How To...XC Ski Events -- Four
Publicity will take up a huge chunk of time--particularly before an event--so be prepared with
several experienced volunteers to help out. Single events demand all the advance
publicity you can afford--particularly if they are new! Registration flyers, posters,
and a standard press release are all a must but they don't have to cost a fortune to produce.
Start off with simple color paper and photocopies if you have to, but make sure you get started as early as possible!!!
2.) An effective event website has become one of the most cost-effective and powerful ways to promote and even help organize athletic events. The really big key for any organizer to remember is that, although you absolutely do not need your website to have all the bells and whistles, your site absolutely does speak for your event and thus it does need to maintain a certain level of functionality and graphic polish.
For most events, your best buzzword is going to be simplicity. Direct visitors first to the most important info (what, when, where, how much, etc) and then worry about race photos and other nice details. Create only the website sections you really need and (whenever possible) try and create semi-permanent info areas that you don't have to update every year (or at least not much). For example, if you use the same basic trail system(s), you should be able to provide links or on-line maps that will last at least a couple years. Same goes for area attractions, useful lodging tips, etc..
2.) A registration flyer or brochure
is essential for just about any kind of event where advanced registration is necessary or preferred.
You can be fancy or simple but you will need to sell your event just like any other
product! Be absolute certain that your flyer has the following:
- Date, time, location (with directions), distances, fees, age groups.
- Information on the course (if a race or tour), simple maps are nice.
- Description of awards and raffle (if held).
- Selling points about the food, scenery, fun, etc. that will make this event
- A detachable and easy-to-understand sign-up form with a good liability waiver.
- Contact info including postal/e-mail addresses, telephone hotline, and/or Website.
- Hints on what to wear, expected weather (is there such a thing?), etc.
can be simple 11 x 17 inch copies or elaborate full-color, glossy printed jobs. Smaller events don't really require this item (except maybe at the race site) but for larger events needing full community support posters are a good idea. Include on them:
- Date, time, location, distances, and simple additional info as space allows
- A nice logo.
- Make sure all the writing is large and legible. Some fonts and colors are too fancy
for their own good. A poster is designed to catch people's attention and for fast
of flyers and posters determines how effective they will be far more than design.
- Put flyers and posters in the places you'll get the most traffic just like any other
form of advertising.
- Posters can be far less targeted since they are primarily promotional rather than
functional in nature. Put up posters at local supermarkets, shopping areas, participating
merchants, Park and Recs, health clubs, sports stores, ski areas, and schools.
- Flyers should only go where you can be sure that you'll get a targeted audience and
the actual pile of flyers will be safe and dry. You don't want to waste money on
flyers that will be thrown away or lost or used as coffee coasters. A great place
to distribute flyers is at other races/events up to 4-5 months before your event. You really can't be too early with sport-specific promotion! Simply hand out flyers at the end of races as folks are eating or getting ready for awards. I don't recommend using the windshield wiper method.
5.) Using the media
to promote and cover your event is far easier than most people think--particularly
for non-profit fund-raising or participation events.
- Local and regional print media are still the first place to go. Newspapers, magazines,
and other print vehicles are almost always ready and willing to help out non-profit
events with plenty of free advertising.
- Get someone experienced at writing press releases to come up with a simple release
that describes the event, lists basic information, and has contact info on it. Distribute
the press release to any media outlet you can find within a few hours drive of your event. If possible, actually talk to someone at the organization and get their name!
- Try to get on every events calendar that anyone in your region publishes whether
it is athletic-related or not. Everyone from auto clubs to tourist bureaus to big-city
newspapers prints up regional events calendars on a regular basis and most of them
are free advertising! NOTE: Some of these calendars are prepared up to a year ahead
of time so take note of any deadlines you miss for next year.
- Local radio and TV stations always like to do interest stories or remote broadcasts
particularly if a couple of your sponsors are big advertisers on their station. Emphasizing
that you are a non-profit Club and that proceeds are going to such-and-such cause will help generate interest.
