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How to put on a "Budget Event"
This article gives you hints on how to reduce your expenses without reducing the quality or attendance at your race.

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Cool Running race promotion

Posted Monday, 29 April, 2002

This article does not tell you how to run a race. The other check lists supplied in our Race Directors' Forum identify those key items adequately. This article gives you hints on how to reduce your expenses without reducing the quality or attendance at your race.

Major budget items

In approximate descending order of cost

  1. T shirts (design and printing)
  2. Police
  3. Other hired help
  4. Scoring services
  5. Entry forms (design, printing and distribution)
  6. Publicity
  7. Postage
  8. Celebrities
  9. Prize money
  10. Awards
  11. Rental of facilities
  12. Rental of equipment
  13. Food and refreshments
  14. Signs
  15. PA system
  16. Film and video


If you are thinking of spending a few hours organizing a race to raise money for a worthwhile cause then stop right here! You are much better off baking cookies, washing cars, flipping burgers, or baby sitting. All of these activities are more effective methods of raising money. Without exception, every road race ever held is for a worthwhile cause. Runners do NOT come to a race for a worthwhile cause. They come to run and to be looked after. When they pay $10-$15 dollars for a race they expect a safe, quality, well run event with attractive shirts and adequate refreshments. If you manage that well, then they will come back and bring some of their friends. The key to making money from a race can be summarized in three tasks:

  • Create a good budget and micro-manage that budget all the way.
  • Develop a race committee that is dedicated, well connected that will not let you down.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to plan and implement - 6-12 months.

If you can accomplish these three tasks then you have a real chance of reducing your expense line and finishing in the black. With that in mind, let's look at all the major expense items and discuss ways to to reduce the bottom line on each of these items.

T shirts (design and printing)

Your T-shirts typically represents 50% of your expense budget. Hence, any reduction in your cost per shirt will have a major impact on your bottom line. Shop around. Get quotes from at least three vendors. Get the quotes in writing and insist that there are no hidden costs such as art work, screens, insurance, delivery etc. Ask other race directors or sporting groups who they recommend. Shop early and place your order early. If you ask for a last minute job, you will pay dearly. Make sure your shirts arrive 2 weeks before race day. Do not overdo the colors. Each color costs about 25 cents extra per shirt. A well designed three color shirt can be very effective. Consider using seconds. It takes a trained eye to pick the difference and you can save up to a $1 a shirt in some cases. Try to get the design donated through a favor/sponsorship. Use someone who knows what color separation and camera ready actually means, otherwise you might have to pay a middle man extra to perform this function.


Give the local police departments as much notice as possible. 12 months is a good idea. If you leave this to the last minute, you will pay. They will probably want detailed course maps showing every intersection and the times at which the lead, mid-pack and last runners pass through each intersection. You should provide this information. Your race cannot exist without the Police. Listen to their concerns and address them. Ask them for cost estimate early. If you can convince them that you know what you are doing, they may require fewer officers. Suggest to them that auxiliary officers and/or your own volunteers might supplement the regulars. Regulars are paid, typically a minimum of 4 hours and in 4 hour chunks. If you use auxiliaries to supplement the regulars, look after them. Maybe donate a percentage of the proceedings to their Association fund. It works out to be a lot cheaper than having 100% regulars. Make sure they all receive their T-shirts and make sure there are adequate XXXL sizes for some of the larger lads in the force.

Other hired help

Besides Police, you will need help from the local EMTs and amateur radio groups (unless you intend to do it all yourself). You should not have to pay for these organizations, as long as their contributions are publicly recognized and you give them as much notice as possible and listen to their concerns and needs.


This is one area that you should not attempt to do yourself. If this area is not handled correctly it could hurt the race for future years. Shop around for both a good/fair price as well as a proven reputation. Ask other race directors for referals. Choose a company that will bring their own clock(s) and finish line hardware. The finish line chutes must be snow fence type quality to stop people crossing between chutes. Borrow this from the local highway department in exchange for a few T-shirts

Entry forms (design, printing and distribution)

You need someone who has had desktop publishing experience to do the form design. Collect as many quality race entry forms as possible and mimick a design that best suits your race. The cheapest printing is a single white 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet (single or double sided). Multi folded forms or colored paper will cost more. Shop around for quotes. Find a local reliable printer who will give you a break on the price in return for some advertising.


