LAST UPDATED: 17 April 2023

Spotlight: Around the Crown 10K

We go inside Charlotte's Around the Crown 10K with the help of race director, Brian Mister, for a look at one of the most exciting 10Ks in the country.

Brian MisterBrian Mister

Spotlight: Around the Crown 10K

If you’ve been following the podcast for a while, you’ll know that what we try to do at Head Start is bring you actionable, expert advice you can learn from to grow and improve your race - hopefully, with a bit of entertainment on the side.

Today marks the first episode in a new way of helping you on your race director journey. Spotlight is a new type of episode where we go inside some of the most innovative, best run races and race concepts to learn how the things we touch on in other episodes, like building a sponsorship portfolio, developing a grassroots marketing strategy or elevating the race experience, actually work in practice when executed by some of the brightest leaders in the industry.

And in our first Spotlight episode, we travel to Charlotte, NC to see how race director Brian Mister has been re-imagining the urban 10K with his hugely successful Around the Crown 10K. In the short history of that event, Brian and his team have managed to build an event that is a masterclass in community engagement, practical inclusivity, sponsorship development and grassroots marketing. And I hope you’ll be as inspired by some of the initiatives undertaken by this amazing race as I have been getting to know more about it.

In this episode:

  • Putting on a race on the Charlotte inner beltway
  • Defining your mission statement - and staying true to it for the long run
  • Practical inclusivity: making your start line look like your community 
  • ATC's First Timers Club, Pay What You Can, Stroller Division
  • Running a large paper-cupless road race
  • Rethinking offline marketing
  • Engaging a specialist marketing agency that understands running
  • The importance of Public Relations (PR)
  • Growing a diverse sponsorship portfolio 
  • Valuing in-kind sponsorships
  • Auction-based marketing (made the term up, but it's an interesting concept)
  • The future of ATC10K

Thanks to RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 26,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit

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Episode transcript

Panos  2:24  
Brian, welcome to the podcast!

Brian  2:26  
Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Panos  2:28  
Well, thank you very much for coming on. Where are you joining from today?

Brian  2:31  
I am in Charlotte, North Carolina. Fall has set in and it is beautiful here right now.

Panos  2:37  
Awesome. I'm guessing it's pretty early for you out there. What time is it over there now?

Brian  2:42  
It's five in the morning right now. I have woken before the kids for once and I will be able to get some things done before they wake up and get ready for school - so, pretty excited about that.

Panos  2:52  
That's great. Do you usually get up this early?

Brian  2:55  
If I'm doing, like, work or running things, I totally will. If it's just for no reason, I will sleep in until one of the kids jumps on me. But I feel like it's always easy to get up this early. I just never seem to set the alarm to do it and be productive, so I appreciate you waking me up this early today.

Panos  3:14  
Oh, you're very welcome. I mean, it's sort of, like, 12 noon over here. I'm feeling comfortable on my fourth coffee, so I really don't know how you do it - being up at this hour. So you are the race director of Around the Crown 10K - a fantastic race that we're going to be talking a lot more about in a minute - and we're going to be dissecting some of the amazing stuff you're doing with it in just a sec. Before we do that, would you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, sort of, your background before starting the race, and what you've been doing up until that point?

Brian  3:49  
Yeah. First, thank you for all the kind words - I appreciate it. My wife and I are having a lot of fun with it. It's fun when we get to talk to people who understand racing and love it as much as we do. But yeah, I'm originally from Salisbury, Maryland - on the eastern shore of Maryland. I came down here for college at UNC Charlotte back in 2008, fell in love with the city, got some amazing jobs right after school, and met an amazing woman and kind of got into the industry through a brewery actually. I was working at a brewery helping with marketing - that was the degree I got in college - and started a little run club there called the NoDa Brewing Run Club 11 years ago, probably. Then, gosh, I did that for a few years and then went off to a place called the Whitewater Center or the US National Whitewater Center where they do Olympic training for canoe and kayak. They also have 50 miles of trail, so I was doing race directing out there for mountain biking, running, climbing, and kayaking. And then, from there, I was there for a few years having fun with that. And then, I got back strictly to running with the Charlotte Marathon and became marketing director there - I had some fun with that - for a few years again. That's about when my wife and I started getting some itches and scratches to do our own thing with some of our own ideas. It's about when Around the Crown was birthed. Around that time was when our family really started and, now, we've got three little ones. So we've got a five-year-old, a three-year-old, and a one-year-old. Life is always on the move - always busy - and we love it.