- If possible, get some kids or a well-known personality to feature on radio or TV.
Even a local aspiring elite skier can be enough of a hook to get something on the
air. Make sure they emphasize when, where, and how to get more info!
- The best way to generate broadcast coverage is to actually sign-up TV or radio stations
as sponsors. Their contribution can simply be coverage and promotion of the event
which is cheap for them and great for you! If you have some cash backing, most media outlets will automatically do a "two for one" package on ad buys for non-profit events.
1.) Admission or entry fees --First off, you need to consider whether or not the event is designed to be a fund-raising mechanism. If so, you need to decide where the proceeds will go and how they will be processed. For example, one of the automatic do-gooder charities in XC skiing is youth/junior ski programs. If you say that proceeds from such-and-such race go towards helping these programs it builds goodwill among your participants and greatly increases the positive vibe. Having events operate as fund-raisers also allows you considerable lee-way in establishing admission or entry fees. Generally speaking, you'll want to start with the average fees for comparable events in your area and work from there. If you are very successful at generating sponsor revenue and support it may be possible to charge exactly the same (or less) as other events but raise tons of cash for your support project. The key, as always, is to strike a balance. If you get too greedy you'll start pricing yourself out of a participation base. Vice versa, if you charge too little you'll have to have a huge crowd to raise any money.
- Whatever your fee is for the event, always have early and regular sign-up prices.
Early sign-up fees encourage folks to get entries in early thus giving you a nice
shot of cash exactly when you are spending money and it gives you confidence that
someone is actually going to show up for this party.
- With any event involving a large sum of money and registration well ahead of time--i.e.
Camps, relays, trips--you must have a deposit required well before the actual event.
Deposits can be non-refundable or not but they give you, as the organizer, the reassurance that folks will follow through with full entry amounts. This can be critical
with any event operating on a break-even basis!
- You also want to establish a very simple protocol for depositing and processing fees.
Any organized Club will have to have at least a simple checking account and that
will probably be the best avenue for processing fees. This is where the magical office of RACE SECRETARY comes in for race events and/or some kind of TREASURER comes in
for any other event. Basically, all you need to do is have some kind of paper and/or
computer system for processing entries, mailing out confirmations (if necessary),
creating a database of names/addresses for day-of-event and future use, etc.. The only thing
you never-ever want to do is let a stack of entries and checks pile up on some desk
for last minute processing. STAY ON TOP OF THIS!!!
2.) To simplify the accounting procedure surrounding your event, make sure that all
deposits and expenses are handled thru the same account
. If your Club is able to establish accounts with hardware stores and print shops
you can simplify this process even more by only having one person authorized to sign
3.) Get in the habit of doing a quick weekly financial audit as soon as you start writing checks and getting entries in. This is particularly important with new events! You don't want to let your expenses overwhelm your anticipated revenue within the first few weeks of planning. By keeping track of expenses you can delay adding extra stuff until you are sure you can afford it.
The first step in attracting good sponsors for your event is superior organization.
I know I sound like a broken record here but the facts speak for themselves. No business
wants to attach their name or invest some of their resources in an event that is
poorly run. Likewise, you don't want to end up with sponsors that fail to live up to
agreements or bail out at the last minute. Here are some tips on securing and keeping
1.) Start by figuring out all the things that you can offer your sponsors in return for their support of your event. This is a smarter and more business-savvy approach than the traditional method of just going to organizations and asking for their support. Most organizational leaders need to know exactly how they will benefit from an outlay of resources and if you come to them prepared--your chances for success go up immeasurably. Things you have to offer can include...
- Placement of logo banners throughout the event areas.
- Distribution of product/service literature (usually flyers) and/or trial samples
- Space in any product expo and/or stadium/event arenas for an organizational booth.
- Logos on entry forms, posters, T-shirts, and mention as sponsor in all press releases.
- Limited number of free entries and/or T-shirts.
