If there are two thing that we have found inspiring through this crisis, it is the creativity of the people in this industry, and way the community has shared information, messaging, and advice to help each other out. Of course races are competitors, but at the end of the day, maintaining a good relationship between the industry and the participants is a common good.
Unlike our best practices, these aren’t necessarily the best ideas for everyone, but rather, more ideas to consider as you determine what’s best for your event. These are now included in the Creative Solutions and Community Knowledge Base sections on runsignup.com/coronavirus, and we will continue to add inspiration and advice on that site.
Big Hoopla 4 Miler: Postponement Tool, without Postponement
We called it the Postponement Tool (race >> cancel or postpone race), and most races are using it with options…but it can also just be a simple, clear way to leave cancellation (or other) message on your website.
The Big Hoopla 4 Miler simply kept all options turned off and added their own personal messaging for participants navigating to the site. In conjunction with an effective email and social media strategy, this can be a smart way to make sure participants aren’t confused by old information on your site.
Oakland Running Festival: Postponement Pop-Up Tool for Participant Self-Management
The Oakland Running Festival is using the Pop-Up tool for options – but not the built-in options. Instead, they turned off all automated options, and used the text for the pop-up to provide their options. These included both an option that required no action (staying registered for the new date in August) and options that required action (deferring or opting for a virtual run). For the options that required an action, they outlined the participant management instructions for the runner to defer their registration or transfer to the virtual run.
This method means the race director does not have to manually transfer runners based on their report, but make it clear for the runners what actions they need to take.
Art Car IPA 5K: Skip the Postponement Tool
The Art Car IPA 5K wanted clean, simple messaging for their options, but wanted a different look and process from the pop-up. Key factors included:
- They had a confirmed date for a postponement
- They had a confirmed date for the 2021 race
- Stay in the race (no action needed)
- Run virtually (get swag at the postponed packet pickup)
- Defer to 2021
The steps they took were:
- Update the race date
- Create a new Virtual Event Option
- Turn on Deferrals
- Set deadlines for the Virtual Event and Deferral options
For runner communications, they sent clear email communications to direct runners:
- To stay in the race for the new date, do nothing
- To change to the virtual event, they included instructions for transferring events (like these)
- To defer, they included instructions for deferrals (like these)
- All deadlines are included in their email
Voila! Race, updated.
Community Knowledge Base
We’re collecting questions from across the internet, and sharing answers we think might be useful. These are not all RunSignup-based, and not all answers are right for every race, but we wanted to collect concerns and solutions from throughout the community to help you all learn from each other.
If you’re looking for a place to talk to other event organizers and compare strategies? These are a few communities you can join:
If you’re new to a group and have a question, try searching first – the answer may already be there for you!
Race Directors Hub
Running USA Campfire
Event Professionals’ Group
Race Timing Hub
Events in March/April/Early May
With gathering restrictions in place for the near future, races in March and April, as well as many in May, have been postponed, cancelled, transitioned to virtual, or reimagined in some other creative format. Here are some questions we’re seeing from this crew:
We usually stick firmly to our refund policy…but this is a new situation. How should we handle them?
We know that refunding participants can be devastating, particularly if the majority of your race costs have already come in. However, if you refuse refunds and runners do a chargeback, you may be on the hook for both the refund and the chargeback fee, since your promised service was not delivered as expected. Here are some things you can do:
- Offer flexible options other than refunds: a virtual run with either mailed swag or a chance to pick up swag when gatherings are deemed safe, a defferal to next year’s event, a race transfer to another race you produce, etc.
- Be empathetic, and kind. Runners are less likely to be angry if they feel like you’re part of the same team as them. This video from an Georgian runner and race director is a great example of using kindness to ask for kindness in return.
- Explain to runners why you need the money that they have entrusted you, either to sustain your race business or because the nonprofit you support is dependent on the funds. The Flying Pig Marathon does this simply, and well, at the end of their statement.
- Be authentic. While some of these statements are excellent, every race (and race director) has their own personality, and it’s part of why their runners love them. Don’t be afraid to sound like yourself – we wouldn’t suggest this message for most races, but it’s true to the spirit of Pretzel City Sports. In contrast, the BAA’s postponement message matches the professionalism and status of their event.
What about our sponsors?
Talk to your sponsors. The final decision on the race should be yours, but including them in the conversation will be more likely to bring them back next year. Depending on what your sponsor agreement says, and how flexible they are, see if they are willing to switch their race day committment to a committment to cover costs for mailing packets for a virtual run, for providing refunds to runners, or other expenses you anticipate with your changes.
