LAST UPDATED: 2 December 2022

Race Expos

Expo sales expert Craig Mintzlaff discusses how race expos can benefit events of all sizes by increasing revenue and enhancing participants' race experience.

Craig MintzlaffCraig Mintzlaff

Race Expos

When you think of race expos, what kind of thing comes to mind? Well, if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking huge pre-race expos like New York or London, where you go to pick up your bib and race packet, and where you get to stroll around hundreds of booths from high-profile running brands showcasing their latest thing.

Race expos are actually a lot more common than you think, and, according to my guest today, absolutely every event can and should have one. And why wouldn’t yours? Race expos are an amazing way to elevate your participant’s event experience, a good way to add an additional revenue stream to your race, and just about the best way to activate sponsorships and expand the roster of your commercial partnerships.

My guest today, industry veteran Craig Mintzlaff, has been working on races and race expos for more than 20 years. Through his company, Endurance Sports Marketing Group, he’s been managing expos for some of the best-known events and event series in the industry, and he’s with us today to share some of the many things he’s learned from setting up, promoting and selling out hundreds of race expos on both sides of the Atlantic.

In this episode:

  • How all events - not only larger races - can put on a successful race expo
  • What vendors are looking for from attending a race expo 
  • Figuring out how many vendors your expo can support
  • Types of vendors to invite to your race expo
  • The benefits of expo booth-swapping with other events in your region
  • Putting a price on your race expo booths/space
  • Balancing in-kind vs cash contributions from expo partners
  • Negotiating partnerships with local vs national brands
  • Unlocking the right contact to reach out to in vendor organizations
  • The importance of securing a retail partner before going after the big brands (e.g. Brooks, Nike, Asics etc)
  • Selling your race expo to vendors: understanding your event demographics, CPMs, focusing on race experience
  • Making your expo partners' lives easier: offering to staff their booths on their behalf!
  • How to lay out your expo for maximum lingering time (hint: put all the freebies, drinks at the back)
  • Raffles, stamps, competitions and other tips for increasing participant engagement with vendor booths
  • Taking your expo to the next level with music and an announcer

Thanks to GiveSignup|RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 22,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use GiveSignup|RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about GiveSignup|RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit

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Episode transcript

Panos  2:21  
Craig, welcome to the podcast!

Craig  2:23  
Hi, thanks for having me.

Panos  2:24  
Well, thanks so much for coming on. Where are you currently based at?

Craig  2:27  
At the moment, I'm sitting in one of our European offices in snowy Bavaria at southern Germany.

Panos  2:32  
Oh, that's super! What do they do there? Sausages? Beer? What's the specialty there?

Craig  2:36  
All of the above, absolutely. As we're heading into the winter, we actually started drinking Gluehwein which is, like, a spicy hot red wine that we have during the winter. 

Panos  2:45  
All right. And you have those Christmas markets, right? 

Craig  2:48  
We do. But thanks to our COVID situation that we've had for the last two years, it was just announced last week that they're canceling all Christmas markets throughout Germany this winter, so it's not a good situation economically. They already had the Munich one already set up but canceled it last week. So, there's a very large negative economic impact within the area. 

Panos  3:14  
That's terrible. We used to have sort of, like, German-style Christmas markets in London when we lived there, and we used to love them. It's the thing to look forward to for Christmas.

Craig  3:23  
So our conversation today will definitely bring up COVID as it affects many events around the world, especially here in Europe and the US - not quite as much but it has over the last year. So we'll see how things work out over the next year.

Panos  3:38  
Right. So you've done a great number of things, actually, in the endurance event space - lots of different stuff. Why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about your background in the industry and all the different roles you've had?

Craig  3:52  
I won't make it too long, although it is long. So I began by working with Network Magazines in the United States. They were based out of San Diego and Chicago. I worked out of the Colorado offices - this is from 1995 through 2000. We had a conglomeration of 18 sports magazines around the country, all specific to that region, which made it very unique. So I did that for about five or six years. And during my process there, which I will go into more detail, I started my first business "GroundZero Sports Marketing Group." Then, I farmed off and started doing expo sales for major marathons and cycling events around the country, and I did that for another six or seven years. In that time frame, we helped launch the LiveStrong Band when it came out, we launched the Jelly Belly Sport Bean when it came out, and we helped many different companies that came to us to launch their products through sports expos around the United States. So, that's kind of how everything evolved. Then, it took a couple of years working worldwide - out of the United States - for Rudy Project Eyewear. Then, just five years ago, as we had many companies that were looking to launch their products in Europe and vice versa, we started meeting different companies throughout Europe. I moved to Germany to open an office here to start working on some events throughout Europe and also to help some companies - which we still do today - launch from Europe to the US and vice versa. In the midst of all that, in the last few years, we were working with the Haute Route cycling events around the world, mainly in the United States - because they're both in Europe and the United States - and other cool events like the Blacklight Runs, the Bubble Runs, and a handful of about 140 events throughout the US. Then, just recently, we became partners in the Nocturne Cycling events, which will host six major cycling events throughout the world next year, and then another three in 2023. They're based out of London, and we're helping them in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Milan, and San Francisco. So, that puts us to where we are today.