Panos  5:20  
Awesome. So basically, you're, I guess, a marketing person by education, at least. 

Brian  5:27  
Yeah, sure. I say, "Yeah, sure," because I had two colleges-- I started at community college where I was going for drafting and design and then I transferred to UNC Charlotte where less than half of my credits transferred, where I thought I wanted to become an architect. And then, I realised that didn't want to do that and there's a lot of colleges involved in that. So I switched to art, switched to computer science, and ended up with marketing. So I got to try out a few things beforehand and realise, throughout all of that, that I just enjoyed marketing for these things - marketing for art, marketing for the nerdy side of me and loving Apple products back then, and all this other stuff. So, I ended with marketing. And now, I get to use what I learned there with racing - my, kind of, number one passion when it comes to hobbies.

Panos  6:15  
And your wife is also coming from marketing or, sort of, something similar to that?

Brian  6:21  
So she has a degree in fine art. So she's actually a painter by nature. However, when she exited college, I quickly realised there's, unfortunately, no money in painting unless you're really damn good at it. She quickly moved over to the digital side of that when it comes to branding and design and a lot of that on the Adobe suite of products, so she gets to now handle our brand and our design for Around the Crown. She makes all my stupid ideas, like, really good - what I like to say, typically - and she's pretty good at it. 

Panos  6:53  
Yeah, that's what I thought I recall. Basically, she was helping out at Around the Crown in a really meaningful capacity. Brand, of all things, is a very meaningful thing to have a good person on, and you guys are sort of, like, working together on that. So for our listeners - those of you who've been following the podcast for a while - you know that most of the episodes we do are sort of themed around different aspects of the race that you can improve or look at, and we bring on experts and stuff, and we discuss things around marketing, sponsorship, sustainability, operations, and all kinds. Today's episode starts off with Around the Crown 10K, which will be obvious why that is the case-- I think I just realised that it would be great to put the Spotlight - maybe that's what we'll start naming these episodes - on a couple of races who are actually executing lots of the stuff that we talk about really, really well. It would be great to basically start looking at all of the things we've been discussing in previous podcasts, sort of, like, come together - the marketing, the branding, the sponsorship, how all of these things actually work together in the context of an actual race - and Around the Crown 10K was really fascinating to me. I was researching races that we can, like, bring into this and I think it's fascinating because the more I learned about it, the more impressed I am with all the work you've done - we'll go through it. Because it is a 10K and it's not a marathon, it's not something particularly grand, I guess, from a racing point of view, right? It's not like a marquee type of, like, marathon or Ultra or something. It's on the lower end of the distances that racing accommodates. But still, as we'll see, you have done an amazing job building this race as a platform in which lots of things basically come in and hook into it, from sponsorship and community and all kinds of stuff. I can see you sort of, like, blushing there. I'm going to stop with the compliments. I'm going to get straight to it. Let's pick the story from the idea around Around the Crown 10K, and the research and the planning, basically. So you're there and your wife's there, like, a few years back. You're looking to do something on your own. How does that, then, lead to the idea of Around the Crown 10K from a business planning point of view? Walk us through that a little bit.

