Attracting international participants is easier than ever before – if you know how to go about it. More people travel to races outside their country of residence now than at any other time and the channels for finding and choosing an international race to enter are increasing.
Not all races have either the ambition or the potential to stand out internationally. If you organise 5k or 10k races locally, you neither need nor should want to put the effort in to go international.
If, however, you’re organising half marathons or longer events, have built a unique or historic race, a novel multi-discipline challenge or anything with a grain of character, you should spend a minute considering how the tips below can help take your race outside your country’s borders.
List your race on international race directories
The first thing you should do if you want to attract international participants to your race is to submit your race to as many international race directories as possible. It will only cost you your time and it is a great way to raise international awareness for your event.
Luckily for you, we’ve done all the research on international race directories for you. No need to go around looking for the right directories and add-my-race buttons. You can click here to view our full list of hand-picked free international race directories.
Go (part) multilingual on social media
If you have a good idea of what countries you’d like to tap into for international participants, you should think about preparing at least some content in their native language. You won’t have to do this for all of your content, but you should do it for things like registration announcements and ad campaigns.
This is a great strategy to get ahead of your competition and will be very well received by your international target audience. It shows you value their attention and are prepared to put in the effort to speak their language – literally.
To get your content translated, ask a friend or even one of your social followers in your target country for help. Make sure you approach them with a final draft of what you want translated and present them with a few alternatives to translate (you don’t want to be going back and forth with them on corrections and new copies).
How about a multilingual website?
In our opinion, providing a broad range of language options on your website will, in most cases, be a bit of an overkill. That is, provided your English version is top notch, well drafted and works as it should.
The problem with multi-lingual websites is that the non-English, non-native language pages are often poorly maintained and in some cases provide embarrassingly slate information. On top of that, the visitor traffic to these pages just doesn’t justify the effort in keeping them updated.
If you reel them in with multilingual social posts and provide a (sufficiently) multi-lingual registration experience, that’s usually sufficient. You don’t need to translate every single page on your website.
Choose a multi-lingual registration platform
Attracting international participants to your race only to lose them at registration is a frustratingly easy mistake to make. So before you get started, have a think about how international racers might be able to register for your event once they decide they want to participate.
Registering English speakers from another country to an English-speaking race is, of course, pretty straightforward. But there are large numbers of keen travelling racers, particularly in continental Europe, who may not be comfortable registering through an English-only registration page.
If you find yourself in charge of an event with strong international interest check with your registration provider whether registration pages could be translated in other languages. Quite a few platforms offer this capability, but for some it’s not considered a core functionality.
Advertise in local hotels & tourist hotspots
A great place to find potential international participants for your race is right where your race takes place.
Often regular racers travelling to destinations that capture their imagination will look for local races they can return and do in the future. So it’s good for your race to be front and centre of their attention when they’re in the lookout for a local event.
Probably the most efficient way of doing this is to partner with hotels in your area and ask them to promote your race with their guests in exchange for accommodation rights and promotion in your event. Here’s a couple of things you could ask for:
- Ask them to put up a poster of your race in their activities/experiences/excursions/upcoming-events bulletin board
- If they provide outdoors activities, either in-house or through partners, ask them to slip in a flyer of your race to customers
Besides hotels, you can also target areas with high tourist traffic, such as local attractions and places of interest to visitors. Here too aim for a partnerships or, if circumstances justify it, even a limited paid promotion of your race.
Join regional promotion schemes
Most, if not all, regional governments allocate a budget for the international promotion of local businesses and events in tourist and other international industry expos.
You should take advantage of this fantastic exposure channel by contacting your regional government tourism board or equivalent authority and discussing promotional programs your event could participate in. Not only will this provide valuable international airtime for your race, but also get you noticed within local government circles (always a useful thing when staging community events).
Participate in international race expos
Hitting the road and promoting your race in person in other races’ expos may not be one of the cheaper promotion channels, but it could be one of the most effective.
Obviously, you’ll have to pick your expos very carefully to make the most of your time and travel money. Ideally, you can combine your travel to an expo with a bit of racing or a vacation to justify the cost.
Hit the expo fully prepared with plenty of race promo materials and do not be shy about mingling with racers and shamelessly plugging your race as hard as you can.
The personal interaction will do wonders for converting racers and, although you’re getting to people in the middle of their race weekend, your seed of a future racing challenge will make its mark. For maximum impact, try to work a deal with the hosting race to “retarget” racers a week or so after the event by sending a quick promo email to all their participants reminding them of your race.
Partner with other international races
We’ve discussed the importance of strong strategic partnerships with other races in a whole dedicated feature in the past. Done right, they can deliver significant benefits both to your event’s credibility and bottom line.
In the context of international marketing, race partnerships offer obvious synergies: you offer me your local racing scene and I’ll offer you mine. This can be particularly effective if both your race and the race you’re partnering with have an interest in reaching each other’s national audience.
Things that can be done between partner races to help both partners reach beyond their own country’s participants include:
- Provide partner race participants with exclusive entry discounts to your race
- Pull your race and that of one or more partners into a “grand slam”, offering a trophy/prize to anyone who finishes all races within a specific time period, e.g. a year
- Join each other’s race weekends for a bit of direct marketing to participants (perhaps agree to do an optional presentation of each other’s race to the other racer’s participants as well)
Partner with specialist sports tourism agencies
Another very targeted channel for attracting international participants is through sports tourism agencies: tourist agencies who specialise in connecting travellers with sports events (both professional and mass-participation) in destination countries.
One of the most prominent and successful examples of such an agency in the UK is Sports Tours International. But nowadays every country with a decent race scene has at least one.
The way sports tourism agents work is by putting together holidays centred around a sports event. An example may be a 5 day holiday for you and your spouse to the New York Marathon. The package will include everything from race entry, hotel accommodation, transport to and from the airport, as well as any number of other activities you may decide to book. The agent will make money by selling in volume and take a cut from all the bits in the holiday, including race entry.
The race entry discounts involved in offering places to sports tourism agents are often steep, but placing entries with international visitors is neither cheap nor easy. In essence, the agent will have to do all of the marketing for your race and be able to reach a very specialised audience, so they do earn their fee with some distinction.
Often, the best sports tourism agents are so sought after and have such limited capacity for taking on new events, that you’d be lucky to work with them. So if you get the chance to do so and the economics work, our advice is to jump on the opportunity.