Panos  6:20  
Awesome. Well, those are some really high-profile events there - particularly in Europe. I know those events quite well - particularly, in the cycling world - they're awesome events. So you've done a few things around race expos, which will be the topic of our discussion today. I claim complete ignorance - I should be upfront about this. I know very, very little about race expos. Let's set the scene a little bit for race directors who have not put on a race expo as part of their event. What are we talking about? What is a race expo? And from the point of view of the race director of an event, what kind of purpose does it serve in the grand scheme of things?

Craig  7:06  
I know many of your listeners are race directors for large and small events, so I'll try to answer those questions in a way that covers both aspects of it. So, on the purpose of an expo, I kind of made a list of mainly three things (1) to create an experience, (2) to make money and profit off of selling expo space, (3) to execute sponsorship. So for people that are involved with your event that wants some added exposure on-site and reach these athletes before the event - we can go into more detail about packet pickups - we have many of our clients do packet pickups one or two days prior to large events for people to pick up their packets and see clients before the event.

Panos  8:03  
Right. Okay, I think that's a great summary. So basically, we're saying that, (A) race expos are gonna make people have a better day out because there'll be things for them to do there, (B) we make some money out of vendors and other people who want to actually appear in the expo, and (C) it's a great place to just showcase sponsors and help activate the sponsorships that I already have. Is that right?

Craig  8:32  
Exactly. And I'll add that, especially now, it has changed over the last decade or so. With millennials, most people would know that events now are more about the experience than the actual running or cycling events. So, it definitely has changed over the years. When we started, back in 1995, we were really right at the launching of sports expos becoming a necessity, becoming more popular, or a moneymaker for some of these events that really grew very, very fast. So, at one point, we were running expos for some of the largest marathons from Seattle to San Francisco - for several of the Rock 'n' Roll races and the Boston Marathon - and they needed our help because there were so many clients to call or reach out to come out to these events. So, the expo world grew very, very fast. Now, it's, kind of, just second nature and, kind of, mandatory for all events to do one.

Panos  9:30  
It's interesting. There are expos for very big events - marquee events like the London Marathon, Haute Route, and all of those places. Is it fair to say that even for my local 10K or local half marathon, I can aspire and work towards having an expo for that kind of smaller event?

Craig  9:58  
Oh, absolutely. So, our firm also owns several smaller running events in Colorado - and we work with another 20 or 30 events in Colorado. Some of those smaller events may only have 500 to 1,000 runners and that's not necessarily necessary, but it's definitely a great added value for you to have a small expo, whether it be a local gym or a local retailer serving beer or wine at the finish line - which is, kind of, just secondary for all events, if they can get an alcohol permit to have that at the finish line - local food companies, or food trucks at the finish line. Everything can be considered an expo by just having any type of vendors, booths, food trucks at a finish line. So yeah, anyone could do it.

Panos  10:51  
Okay. You mentioned the finish line where people are finishing - I guess that's the natural place to set up the expo - where they have a little bit more time on their hands after the race to engage with everything that I have put together for them there.

Craig  11:05  
Correct. For smaller events, yes, always have them at the finish line because that's where everyone's congregating, it's where the spectators and friends are waiting to meet the finishers, it's where you have your post food area, and it's where you have your bag pickup - let's say, if it was a race from A to B. Yeah, we have very few vendors. If we have an event that goes from A to B, meaning that the race starts at one point and finishes at another, at that point, maybe, you can just have a coffee vendor or food vendor there. But again, most of our smaller events do expos at the finish line. The only difference would be the large events that have pre-expo packet pickup, whether it'd be one or two days before. Then, they also have an expo at the finish line. There are different vendors that want different things - whatever their purposes of getting involved with the event - whether they really want time with them beforehand and sell them something. So, they come to the packet pickup or to the finish line early. Many times, the athletes don't have funds or money. So, it's not really the sales aspect that clients are looking, in terms of return on investment by selling something. So, what every client need or want is different.

Panos  12:24  
Okay, very interesting distinction. So you're saying that, basically, if I go to the large marathon expo in London or New York to pick up my packet, there'd be people there who would actually not have any wallet and who would want to sell me stuff. Whereas, the expo I have on race day at the end of my event might be more, like, I guess-- brand awareness - is that what vendors at that expo would be looking for?

Craig  12:50  
Exactly - brand awareness. So, let's say, at the finish line, there would always be your food and beverage companies. A lot of times, other events are there to market their event - they like being at the expo beforehand so that they can chit chat with them longer - they just want to be at the finish line so that they can pass you a flyer promoting their event or other running race or cycling event that they have later on throughout the season. So, it depends on what the client wants. That's much of what we do when we reach out to our clients. We ask them, "What's the purpose of you wanting to get involved?" If it's sales, we usually steer them to come in a day or two before the packet pickup, not at the finish line. But again, we leave that up to them - what they want to do.

Panos  13:38  
Yeah. It's interesting that, among the type of vendors or people you have at your expo, particularly, for a small race, you can have other races in your area or other people who may have an interest in passing on some event details to your finishers - that's something that any event can look forward to, right? I mean, it's not particularly hard to find some events in your area and work with them to be part of your race expo.

