A recent study conducted by ARHub found that a some of the sport’s best racing organizations suffered from serious racer retention issues to the tune of 71% of all adventure racers only doing 1 race and not coming back. Given the enormous cost of acquiring new customers vs. retaining existing ones, the large obstacles that everyone faces when starting to participate in adventure racing, and the relative obscurity of the sport, this retention rate is catastrophic. So we put out a call to any interested race directors who had tackled the issue of racer retention.
Ron Eaglin of FLX was first to answer the call.
If you don’t know FLX, then you’re either new to AR or don’t get around much, as FLX is one of the premiere race organizations in the US, running ~11/12 adventure races each year, from 1-hour long family races to the infamous 72 hour Sea 2 Sea race. As far as professional race organizations go, they are at the top of the list. So while some of their activities and methods for outreach may be too time or resource intensive for one-man race organizations, it should help get the creative juices flowing and help democratize best practices, which is a core tenant of ARHub.
Take it away, Ron!
Solving the One and Done
As most race directors and promoters of adventure races know by now the One and Done syndrome is choking our favorite sport. These are practical things you can do in your race organization to directly address this issue. First some basic principles;
- Not everyone is like us
- People like to have fun
- People like to feel connected and special
With that out of the way, here are things that you can do to help foster that long-term relationship with your racers.
Prior to every race the race director or race organization should contact ALL first-time racers and make sure they know what to expect on race day. First-time racers do not know to be very early for map preparation, gear staging, and all the other things we take for granted. Make sure all first-time races have an idea of what to expect. This could be first contact by email, but I also recommend talking to them, so get permission to call them when they register. [editor’s note – a personal outreach can do WONDERS for setting up a positive experience for new racers. So set up time in the week(s) leading up to the race for some evening calls!]
__ Are you are first-time adventure racer or team?
__ Do you mind if we contact you to help you prepare for your race if so how?
In addition to this, you should also make sure that first-time racers do not race above their level. You can almost guarantee you will never see them again if you allow them into a challenging elite race for their first experience. This, of course, means you must tell them they are not ready which is not the best way to kick off a relationship. Here is how to make that a positive interaction;
|Bad Question to Ask||Good Question to Ask|
|How good of a navigator are you?||Can you tell me how much experience you have with compass navigation on USGS maps?|
|Do you know how to paddle?||Are you familiar with the correct strokes to use for canoe steering in tight rivers?|
|How good are you in technical mountain biking?||Are you comfortable with advanced level drops on a mountain bike?|
This will initiate a conversation and hopefully, the racers will make a decision on the correct level. Always be encouraging and if racers are interested in increasing their skills, make sure you have suggestions.
On Race Day, Check-in is their first impression of your organization and adventure racing. Your check-in staff should be prepared to identify and help all first-time racers. In addition, you MUST have resources available to help these first-time racers. This could include an AR101 course or a small navigation course. You should also have experienced racers available to help the new teams with anything they need in map preparation. Everything at this stage should be a first good impression.
When we get to the pre-race you should call out and identify all first time teams and have all the veteran teams applaud them and welcome them. We have not done this, but we are also going as far as possibly considering something like a special jersey to identify first-time racers. Again they should be made to feel they are welcome and special.
During the Event, you should have people monitoring key points of the course. This does mean also helping first times teams mostly not get lost. The idea is simply to help them feel welcome and to also avoid the frustration that many first time navigators feel when doing their first course. This does not mean giving teams unfair advantages in competition, but simply being able to answer simple questions like “Where are we?” makes teams feel much more comfortable and happy.
After the Event, you should get results prepared quickly while having activities such as raffles and food to keep people occupied. Remember, most teams and racers have had a long day and they want to get home. Race directors need to have a plan that can get results done quickly, and get people home. During the ceremonies, I recommend having a finisher award for all first-time racers and declare them now “Adventure Racers”. A medal or patch is appropriate. In addition, another idea that keeps teams engaged is a “Clearing Award” – what this does is changes the competition from team vs. team to team vs. course. This makes sure there is always a reachable challenge for teams at all levels.
Post Event is also critical. Now is the time to get posts to Facebook and tag racers. It is also the time to contact those first time teams and make sure they had a good time. It is also a great time to ask them for advice they could give to other first time racers as they have a perspective that you will not have. Post race engagement is very important and this includes stories, blogs, photos, posts on all social media, results, and congratulations. At a minimum, you should have a special Facebook post that congratulates all first-time racers on the completion of the course. If you have an email list of your local racers, it is appropriate to have a results e-mail that also congratulates the first time racers.
Water Under the Bridge (or is it?)
Most of our organizations have a large group of racers that have already raced with us and have not returned. Some may view this as an opportunity lost, but these are racers that might be interested in returning with the right motivation. Next, we will be exploring strategies to bring back those racers.