Brian  9:16  
Again, thank you for all the kind words - those are very sincere and nice. And yes, there's definitely some blushing and smiling on this end. A lot of hard work has gone into this so, again, it's just nice to hear people notice that. So yes, thank you so much. Yeah, getting this thing off the ground was hilarious and ridiculous at times. So the main idea of our race and where we kind of had to start was we shut down the Inner Beltway here in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. When we had the idea - we were also the fastest-growing city behind, like, Austin and a couple of other cities to just, kind of, give it some relationship into other cities of what was going on. So, just shutting down Inner Beltway was on the level of absurd. So, we had a friend that did something similar - he shut down streets in another part of the city to welcome the community together. It wasn't a race. But in our minds, it was much more similar to what we wanted to do than a race. It was a community gathering where they shut down streets to let people go play ping pong, hopscotch, how-slow-can-you-ride-your-bike-on-this line, and things like that. It was called Open Streets and they have it-- I think it started in Brazil, maybe, and they have it in a couple of other places. It's just this really cool idea and we're, like, "Oh, we kind of want to do that but with running and some other adventures within it. What can that look like?" And he worked for the city, so we went to him with this idea. After a couple of beers, he's like, "This is a fun idea. This is really cool." What can we do with this? And he's like, "Let me let me introduce you to the next person that you probably should talk to with the state level." Those kinds of conversations just kept happening and no one really ever said, "No." They just kind of kept saying, like, "You should talk to this person next" As that process was going along-- I mean, it probably took a year and a half to two years of these conversations where no one really seemed to feel like they had the full authority to say yes, but they also didn't want to say no. We just kept, kind of, grabbing beers with people or grabbing coffee with people and, eventually, it got to the point where we started looking for sponsorship, we started to really get a website together, and we launched it. It was one of those things where we're, like, "I guess we're ready to do this. Let's see what this looks like." I told my current work - where I was at with the Charlotte marathon - like, "Hey, here's a six-month notice. The race is coming up, but I should be able to do both jobs. Like, I don't think it's gonna be crazy. I don't really know what this looks like." Then, we launched and, like, 1,500 people signed up in the first week, and I went back to my job and I was like, "I really apologise, guys. I'm gonna have to jump off this ledge and figure out what this looks like to really run a company and I want to take this thing full-steam. I apologise but I'm gonna jump off the cliff and see where we land." That's kind of the quick way of how it started. The other side of that story - a little quick addition to that - is the whole idea of shutting down the highway, kind of, started with-- we were coming home one night and we were stuck in traffic on this highway. It was, like, Thursday at 10 o'clock. We had just gotten done with a concert. We didn't have kids yet, so we were out late and having a fun time. We were stuck in traffic on a Thursday at 10. I was like, "Why is there traffic? Honey, I'm getting out of the car and I'm racing you home." Of course, she told me no, thankfully. But from then on, we had this idea of, like, "What if we didn't shut down the highway? What would that look like to have runners out here?" We started measuring out what the course could be. We started talking about where's the start-finish line at, and what are the changes would we make from my background in trail running - some of the things that are in the trail running world that are not in the road running world. That's kind of how a lot of it started. From there, you quickly realise that if you're your own boss, you don't say no to yourself a lot. So these ideas start to come about and you just, kind of, run with them until the public tells you "No" in some kind of market research way, then you kind of just keep rolling with it. That's really how it started. It was absurd.

Panos  13:15  
Shutting down the highway was, I guess, as they say, "It was a feature, not a bug." It's not something that you had to do to make your coursework. It's something that you forced on the course because you thought it would be appealing to people - was that the idea? Basically, the novelty of running on the highway is something that people would look forward to?