Craig  14:08  
Absolutely. So you brought me aboard to come up with some ideas and suggestions. So, I've got a great one. This one, we do very heavily in Colorado, because that's where we've been based for so long - definitely, partner yourself with other events in your region. Many race directors we've worked with think of that as competition - they're not. You want to be their friend. So, for example, all of my events are in the fall - September, October, November, December - so, I have no problem allowing other events that have events in February, March, April, May, throughout the summer, to come into our event. So, what we do with about five or six different event directors in Colorado is we swap booths. We will go to their events in the summer for free and promote our events that are coming up in the fall and vice versa. Then, we allow them to come to our event in the fall to promote their next spring or summer events. Sometimes, we'll have up to four or five other events at our fall events promoting their summer events, if that makes sense. 

Panos  15:22  
Right. And that would be, I guess, the equivalent of doing, like, an in-kind sponsorship or something. You're not getting cash out of it, but you're basically getting potential registrations, which is as good as cash, I guess, because other events show up in your event and you show up in other people's events. So, it's like a cross-promotion.

Craig  15:39  
To me, as a race director, again, not every race director feels that money saved is money earned. So, if I can give a free booth to someone who'll then come and bring 4,000 bottles of Reign energy drink or 4,000 bags of chips - well, you need to take care of your athlete at the finish line - it's better for me to get it for free by just giving them some space at the expo instead of just charging them. So we worked with different races around the country that think of that differently. Some of them definitely want some money upfront, but others - yes, it is a high expense for them to feed food and beverages to the racers - have no problem doing a 100% trade for a booth space in the expo for free food.

Panos  16:27  
That's an interesting point. It's something that I also, at times, had to struggle with. When you have someone coming to you with an offer or something that adds value to your event like free food - nutrition product companies do it quite a lot - they approach events and say, "I'm going to give you free products and stuff." From your point of view and your experience in selling these spaces and sponsorships, essentially, where do you draw the line? What's a good balance? Should you ask for money on top of the free product? Should you just take the free product and be happy with it? Like, how far can you push that?

Craig  17:03  
So, you just used the word that intertwined with our conversation - you used the word sponsorship, which is a big difference. So, if Clif Bar calls me up and says "I just want a booth to come and pass out bars", then, yes, we'll either give it to him for free-- it depends what they're gonna give. If they're gonna give a free bar for each runner, most likely, it's a yes. If I'm a smaller event and just some booths are all they want - I'm already there at the event, I have my park, I have some open space on the grass - and it's going to make my event better, then yeah. I'll maybe just give them the booth for $100 or something to cover your cost of some time, table, chair, or whatever you have if it's an outdoor event. But there's a big difference for sponsorship. So, if they're asking for banner ads, PA announcements, E-Blasting, or a logo on T-shirts, there's a big difference. So if it's just for expo, for me as a race director, most of the time, I'll let them have it for free or at a very discounted price so that they would come to provide hundreds or, if not, thousands of dollars worth of product. 

Panos  18:17  
Okay, that makes sense. That's a very straightforward answer. So, in terms of the size that these expos go up to, for a small event - I mean, it's not really a small event, given that the average event is probably around the 500 mark, we keep thinking of those events as being small, but they're not - let's pick the example of a 1,000-person race or a 500 person race, how many of those spaces those little vendor booths would I look to have? Is there even a limit? Can I have as many as I can sell or as many as, I guess, my expo area would support?

Craig  18:59  
You answered my question. So yeah, how much space do you have? So if you have unlimited space - let's talk about small events first - then, typically, an event that we work with will have just 5, 6, or 7 vendors. So, getting expo partners and attendees is also time-consuming, which is what most race directors don't have - they also don't have the database, which is how my company got started. So when we started, we were like, "Hey, no problem! If you guys want to help, then go and find some more vendors for us." The way we operate - which I should have explained - is we don't charge a fee for expo sales, we just take a higher commission. So, there's no cost to the events that we work with. But over the years, we've reduced the number of events that we work with just because there's only a certain bandwidth of what we can handle. And then, we do some expo management where we're actually hired by the event to do everything. We designed the maps, we made the itineraries, we're on-site to make sure they show up and know where to set up, we rented all the tables and chairs beforehand, but that's another whole side of the business - we only do it for a small handful of events. Back in the day, we did it for 30 or 40 events around the country but, now, we're just doing more of the sales aspect of it. It depends on how much work they want to put into it. Even some small companies or events that we worked with in the US actually hired an expo salesperson which we work with, because they're our liaison for, "Here, we have Clif Bar coming. Here, we have Nike coming." We just let them know and they execute it for us. So small events typically have 4, 5, 6, or 7 vendors, local gym, local retailer - maybe it's a spin gym or workout gym - local clothing company, or local brewery. Yeah, it depends on how much work you want to put into it. So typically, small events have 5-10 vendors, medium-sized events have 15 to 30 vendors and, then, of course, our major marathons have anywhere between 50-150 vendors - it's a big business for them.

Panos  21:20  
Speaking of all of those local businesses, I mean, some of them are, I guess, obviously, the kinds of people that you may also turn to for, maybe, a sponsorship. From your point of view, after having done this for a while, how would you go about matching an event with potential candidate vendors for the expo?