This is the key to building your race. If people don't know about it, they will not come. Start with the local papers and work deals for each one of them to give you regular publicity. Contact all the local running clubs within a 2 hour drive and ask them to include your application in their newsletter and to distribute the application at the races they host. They may charge a small fee for this. Ask the local and not so local store keepers and also business to display your entry forms at their counters. Contact the local Corporations and Hotels and work with them to promote your race. If you cannot get them to sponsor your race, ask them for gift certificates to use as supplements to the main prizes. Get a team of running volunteers to take it in turns to take flyers to races in the area. Have these people do both the registration table as well as car windscreens. Consider advertising your race on the internet. CR is a great place to start, consider the free calendar. Consider the regional running magazines. Look at their fees and the areas they cover.


This can be a major expense item. Bulk mailing will save money in the second and subsequent years, however in the first year there are significant startup costs. A bulk mailing permit is $85 and the annual fee is another $85. Your first year cost will equal $170 and subsequent year will be $85. The cost of mailing applications will depend on how you sort by zip codeand on the size and weight of each piece. As a general rule, expect to pay around 21 cents per piece. You must also allow for a couple of weeks for delivery. Mailing out entry forms to selected distribution list is effective but can be expensive. You do not need to mail out a second notice if your entry form has all the required information.


This is where your contacts come into their own. Many celebrities do charge appearance money. Some hundreds, and some thousands of dollars. However, many of them will do it for a reduced fee, or for free if they believe in your cause or know some of the organizers. Celebrities, if their presence is promoted effectively, will draw crowds and that will impact your bottom line.

Prize money

Can you have a race without prize money? Of course you can, however, like celebrities, well proportioned prize money will attract better runners and their friends. For an inaugural race, you can live without prize money and still attract good runners, provided everything else is well managed. Perhaps you can find a good sponsor whose contribution will be the prize money and awards. Let the sponsor make the presentation.


This is an essential element for any race. Runners must be recognized for their achievements. You should consider reasonable agegroup divisions in 5/10 year groupings going 3 or 5 deep. Again, you must shop around for the awards. You do not need to have huge trophies, but look for attractive medals or smaller trophies. Shop around at both local stores and mail order companies.

Rental of facilities

Where you host your event is critical. Try to find a location, like a company, school or club, restaurant or brewery that has good inside facilities. The ideal location is a Corporation that is also your sponsor. That way they will cover your registration area liability and logistics, such as trash and janitorial services. These items can mount up to thousands of dollars.

Rental of equipment

You will need tables, bins, signs and a lot more. You either borrow these or rent them. The greater the energy and connections that your committee has then the less you have to pay for.

Food and refreshments

Do not skimp on the food, refreshments, water etc. for the runners. Befriend the local supermarket and offer them a sponsorship that consists of purely providing the refreshments for your race. Give them many months lead time so that they can make the arrangements with their providers. Talk to yogurt, bagel and juice companies if your supermarket cannot provide everything.


You need lots of signs, hundreds of them for things such as:

  • Course marking (distances, intersections, direction arrows)
  • Parking directions
  • Toilets
  • Registration
  • Start and Finish line

The more you have the better. Work a deal with the local sign writer for the main ones and have some volunteers buy poster board ($.20 a sheet) and spray paint, stencils or large colored markers. If they take their time, the end result will look good. Have a sponsor help with some of the signage costs and have their names put on them.

PA System

You should have a quality PA system. If you are borrowing a system from a friend or local school, check it out well in advance to make sure it is in good shape.

Film and video

You must have lots of stills and videos. Get your film in bulk and have it developed in bulk. Use the local access users and town/school video or photography club or other volunteers to take quality photos and videos for you.


As director you are responsible for the safety of each participant. You will, of course, take every precaution to insure their safety. Nevertheless you still need insurance to protect yourself from a lawsuit. Contact USATF-NE, they offer a very reasonable policy for road races. DO NOT skimp here!

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