- Exclusivity in a product/service category (Ex. the official car battery :-)
- Title sponsorship of overall event name (Ex. The Widget Tour), or some aspect of
the event. Feed Stations, transition zones (for multi-sport races), and even stadium
areas can be offered for title sponsorships.
- Exposure within a demographically-condensed market. XC Skiers typically fit a very
attractive demographic base so use this to your advantage.
2.) Understand the different levels of sponsorships
and where your event fits in. For new events you are best off focusing on a nice
base of product and service sponsors ("in-kind") rather than going after zillions of dollars in title sponsorships. A big title
sponsor will usually come into play only after you've established your event as a
proven publicity machine worthy of a sizable cash investment. Even though you may not be
able to generate much in the way of cash with new events, you still can benefit from
having a nice collection of product and service sponsors. If you do a great job early
on with some of these sponsors you may find one or more of them growing into bigger
sponsorships down the road!
3.) Product and service sponsorships are a great way to get your feet wet in the sponsorship game. With some time writing letters, making phone calls, and stopping by a few places you can usually rustle up a few of these agreements for just about any event.
- Write a template letter and sponsor agreement that is no more than two pages long.
You want to briefly describe the event, who it will benefit, and who/how many will
participate. The agreement should be a very unimposing page simply listing what the
sponsor would potentially contribute and what the event will provide to the sponsor.
Creating this template on a computer allows you to individualize each letter which
can be a big help if you are after specific product/services from an organization.
- Generally, for most product sponsors you are going to put their logo wherever you
can and in return you will get a specified amount of product to distribute.
- Draw up a list of potential sponsors and start contacting them. Whenever possible,
get a name of a marketing/promotions director rather than just sending a letter in
cold. If you are approaching local businesses, go in-person to talk with the manager
during the quietest time you can find--usually early in the morning or the middle of
- Always approach a business with a specified request. For example, you need enough
Drink X mix to serve 1000 people.
4.) Title Sponsorships
enter into the contract arena and are almost entirely the domain of established events
with a minimum of 300+ participants. Not only do you need to show that a title sponsor
is going to get value-for-their-dollar in exposure but you almost always have to
prove that this event does something wonderful for the community. Making the event
a fund-raiser for kids/teen ski programs is, of course, an ideal solution. Coming
up with a dollar figure for title sponsorship is tricky business but you can help
yourself by contacting other events in your area (large or small) with title sponsors and finding
out how much their agreements are worth.
With smaller events, say a 100 person citizen race, you don't need thousands of dollars to award a title sponsorship. I've been to dozens of events that had title sponsors that had provided the bulk of the prizes and perhaps some of the course controls. Shops, restaurants, ski areas, and other smallish enterprises have all been successful title sponsors of smaller events with little to no cash contributions. The XC Ski industry does not have particularly deep pockets but several ski, boot, and wax companies will sponsor events--and they usually come prepared with course flags, bibs, and plenty of nice prizes. I would caution against soaking the ski industry too much, however, particularly with larger events. Try to get industry participation at whatever level they can afford and look elsewhere for major funding.
Finally, with title sponsorships both sides should be completely comfortable that the fit between the event and the sponsor is as good as possible. Example: It wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to have a cigarette company sponsor a ski race. Great sponsorship arrangements are mutually beneficial. The event gets funding and/or logistical support. The sponsor gets positive exposure and community goodwill.
5.) Here's some more tips in the search for sponsors.
- Anticipate a building process with any sponsored project. It takes massive power
and connections to take a start-up event to 4-7 figure sponsorship levels right off
the bat so be realistic. If you are aiming to create a big-time event in five years,
plan on 3-4 years of steady growth with as many product sponsors as you can solicit and
once you've built up your reputation and participation--then go after a modest title
- An ace in the hole with any form of sponsorship is to know someone high up in the
hierarchy of the particular organization you are going after. That person can help
you tailor your pitch to the needs and direction of the organization as well as helping
guide the proposal thru the organizational maze. Connections are always helpful so
don't be afraid to use them.