Craig  21:42  
We work more on a national basis - we always explained that to our local and smaller events. We target local vendors within 20 kilometers, which we also do for the Bubble Runs as well. The one thing we've learned, which I'll go into details, is local vendors are people that can drive there - those local retailers down the store, a local gym, or brewery. But some of our markets - Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Colorado, Denver - is huge because there are so many companies based in those regions. And also - I can talk for hours about this one - there are local sales reps. So we deal with this even on a worldwide basis through distributors. So all these companies-- let's say Nike, for instance, you might reach out to Nike, but the local reps have budget. 20% to 25% of our business, back in the day, came from local reps. So, companies used to do their budgets annually, but most of them don't do that anymore. They'll have a budget set aside, but they'll spend it quarterly. So, don't think that you need to go run as fast as you can to get accepted for small, medium, and near large companies to get their budgets because they spend it quarterly. Then, what happened over the years is they handed the budgets and approvals for events and expos to their local sales reps. So I got to know - again, it must be Colorado specifically - all the reps in the area because I became friends with them and they got to know my events. They had the power and, many times, the money to spend to get involved with specific events. I'll use Brooks as an example. The Brooks rep in Colorado literally had a specific budget of, like, $25,000 to spend on what events he wanted to get involved with and go to. So, this is, kind of, going across the boards but getting to the major companies early. So let's say that you want to call up Nike or some of the running companies, ask them to connect you with their local rep, then go grassroots and go local. Especially if you're an event that's under 5,000 people, stay local. But if you get above 5,000-10,000 people, then you're going straight to national because you're going to be charging more and many of these larger companies have limits. I'll use Reign energy drink for example - their local person that manages that region is allowed to spend up to $1,000 per event to be part of an expo, but anything above that got to go to headquarters in California. So, if you're a smaller event, stick and reach out to locals. People don't like driving to events anymore and we definitely learned that in Colorado - it's kind of that one and a half hour limit - so, stay within a 20-30 kilometer distance from your event.

Panos  25:17  
So I think lots of people would be positively surprised to hear that, basically, national brands have allocations - they have budgets for investing in opportunities like the ones we talked about at the local level - but the person managing the purse strings is the local rep, and he has authority to come out and take a booth in your event, even if we're talking, like, Brooks, Nike, and those kinds of people that lots of the smaller events may think are completely out of reach.

Craig  25:53  
Yes, absolutely. Also, we get hired to help sell expo space. Many of our events we started working with asked, "Well, do you sell sponsorship?" So, we do very little of that. Why? Because all medium-sized to large-sized companies have an entire event marketing person and an event marketing budget, whether it's a global marketing person or national marketing person. Most of the medium-sized or large-sized companies - even the small ones too - have specific event marketing persons. So when we make phone calls or reach out to companies - which I was even doing this morning here for all of our cycling events that we're doing around the world - I'll send an email out and say, "Hey, we have events we're working on. Can you connect me to your event marketing person?" 90% of the time, they have one specific for event marketing - not media, or sponsorship, because those have much more work, I guess, or they are just different. And so, they have a specific person to speak to just for events.

Panos  27:07  
That's another, kind of, term that I came across the other day. Is the event marketing person different to, maybe, someone whose role may be, like, a field marketing person? Are they two different roles?

Craig  27:21  
Yes, great question. The field marketing person - again, I'll use examples of Reign energy drink or Monster energy drink - we reached out to them and they have regional marketing people that are specifically put into specific regions. So we've called the Reign energy drink and they're, like, "Okay, cool. Can you reach out to our nine different regional marketing people we have in each regions? Those people will be making the decision." So they're not sales reps because they're not doing any sales aspect. Their literal job is more on food and beverage than any other brands - it's food and beverage that they're out there. We reach out to each one of them and give them the list of the events we work on, and then they let us know what events they want to get with. And they have their own budgets too, like, completely separate as well.

Panos  28:18  
Ok, so as Craig has, hopefully, demonstrated so far, the key to a successful race expo - and to a successful event, for that matter - is that elusive thing: the race experience. 

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Ok, now, let’s get back to the interview with Craig Mintzlaff. Next up - what really happens when a big brand decides to come out and join my race expo?

Panos  29:57  
Going back to those big national brands and stuff, let's say that I reach out to my local rep at Brooks, they have a budget, they're interested in my event, and they want to show up, what should I expect from someone like that? So if I have closed Brooks as one of my vendors for the expo, they'll show up, take up a 10 by 10 space or something, and then they'll put out some shoes. Like, what would they be looking to do on the day?

Craig  30:25  
Alright, you brought up another whole topic. The first thing that any cycling or running event should do before anything when they launch their event is to go find a retail partner - this is so important - because, immediately, the first question that the Brooks rep will ask is, "Who is your running store sponsor? Is it Runners Roost, Boulder Running Company, or whoever?" Because that's so important to them, they want to know. They're not going to sell on site. Their whole point is to close the loop - right? So their whole point is to be there, come to the event, show their shoes, and say, "Oh, yes. They are available at Runners Roost running store. There are 10 of them here in Colorado." We're working on that exact program right now. Like, for the last two weeks, we've been working with Dick's Sporting Goods and Road Runner Sports for our 140 events around the country, because several of our potential partners, sponsors, and expo vendors have already asked that question, "Who are you partnered with?" People like that are not there to sell, they're there to promote, and that's why, many times, we'll also go get a grocery sponsor or grocery partner even if it was just Whole Foods getting involved to donate the apples or the bananas and have a booth at the finish line. We've done that for some events. They're, like, five blocks up the street and they know that the race will happen only 10 kilometers around their grocery store, and we know that our runners in this race are coming from within 20 kilometers. So, that's how they can market - they bring some bananas and apples and promote their grocery store. So again, it helps to close the loop on vendors and sponsors when you have retail partners. It's crucial. 

