date and stuck with it year after year which has had the effect of training their audiences to plan to register that day. For Detroit Marathon it means that registration opens on January 1 at 12:01am. Who would have thought that you could easily convince thousands of athletes to wait for the ball to drop on New Year’s Eve and then rush to their computers to sign up for a race?    

“In 2012, we built a marketing campaign around a resolution to run and in turn opened our race registration at 12:01am on New Year’s Day,” recalls Matt Scodellaro, Assistant Race Director and Health & Fitness Expo Director of the Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon. “Before then, we had struggled with a strategic plan on when to open registration [and previous methods] never produced strong early registration results.”

Scodellaro notes that the biggest benefit the race has seen has been in public awareness.  

“When I talk with our participants I hear all the time, ‘I stayed up until midnight, kissed my spouse and then registered for the race,’” he adds. “Recently we have not had to drum up the buzz because our core runners are well aware of when registration is going to begin.”


Create a Sense of Urgency

While being consistent with your launch year-over-year is important, just opening registration on the same day every year won’t do the trick. If your event doesn’t historically sell-out, athletes don’t really have a reason to register. In this day-and-age where the no refund policy is standard across our industry, athletes have wised-up and are smarter about when they part with their hard-earned cash. Event organizers need to give athletes a reason to register on the first day, basically creating urgency around their own event.    

Philadelphia Marathon has done just that by offering a $20 discount for the first 500 people that register for the marathon and the first 500 in the half marathon. This has caused quite the feeding frenzy to try to grab one of the coveted first 500 spots.  

"The special discount pricing that we offer creates both a sense of urgency and excitement among runners," says Sheila Hess, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Marathon. "Participants are our best advocates when it comes to attracting new people to the race [and] the viral excitement created by the limited discount spots is a great way to harness the energy of our runners."

Detroit Marathon offers a $35 and $45 discount to a whopping 20% of the field in each of its races. While Philly’s discount is smaller, they start out at a much lower price point during their first month which provides everyone a shot at securing a good price (and thousands of athletes take them up on that). Both races have succeeded in manufacturing buzz by creating urgency to register through offering severely discounted entries AND making the discounted pricing available to a wide audience.


Field of (Registration) Dreams

While there is a revenue trade-off for implementing this type of launch strategy I find that most event organizers prefer to have slightly less money upfront rather than having to scrounge for athletes at the last minute. With a sound strategy, you should be able to more accurately predict order points (wasting less money on unused medals, heatsheets, shirts, etc) and spend less on desperation marketing closer to the event. These trade-offs should help offset some of the revenue loss but more importantly give you peace of mind!

It’s easy to say, “if you build it, they will come,” but do one better and give them a reason to register earlier and earlier!


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