- Different organizations fit different events. For example, a regional bank might
be very interested in sponsoring a ski marathon IF you can show how the event is
a total community effort with lots of families and down-home appeal. The same bank
might be completely unwilling to get involved with an elite competition---however---a national
restaurant chain might be. The key is finding the right event for the right sponsor.
- Even if you get turned down by a particular organization on one try, keep a record
of helpful people's names and jobs as well as a record of the type of event that
organization WOULD sponsor. You never know when you might have a perfect match down
- It is pretty easy to get access to local organizational leaders but you may find
it much more difficult on a regional or national basis. Unfortunately those larger
organizations are precisely the kind that would have lots of money available to support
larger events. Contacts are key but you can also work your way up a corporate ladder
if you put in the time. Talk to local distributors about people that might be helpful
that they know. Never be afraid to throw some names around to get an appointment
or a phone number. I've met some amazingly powerful people over the years from the most
- Another good source for contacts are advertising agencies and athletic agents. To
gain access to powerful groups like these can sometimes be better than a single company
because of the wealth of different companies you could potentially tap. Unfortunately this can be very hard to do.
- With all my words of caution you also don't want to sell your event short. If you
create one of the largest sporting events in your area you should be able to market
the name of that event for a nice sum. Try to find out what other events of similar
size are getting in support and start with those figures.
- Cold calls (calling an organization without sending any information first or having
any prior contact within the organization) are nearly always a waste of time unless
you are just looking for the name/contact info of the marketing director or promotions director. I've been steered in many a wrong direction in this attempt so here's
my advice. With large organizations you do not want to get bogged down with the switchboard
operator or receptionist--they are trained to get you off the phone as fast as possible with as little information as possible. So...either E-mail your request for
information; research the company in a library or on the Web for some names to contact;
or if you must call, just ask for the marketing department and talk to the department
secretary. Chances are very good you'll get more help there than the front desk.
- Timing is very important with most organizations regarding sponsorships. Most of
the ski industry will set promotional budgets 9-12 ahead of time and other industries
can even have longer timelines. However, you'll quickly learn that every ladder of
any organization has a limited ability to swing deals at any point in the fiscal year.
Just roll with the punches and work things out where and when you can. Even if you
miss out the first time, try to find out when your targets set promotional budgets
and make sure to get your stuff in well ahead of that date next year!
6.) Public and Organizational Sponsorships
are often much more difficult to nail down and/or maintain than agreements with private
organizations but they can have major long-term benefits when they do work. Here
you are seeking support from any public or local/regional body with grant funds or
other resources. Some of the groups you might approach are:
- local Chamber of Commerce
- local/regional Visitor's Bureau or Authority
- Forest Service or other Land Bureau
- City or Regional Government
- Park and Rec District
- School District
- Utility Commission
- Athletic/Sport/Recreation Foundations or Funds
- Military Bases or Posts
The rationale for these groups supporting your event is usually quite different than
the rationale of private organizations. Basically, a private organization is investing
in goodwill and exposure while a public body or a Foundation is more interested in
a larger picture. Namely, the tourist dollars a particular event would bring to a community
or the attention a region can receive in hosting a major event or sometimes, the
pure public health benefits that XC Skiing offers to a society.
Because the goals are different for these types of sponsorships you are going have to present your proposal in a considerably different way than with product or title sponsors. Most often, your presentation will need to be in the form of an application or well-written formal proposal. The usual bells and whistles will always help here as will powerful contacts but the biggest ally will be numerical. Reliable demographic information is very, very important in this case because if you can show that your event brings several hundred or even several thousand visitors to an area--buddy, you've got some serious ammunition in your pocket! Further, if you can come up with a well-founded estimate of dollars spent in a community associated with an event you've got major bargaining chip.