Panos  32:28  
Yeah. I mean, I totally get it. It does answer the question very well. You're saying that, basically, there will not be, like, a Brooks person there, like, with a stack of shoes, selling shoes, and taking your credit card details. Basically, they'll be more of a high end car dealership or something. You'll see the kind of product that you might be interested in there, then they'll refer you to whoever your retail partner is, and they'll say, "You can find the new Brooks' Adrenaline, or whatever, in that shop."

Craig  32:58  
The large events that are listening to this podcast obviously know that - right? I heard once that Brooks did over $100,000 in sales over a three-day period at the New York Marathon - right? So they're their official clothier and they're their official shoe. When you go and buy those shoes from Brooks at the New York Marathon, it'll not go to Brooks - it'll run through some retail partner or retail sponsor. So when you see your credit card statement, it'll not say "Brooks", it'll say "ABC Running Store." So, again, that's why it's crucial. 

Panos  33:41  
Right. Okay. And for those sponsors, when you want to approach your Brooks rep or even the other types of vendors you may wish to have as part of your expert - your local chiropractor, your local family lawyer, or those kinds of people - what are you going to be pitching to them? So what are you selling those guys on? I mean, it's the Brooks rep's job, probably, to be familiar with what a race expo has to offer and what is his, like, whole offering around these kinds of things. But for other businesses - and even the Brooks rep - what kinds of numbers would they expect to see? And what would they wish to be sold on to take part? 

Craig  34:24  
Great questions. We're selling eyeballs, we're selling attendees. So, everything's based on - one of the questions you had on our sheet was the cost - a CPM. We definitely changed the market, back in the day, when we came into managing so many expos around the country. Some loved us, some hated us. Why? Because some realized that they were completely selling their expo space too cheap - right? So we worked with the Bolder Boulder. Most people in the United States would know the Bolder Boulder 10K - it's actually the eighth largest running race in the world, they get just about 60,000 runners, it's a 10k race. At the time, when we were working with them, they were only selling their booths for, like, $600 for the two-day packet pickup and only, like, $800 for the day of the race. Now, as people kind of learned what they should really be charging, they charged $1,400 for the expo two days beforehand, and $2,400 to be there on the day of the race at the finish line in front of 60,000 people. So, the cost can't be too expensive - anything between $50-$100 per thousand is, kind of, the number I wanted to throw out at you. Again, it depends on the race director's goal, though. So in the very start of our conversation, I believe as a race director, my goal is not more of the financial side of things, it's the experience, because ultimately, as a race director, you want your racers to keep coming back year after year after year. And if they don't have a fun experience, they don't think that they get great value or something out of it - whether they came and got some free drinks, some free food, or a free entry to go to the gym for the week - they may not come back, right? So, they're there for the experience. So, don't make it too expensive for them. And then, make it easy for these reps and these people that come, like, "It's quick. It's here. Here's where we set up." Make it much easier for the smaller events that are outside. The larger events with all the unions and indoor stuff have a lot more work. Just make it easy on them to get involved, be there, set up beforehand, pop up a tent, reach the people, and get in front of them so that people would come to their booth.

Panos  36:52  
And beyond the CPM-- I mean, definitely, the CPM for your Bolder Boulder example is super attractive, particularly, for endemic brands. Unfortunately, people may be familiar, for instance, with Facebook ads' CPM which can tend to be very, very low. And if you go to someone who's not very familiar with the race expo concept, they might think, "Oh, for the same cost, I can reach to these many people on Facebook using Facebook ads, for instance." But I'm guessing you also want to sell this thing on the quality of the engagement, not only on the cost and the quantity of engagement. The fact that you're there and your target audience is in front of you, you can engage them at a richer and deeper level - right?

Craig  37:39  
Yeah. And definitely know your demographics - they'll ask that a lot. So the average now is - I see it because I also used to announce races and stuff in Colorado, and it's crazy - about 60% to 70% of all runners are females. I mean, I'm sure race directors hearing this on the podcast would agree with me. Also - it's a shame because I ran my first marathon when I was 15 - there are no more millennials, there are no kids. It's crazy! So we do kids races at all of our events because we do it to give back and just get kids out there. But the average age now of runners at some of these half marathons, 10K's and along the tangent of triathlons are in the mid-to-high 30s. That's crazy! It's a shame that you don't see more millennials and those in their 20s. They're busy playing video games or whatever they're doing. So, definitely know your demographics because they'll ask that. We definitely go after women products as well, because that's usually the majority of all of our runners, especially the Bubble Runs that we worked on. So if it's a women's specific product - and we only know 60% to 70% of our vendor or attendees are women - sometimes, we will give them a discount because we want them there, but we also know they're specifically only trying to reach the women market.

Panos  39:04  
Right. And that's going back, again, to the balance between "Yes, trying to use the expo as a bit of a revenue earner" and also "always keep in mind the race experience, how important that is, and how much the right kind of vendor can enhance the whole race experience for people coming to the race" - right?

