Online Registration - A must for all events
Overheard during a post-event celebration a well know race director was quoted as saying "any race director who does not use online registration for their events is guilty of a form of malpractice".
Posted Sunday, 4 April, 2004
These might seem strong words but given the restraints imposed on any typical race director, this type of reaction is understandable. Any service used effectively, that reduces the volunteer's work load, brings more runners to the event and makes it easier for the runners to register, must be considered as a valuable asset for any event director. This is particularly true if it is FREE or at a cost of the entry fees of about two runners.
Online registration for events has been around in various forms for about six years. During the early period only a few adventurous directors embraced the process and with very mixed results. The early systems were often insecure, unreliable or cumbersome to setup and manage. There were some races that had disastrous experiences during these early days, including the loss of partial or complete registration databases. Over the years layers of security have been added, backup procedures implemented as standard, and setup procedures and tools have improved dramatically.
During this same period there was also a great deal of apprehension felt by both organizers and participants about this evolving process. Many runners just did not trust the process. More than just Internet security concerns, there was a feeling that maybe the registration might get lost in cyberspace. For a runner having to argue with an official on race morning about registration legitimacy, can be very upsetting and have a negative impact on their running performance.
At the same time for the race director, the setup of the registration page was often slow and cumbersome and subsequent changes were often impossible. This contributed to some negative experiences for the runners and organizers.
Things area lot different today. The best service suppliers are fully secure and there is no risk of your credit card or personal details being stolen off the web .
Modern IT practices have been employed with all reputable suppliers of online registration (OLR) services. Things like live copies of databases and regular backups make it almost impossible for data to be lost.
Setup and maintenance:
User-friendly browser based tools allow a typical event to be setup in 10 to 15 minutes. Even with limited computer skills you can now setup an online registration form by copying the key elements directly out of the main event web page or a registration flyer. The most important information, as well as the "hows", "whens" and "whys" of the race, are the fees and the date for close-out of the OLR service. This "close-out" date is typically 2-3 days before the event in order to give you time to review the database and print your signup sheets.
Once set up, your registration data is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
With online registration you have more valuable information on hand than you typically have from a paper mailed-in application, AND you didn't have to spend one second keying the application data or trying to read writing that looked like is was done while the person registering was out on a training run.
Why would anyone endure the old manual process when they don't have to:
- go to the PO Box
- open all the mail
- key all the data into a computer (including the mistakes)
- make up deposits
- take them to the bank
- chase missing or bounced checks?
Add to that the loss or misplacement of a batch of checks every so often, and a race committee is in territory that is just plain wasteful of valuable volunteer time.
Downloading your registration database:
The ability to directly download the registrations database at any time, is key to any OLR system. Typically three formats are preferred, Microsoft Excel, CSV text or Tab text files. Any of these three files can be imported into almost any spreadsheet or database application. The two text files (CSV or TAB) can also be imported into the timer's scoring application. A big plus for all races. Whilst the registration is still open, it is still a good idea to occasionally download the runner's database for several reasons. Firstly to see if you can do it and easily manipulate it within a spreadsheet or database. Secondly to scan through the records and check that everything looks good and there are no obvious issues or errors such as 5 year old children running a marathon, or duplicates. Also to practice any manipulation you might need to perform after the database is closed. The type of manipulation tasks that might be required are:
- Merging the OLR list with the list compiled from the printed applications
- Sorting the runners into their specific events if there is more that one event
- Assigning bib numbers or chips for each event
- Creating alpha and numeric hardcopy printouts for runner's pickup
- Creating a file that has all relevant information for your timer.
- Creating a file of elite runners for the press core
Once you have perfected these operations, you will have an idea how long it will take to prepare your complete database(s) of runners for the race. This will help you to determine when you should close your online registration service. It's a good idea to let your runners know well in advance when this service is going to close. Typically this is about 36 - 60 hours before the race(s). You also need to consider whether you are holding race day registrations or not as part of this decision. Do not leave the closure of your OLR service to the morning of the race.
The beauty of a registration system is that you, the race director, have access to the full demographics of the signups. You have access to several tools that give you registration information including registrations by day, week and month as well as town and state and full demographics of the runners.
In addition the service can act as a newsletter where you can send non-spam emails to registrants and advise them of any important information. Typically you should be able to add other email lists to this master list and use the service as your main broadcast method.
Fees associated with Online Registration:
This varies considerably from provider to provider. For simple setups typically there should not be a fee. For more complex setups that involve things like teams, especially large corporate teams, there might be a setup fee.
The cost of registrations is typically based on a percentage of each transaction (approximately 6%) and a small fixed fee of less than a dollar. This is a reasonable fee for this powerful service. Some OLR's provide additional powerful tools and services for a small fee and these should be considered.
Typically periodical payments are sent to the event director every month unless prior arrangements have been made.
Who Pays - runner or race director:
The event director has the choice of absorbing the online registration fees or passing them onto the runners. There are pros and cons for each. For example if the event director absorbs the fee then it will have a negative impact on the race budget but the runners will be happy. If the runner absorbs the fee then they might feel it is costing them extra to register online. This is definitely an event by event decision.
Pricing model and encouraging runners to use the OLR Service:
If runners are really encouraged to use the OLR service then there will be less data entry errors and the data entry task will be minimal compared with traditional data entry of typing in hard copy entries and dealing with missing and hard to read writing. It can save a race hundreds of hours in volunteer time. It also saves the runner considerable time and effort during the registration process.
Some races have promoted the service so effectively that up to 90% of all entries come through OLR. This should be the model for all event directors. Printed forms should still exist for the small percentage of runners who have absolutely no access to a computer or who still fear the Internet from a security perspective. Some races have decided to eliminate printed forms all together and just provide a form online that can be printed on a personal printer and filled in by hand. This can save the event thousands of dollars in printing costs and everyone who wants to register still has two options..
There are several ways to encourage runners to use OLR. Strong promotion of the service is always effective. However history has proved that price differentiation is the most effective. You make it more attractive to register online and runners will use the service. The bigger the difference between the two methods then the more folks will use the OLR service. You don't need to make the online cheaper, you make the mail-in process more expensive.
For example if the current price for a typical event is $20 then make the OLR fee $20 and the traditional print and post fee $25. That way you will bring in about the same revenue but drive the majority of runners to the OLR service. The larger differential will convey a stronger message.
If you have additional questions please email us and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.