The point is that you want to do everything you can to show how important your event is to a certain area. Once you've established this importance you can then start to massage your targeted public groups for everything from direct funding grants to the use of public machinery and buildings to donated employee time. Another big benefit of securing this type of sponsorship is that community investment means community exposure and interest. Building the feeling of an entire community hosting and participating in an event is far more powerful than an isolated special interest holding an event without such community involvement.
I do need to include a note of caution however. Success in getting an event adopted by a community can yield powerful benefits but you can also run the risk of losing a huge amount of control. Most of the largest ski races in the world are not run by independent Clubs (even if they started that way) but are instead run by community Boards as independent, non-profit organizations. These Boards have almost universally been comprised o powerful community leaders and business interests (many would say that is redundant :-) with relatively few athletic representatives--let alone XC Skiing!--included. The case can be, and has, been made that these community Boards often make decisions based on profits and market share rather than the health and well-being of the athletic event. It doesn't have to be this way and many events are run perfectly well with type of arrangement. You just want to be careful and always keep your eye on the long-term.
7.) At any level of sponsorship you will want to put considerable effort and thought into ways to build strong event-sponsor and/or Club-sponsor relationships . Here I am talking about going above and beyond the strict written agreements regarding what you'll provide and they'll provide. These are ways in which you can actively nurture a growing and healthy relationship between your event (and hopefully your whole Club) and YOUR sponsors.
- Thank you notes
: This old-fashioned gem is still one of the best ways in the world to honestly express
your appreciation for anything. Notes don't have to be fancy or long--all you need
to do is say how great the event was and how much you appreciate the sponsor's involvement. A nice touch is to include a line or two about how people commented about the
great free samples or the beautiful prizes--that kind of thing.
- Visual Aids
: Some of the best tools I've ever used to foster sponsor relations are still photos
and video tapes with the sponsor's name and products prominently displayed. Oftentimes
product sponsors won't be able to have a representative at smaller events so just
taking a few pictures of their products on display; their banners in the stadium; and
even sending a few entry forms and/or posters with their logo on it--all of these
can be great strokes for supporting organizations. If a sponsor is really going the
distance for you (or you think they might in the future) go ahead and spend a few dollars
to frame a nice photo of the event or create a nice plaque saying thanks. Photos
with a wide assortment of ages are particularly good for this kind of thing and/or
photos with kids. If you can stage a presentation at a Board of Directors meeting or even
a press conference it'll just enhance your professionalism.
- Encourage sponsors to send representatives
: Nothing can sell sponsors on the value of sponsoring a particular event more than
personal contact. The higher up the representative is in an organization, the more
influence you can have. Do everything and anything you can to encourage company representatives to actually come out and watch--or even better--PARTICIPATE in your event.
One of the best examples of this is the huge Hood-to-Coast running relay in Oregon,
USA--an event with several tens of thousands of participants. Most of the big sponsoring
companies field literally dozens of corporate teams in the event every year. This involvement
is so great and meaningful to the companies that it now means that the sponsors have
actually developed a personal investment in the success of the event far beyond just writing a promotional check or getting some publicity. When you get to that
point, the sponsors start asking YOU what you need!
- Impress upon everyone involved the support of sponsors
: Since I often organized events while I was racing I developed a somewhat unique
perspective on this important item. There's often been an undercurrent of independence
in endurance sports that has occasionally made participants and organizers worried
about over-commercialization and over-professionalization. This goes back to some of the
participation vs. competition stuff I talk about in Part I. At any rate, if you
are going to run any event of significant size in this world you will have some kind
of sponsor at some level. You may decide that you don't want product representation and
you may decide you don't want logos everywhere--but at some point you are going to
have to recognize and show your appreciation to the organizations that make your
event possible. I'm a big believer in getting participants to show their appreciation on a
one-to-one basis. This is more than a big round of applause at the awards! This means
writing personal thank you notes once and awhile; actually going out of your way
to patronize businesses that support events; and also voicing appreciation directly to representatives at the event. I've seen product reps just blown away by having a couple dozen participants walk up and thank them for being a part of a certain event. It works--try it!