Craig  39:28  
Yep. Correct. And a good mix is nice. You got food and beverage companies. You got some local retailers. You have some local reps and also - we didn't go down this tangent - local charity. Whoever you've teamed up with, you should definitely give back to the community. That's just second nature for everybody to give back to the community in some form or fashion, whether they're getting $1 per runner or 50¢ cents per runner. Plus, you can use that relationship to help market your event - right? So there was a marathon that actually had a charity for every single mile. So, at the finish line, there were 26 booths all lined up for every single charity, and it gave people the opportunity online, beforehand, to decide where they wanted their dollar to go - what charity that they wanted it to go to. So go meet them at the expo. It made it more fun, right? So, you get to go see all these different charity groups that you would want to benefit or help out somehow.

Panos  40:35  
Now, with the proliferation of things like smartwatches and the fact that everyone carries a phone that is, sort of, like, pay-ready, do you find that, maybe - we mentioned earlier that they're not really there for selling because people don't have their wallet on them or something - vendors can start thinking of the expo also as a place to actually sell, given that people sort of carry their wallets on their watches or in their phones now?

Craig  41:04  
Absolutely. Thanks for bringing that up. It's definitely easier for people to do that now with Apple Pay, PayPal, and other different ways to do that. I recently took a client to the Munich marathon and there was a company that we found in the UK that, actually - again, we're just trying to keep up with the technology because you and I are older - sent me this digital box and I had no idea that technology had gone so far. It's a box - all I have to do is turn it on and it automatically finds and connects to the internet - it's like a phone, technically, if you want to think of it that way, because it finds the internet. Now, I've just created this little box that is a touch-free tap credit card terminal right there on the spot. I thought I bought the wrong one. When I got it, I turned it on, like, "Wait, it actually just connected to the internet and it's taking wireless payments." So definitely, race directors need to constantly keep up on technology and how things are done at the expo, especially since people want to register for the event at the expo day of race, right? So most races do that nowadays because so many people are procrastinators and make the decision two days beforehand, like, "Oh, I'll run that 10K in two days" which race directors hate and love because they're paying twice as much to run the race, but it's also - you got too many of them at the expo on that morning - a lot of work.

Panos  42:29  
And besides the cash - which is pretty straightforward - the free product, the free service, or the free experience, which I guess, as you were saying, is either cost-saved or race experience enhanced, what are the kinds of stuff can I look forward to from my race expo vendors to contribute or to bring on to the expo? 

Craig  42:56  
This is something that no one really does well enough, including myself, because it's time. You only have so much time and you have to remind people. So, in the example I gave you with working with other races, sometimes we've even swapped out E-Blasting - right? So, use your partnerships with these expo vendors to promote your event - no one does this well. So for example, Runners Roost - and they're good at it in Colorado - was my official retailer for four of my running races. So my schedule, every two weeks, was to send them an email to tell their event marketing person who then told their social media person, "Hey, make sure we send out an E-Blast promoting the Monster Dash Run that's coming up in three weeks that Runners Roost is a sponsor of." And it helps you. So, use your expo vendors for marketing and social media. Also, if you make flyers for your event, it should be distributed to all those running stores or that local gym down the street - have them pass it out. Also, social media can help you with all this stuff and get more exposure. In some of the events that we are involved with, we give our partners four to five free entries for their staff - they're great added value - so then, their staff can come and run the event, and then they would market and promote it on social media. So again, my point is, use your sponsors and your expo clients to help market your event through social media, through flyer distribution, or through email blasting.

Panos  44:59  
Right. I mean, it's an obvious place to use the expo to activate some of those sponsorships. What if a sponsor, for instance, can't turn up or something? Would you put something on their behalf? Do you ever do that in an expo where you want to help a sponsor, but maybe they can't travel or they can't attend? Or maybe - to be honest with some sponsors - they can't even see the value of it and if you want to demonstrate to them that you can go the extra mile for them, would you put up a booth on their behalf? Would you do that for someone like one of your sponsors who can't attend?