If we offer deferrals, does the runner-purchased event insurance follow them to next year?
Runner-purchased event insurance policies can vary by provider. The runner should always reach out to the provider if they have specific questions about their policy. However, the last information that we got from our provider, Allianz, included the instructions that the runner should go to www.eventticketprotection.com and follow the guide in this PDF to update the date for their insurance policy.
Events in Late May/June/July/August: What should we do?
Should we advertise? Should we take registrations?
The current approach for this is varied. Some. Scenarios we’ve seen:
- Races with races in early May are adding additional language via questions requiring participants to acknowledge that they understand the situation is fluid and that the race may be postponed or changed to a virtual event.
- Races are moving full steam ahead, with communications (like Boilermaker, below) to let runners know they are monitoring the situation
- Races adding a virtual run option that runners can register for now, if they’re worried about cancellation, or that can be used as an option for all runners if there are still restrictions on gatherings.
- Races freeze all marketing efforts but leaving registration open while they monitor the situation.
- Races hold off on opening registration, or pausing it, while they monitor the situation.
How should we communicate with runners?
Communication with your runners can help avoid people requesting chargebacks under the assumption that the race won’t take place. Some examples:
- Boilermaker Road Race put out this statement (and emailed it to participants) to let them know that they are moving forward with preparations, but are monitoring the situation.
- Another race director gave an update like this: We are continuing to monitor this ever-changing situation and will follow recommendations from the CDC and state and local authorities to ensure the health and safety of both participants and staff.As of March 17, the race is still on as scheduled, although that is subject to change, based on outside developments and decisions from city officials. We hope to achieve more clarity in this regard by the end of this month.In the meantime, let’s all do our part to limit the spread of the virus by practicing social distancing and good hygiene. Stay healthy, keep washing your hands, and go for a run in the fresh air!
Can we still get race cancellation insurance to cover COVID-19?
It is unlikely that you can get race cancellation insurance to cover any issues related to COVID-19 at this time.
Nathan Nicholas from Nicholas Hill Group explained it this way:
There are many different markets for event cancellation insurance. Some options specifically exclude communicable disease coverage while others do not. If communicable disease coverage is a priority, then I highly recommend that events search out an “all-cause” policy. All-cause policies typically cover any peril that is not listed in the exclusions, which can make it very easy to understand. For example, The event cancellation benefit available to Running USA members (https://www.nicholashillgroup.com/running-usa-event…), which is underwritten by HCC Specialty, is written on an all-cause form. Unfortunately, policies purchased after the insurance companies learned of the Coronavirus outbreak will most likely include a specific exclusion for the current outbreak. However, once the threat is no longer a concern, some insurance carriers will choose to remove the specific exclusion for the illness in question.
If you purchased event cancellation registration prior to the emergence of COVID-19, you should check with your insurance company. Most cancellation insurance policies exclude pandemics, but there were some that may have covered them.
Virtual Run Recommendations
What do I need to know about shipping?
Collective experience indicates that first class USPS is your cheapest, best option for shipping under 16 oz. Most packets with a regular medal, shirt, and bib in a flat envelope will fall just under that weight, but you’ll need a scale to check the weight.
If you expect a significant amount of shipping, there are multiple tools you can use, including ShipStation, Stamps.com, goshippo, or Pirate Ship.
What else do I need to think about? One experienced virtual race director recommends:
- Create a shipping plan and communicate it with your runners. Fulfilling packets takes time, and it’s not as fast as Amazon 1-day. Be realistic in your timeframe, and share it with runners.
- Packages do get lost in the mail, so have extra buffer ready to send.
- Encourage engagement online. Use FB, Instagram, etc., to get people to share photos of their run – it adds fun to the experience.
How do I post results?
There are a lot of options, from an honor-system “no results” to proof-required submissions. You can use the virtual text/email system built into RunSignup, but race directors also have some other suggestions:
- A Google sheet linked on the website for runners to add their own times (note: if the sheet is editable, they can theoretically mess with each other’s times)
- A Google Form, where runners input their names and times. You can then download all the results as a CSV and either post them as-is, or upload them to a results platform.
- Email to the race director with results
- Posts on social media with pictures of watch times, finish selfies, etc.
With any results format, you can require a link to a Strava map or other proof if you are giving awards and want to verify accuracy.