Craig  45:35  
We've definitely done that before especially now - you've opened up a whole can of worms - due to COVID-19 and also the problem of staffing in America, because no one wants to work anymore. So we've done it for the food companies that we've worked with and the coffee companies that we worked for. It's a lot of work. Like, literally, the day before an event, we had a staff member drive 20 kilometers to go pick up a tent and all the coffee beans or stuff that we need for the event. Believe it or not, we've purchased, like, 20 coffee urns and made the coffee at two or three o'clock in the morning - so it's there for them - because, again, it's the experience for the racers. Everyone asked for coffee in the morning- right? So, it's amazing - what I've done and,  I'm sure, other people listening to this podcast have done. They have many stories of what they've done for expo people, vendors, and sponsors to make them happy - right? So, go that extra mile. Staffing-wise - that's a huge issue - before we jumped on this podcast, I wanted to bring that up. It's a huge problem. Like, these people would love to come to the event. So for example, what we've done with the Bubble Run is we created other ways to get them involved if they still want to get involved with the event, but they can't be there. So, we now do three E-Blast to all of our current runners leading up to the event. And we allow people to put up banners, text, promo codes, and all that, like, "Hey, don't forget your race is coming in three weeks. Don't forget your race is coming in two weeks." Then, the week before, we'll say, "Here's where the expo is. Packet pickup is at these hours." And we will include partners, sponsors, even expo people's information inside these E-Blasts. Then, another option we have - pretty easy to do - is selling the sponsorship of the race bib. "I can't be there. I want the exposure." "Okay, cool. We're charging, like, 10¢ per bib - it depends." I mean, it's already cost we have to incur. So all I have to do is tell my guy in New Jersey, "Hey, add this logo to it." It's a pretty simple thing to do. Everyone should do that - right? It's a cost that you have and it's an exposure for someone who can't be there. We don't put logos on T-shirts for all these Bubble Runs and Blacklight Runs, but we're now opening - for this year or next year - the opportunity to pay to have you as the only logo on the back of the T-shirt. That makes the T-shirt cost isn't much more than 10¢ - 15¢ per unit. So we're now selling sponsorship for attendees or sponsors that can't make it to the event. Then, we've also passed out postcards for clients that can't come - so, that's an added value that's very simple for us to do at packet pickup. So, when they pick up their T-shirt, we just put a postcard on top of it and hand it to them. So, there are many different things you can do for people that want to get involved. Those are more about sponsorship than expo. Yes, we have actually set up booths for clients at the expo - sometimes, we just put a volunteer at the booth, or leave it freestanding - depending on what the product is.

Panos  49:01  
That's super interesting. It's interesting that we stumbled into this because, essentially, you're saying that the whole COVID situation makes this even more important. Basically, you can reduce one of the objections or the friction points with one of your potential expo vendors or sponsors attending by just telling them, "Listen, you help me out. You tell me what you need out of the booth and stuff, and I'll put one of my people there." And I guess it also fits schedule- and human-resources-wise, because you could put someone who's done with doing something else during the race at the expo, right? I mean, at the end of the race, you can pick someone who did something - they're done with their shift - either from your team or volunteers, and put them to man the expo. Then, you tell the vendor, "You don't even have to be there. We'll take care of all of that for you."

Craig  50:04  
Definitely, if there's a product there, have a volunteer at the event because everyone will take more than they'll need. But if it's just a simple thing, you can just open up a pop up tent, a table, a table cover, and postcards for the event, but don't do too many of them - I can tell you horror stories about it. As a race director, you have so much to do already. That brings up a comment that I want to make - any event, no matter what size they are, should hire a person to be in charge of the expo, whether it's a friend or volunteer. So one frustration I've seen or had - which is why, again, people bring us aboard - is if you show up at an event with 1,000 people and 10 vendors, there's no one there in charge of the expo. Like, that's so unprofessional. Like, at least have one person that's there to make sure everyone gets checked in. It doesn't take long, right? They're there for only an hour and a half. Setup is between 7.00 AM to 8.30 AM, and race is at 9.00 AM, so come set up your booth around 7.00 AM. Come see Craig. He'll show you where to set up. It will just make your events so much more professional. Usually, we'll set the tables up in advance and then put their name on it. The other way that we've done before is first-come-first-serve. You don't need to be that professional - just make it easy for them. When they show up, you can say, "Here's your parking pass. Go and park over there. Drop your stuff off over here." It's just so much more professional that way and won't cost you anything. You can even just have a volunteer do it - all he's got to do is volunteer for two hours of his time and then he gets to go run for free - right? A lot of people do that. I get so many volunteers to come help us for, like, two hours beforehand doing anything - even helping a vendor unload. Then, when they're done at 8.45 AM, they can go get in line and run the 10K - so, free labor, right? Then, you'll have another person who runs your race that's gonna speak highly of it, promote it later, and come back next year.

Panos  52:02  
That makes sense. Actually, that's a great segue to the last bit I wanted to touch on, which is the actual expo itself, the layout, how you set things up, and what an expo should look like. I guess, first things first, how much space do I need for my expo? Is there a, kind of, rule of thumb that would connect, like, how many vendors I might have to the size of the area that I'll need?

Craig  52:30  
Yes. Those are broad questions, so I'll give broad answers - those depend on how much space you have. I'm gonna use an example only for an outdoor event - which is like 95% of events - at a park or at some outdoor venue. So, this is why, many times, the smaller events - 300 to a couple of thousands - don't really need to do a pre expo layout because you don't know really know how many vendors will you really have leading up to the event, because you might end up having four or five new vendors show or sign up just days before the event, especially in Colorado and places around the world where you don't really know the weather, right? So, this is gonna be different with COVID - right? In the past years, we try to keep everything close and tight because it makes it seem full. We put tables in the middle of the expo because that's where people then congregate, sit, eat, and drink after the event. I put the packet pickup at the back of the expo so that everyone has to walk through the expo to the back to go pick up their bibs. Also, we put food and beverage at the back of the expo post-event. Many times, we'll switch from packet pickup - the 10 by 20 or 10 by 30 that we have - to the food. So, now everyone has to walk back through the expo again to get to the food and beverage in the back. I'm an advocate of making it tight and narrow, which is not a COVID-19 thing, so we try to keep at least 10 feet between each booth and not have it far away. I was recently at an expo for a marathon here in Germany and it was horrible. They put our booths about 20-30 meters away from the main foot traffic where everyone was coming into the stadium to get their packet pickup. Like, it was so bad. All the vendors - even when there were, like, 15 or less vendors - wanted to move. We couldn't believe they put us there because we probably only saw 20% of the foot traffic than we normally should have seen if they had moved us, like, 20 meters closer to the main foot traffic where everyone was going. So, does that help with the idea of how to set it up?

Panos  54:48  
Yeah. It brings to mind images of how duty-free stalls are set up in the airport when you're, sort of, like, heading to the gate - it's the same principle. You need to get to the gate and along the way to the gate, there are perfume shops and stuff like that lined up. I guess it's the same principle with the food stalls - making sure people go through the things that you want them to go through to have a beer, a hotdog, or something.

Craig  55:21  
Yep, yep. If you're forced to make the expo, like, a round or square design, we will usually put the booths at the middle just to, kind of, get people to flow back and forth. Also, mix it up. Definitely, don't put competitors next to each other. So, we'll force people to go over here and there to go see different clients, freebies, and all that kind of stuff. Some ideas to throw into some of the race directors' heads that we've done in the past is, we've had a sponsor given on a piece of paper, and all the vendors were given a hole puncher. So, if you went to the vendor and said 'Hi' to them or whatever, they could punch your punch card. If you reached out to five of the vendors, they can then write your name and email address, and put it in a hat. And all of our vendors, we didn't go in this whole topic-- when you give discount for a booth, you should always try to get something in return. So let's say, the gym down the street wanted to come but they don't have $400 to spend, you'd be like, "Alright, why don't we make it $200 and you give me five coupons for five free spin classes or whatever." So now, you have items that you could give in the raffle. So, when the people go meet all the vendors, turn in their card, put it in the box, pick out a winner, then they win something, right? So those are some of the creative ways to use discounting to get people to stay longer. For a couple of events that we worked on, we did prizes every hour so that it gets people to stay longer, or give them something to do while they're hanging out waiting for their friends and family to finish - those are some of the fun things to do in the expo as well. Music and an announcer are mandatory. Like, I can't even stress that the $200 or $100 or whatever it costs to have an announcer come will make your expo and event 100 times better. There can be PA announcements on what's going on at different vendors. They can keep people updated on food, where the bathrooms are, and when the race is starting. Any expo that has music and an announcer will be worth every penny.

Panos  57:42  
Interesting. I wouldn't have thought of that. So basically, you're saying the announcer-- I mean, how would that work if people are, sort of, like, coming through the finish line all the time and the announcer is there to shout out names of people finishing and stuff? Would they also be announcing those at the expo?

Craig  57:57  
Yes. So I never mentioned this, but I've announced over probably 150 events. I kind of got into this because I talk too much and people started hiring me to do it. So I've even been to larger or more crowded events. Recently, last year in Colorado, we did a bike race. We had two announcers. We had one just at, like, the finish line and announcing people and things coming out and we had an expo announcer that had different music and PA announcements of what's going on at different vendors, giveaways, and things to do at different expo vendors around the expo - those are for larger events. But I'm also not an advocate. You don't really need to have to announce every race finisher. It's all about the vibe, the music, and keeping it fun. For our Monster Dash Race that we do in Colorado, I spent hours downloading different scary music, sounds, and stuff like that. Then, we did the announcing for very few of the people coming across the finish line, but we mainly do it to keep everyone informed of what's going on - even for me who'll be running in major marathons before - where are the bathrooms, where's the expo, and where's packet drop off for your goodie bag or for your extra clothes. Like, that's what you need to announce if you want to make your event much more professional. Whether it's 500 or 5000 people, have it announced to keep everyone informed of what's going on throughout the event and also to promote your expo, sponsors, and partners throughout the day.

Panos  59:29  
Super. Yeah, we'll do a full episode on the podcast on race announcers. Definitely, that piece is fairly undervalued, I think, in terms of what it can contribute to an event. So, I think this has been amazing. There are so many things here to look at for people who are interested in either setting up an expo or taking their expo to the next level. If people want to reach out to you with some thoughts, follow-ups, or maybe they need some help with selling expo space, how can they reach you?

Craig  1:00:02  
You can reach me at or whatever information about me that you want to fill on to your podcast website. They can reach out to me, but I am in Europe. I'm open to people that want to reach out to me for some suggestions, ideas, cost-saving ideas, and expo ideas. I've been doing this for so long that I really enjoy helping people. Like, I really enjoy making events better - it's been my life for the last 25 years - I love doing it. So, anyone can reach out to me at any time if you have any questions.

Panos  1:00:35  
Excellent! Okay, Craig, thank you very, very much for your time today. It's been super informative. I think we couldn't have had a better expert to speak on the topic of race expos. 

Craig  1:00:47  
It's been a pleasure. Thank you very much. 

Panos  1:00:49  
And thank you very much to everyone listening in. And we'll see you all on our next podcast.

Panos  1:01:01  
I hope you enjoyed this episode on race expos with my guest, Endurance Sports Marketing Group’s Craig Mintzlaff. 

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website You can also share your questions about race expos, sponsorships or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

If you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe or leave a review on your favourite player and, also, check out the podcast back-catalogue for more great content like this. 

Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.

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