Brian  13:36  
Yeah, that's a good question. So obviously, we could have put a 5K, 10K, or whatever distance we wanted anywhere. I'm not sure if I answered your question earlier about, like, "Why 10K?" I know that we were going to talk about that a little bit, but this idea of 10K and where we wanted to go is we recognise that Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, as a whole, didn't have any major races in it. There were some really high-quality races including, like, the Charlotte marathon where I was working at and some other races, but they weren't gathering people like some of the other Southeast races that we were travelling to - be that Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston or Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. Richmond's got some good ones west of here, and Nashville has some good ones, and we were really getting tired of travelling to these other locations because we loved our city so much. We wanted something to be there, so we thought to ourselves, like, "We don't want to just do another race." And when I was at the Whitewater Centre, again, which puts on some really high-quality races, we were doing races every other weekend of some sort and it was taxing. So we wanted to create something where we had one race that sustained us throughout the year. So what would that look like from a revenue standpoint - from sponsorship, registration, expo, merchandise sales, and all that. What would we need to do? I think that's then where-- all right if we want a keystone race, what do we need to do to really draw the attention or the eye of the city beyond the runner? The runner is going to find the 5K, but the average Charlottean-- how are they going to find this race and how is this going to-- to say this in a positive way, how is this going to disrupt the city? How's this going to disrupt the city or the day? And that's kind of how we got to this idea. It's about 3.1 miles or 5K around this thing. Like, what if we did that and add a little bit more? We know the 10Ks are growing and they have a high retention rate. Like, let's look into that a little bit. I think that's really where it started - on this idea of wanting a keystone race for the city that we love so much and where we were starting a family at.

Panos  15:39  
Yeah, and it's interesting because my initial instinct, from the stats, at least - like, pre-COVID stats that I'd been following - would be that, probably, if you wanted to aim at growing a keystone race, you'd probably want to look at half marathon, probably. Like, that was the distance that I had in mind that was growing quite quickly. The half-marathon already starts becoming a little bit more hardcore in terms of the distance that is involved, but you guys still chose the 10K. You're saying it's now the fastest-growing distance out there?

Brian  16:13  
So when we were looking into it-- and I'm pretty sure the stats still hold out because the data point we go to is RunSignup - they do a really good job of-- they just put up their data for Q3 2022 - I think it still stands out to go back and look, it's like a 40 or 50 page document. But the first couple of years, we were reading that thing like a Bible and 10K didn't necessarily have the most people. For conversation's sake here, they might have 2,000 people, whereas the half-marathon has 10,000. But next year, they're gonna have 3,000. After that, they're going to 5,000. So it wasn't quite getting to the levels of the half-marathon, but the landscape was a lot less competitive for us to come in. To start another half marathon, everyone's like, "Well, look, there's six in Charlotte already. Like, we don't want you to do that." And I think one of the things I learned at the Charlotte Marathon as well that the word "Marathon" is a little bit of a barrier of entry, and it can be overwhelming for the average person - that's who we wanted to talk to. We wanted to talk to someone who didn't have to train for months leading up to it, but also someone that if they wanted to put down a solid time and they really wanted to try at something, we're gonna give them a high-quality race here and have some fun with it. I think that's a lot of the reason we did it. And then, the last thing we found too through the research we were doing is the retention rate of the 10K was really high. If people do a half marathon similar to my wife and I, we were trying to knock off one in every state. So once I hit West Virginia, I was moving on to Pennsylvania, I was moving on to New Jersey, whatever it might be. And then, with the 5K, at this point, there are almost kind of a dozen - you can pick one up every weekend if you want to. You can do 50 a year pretty easily. So yeah, maybe eventually we'll add that distance onto ours - I kind of doubt it - but we want the focus to be on the 10K and there just weren't many of them in North Carolina. When we debuted, we immediately became the largest 10K in the state which was really cool to add that title on to it - it legitimises us right away. There wasn't much competition for it, so it was nice to be able to add that to our tool belt as well by saying some larger things like that, "We're the largest 10K in North Carolina." It made us look a little bit stronger in a way.

Panos  18:23  
And as people who run know - which is probably most of the audience here - for a place like Charlotte, that 10K course can take in quite a bit of the city if you wanted to. I mean, it's a pretty long distance. You can travel around. You can map out a pretty nice course taking in lots of stuff with a 10K.

Brian  18:42  
Yeah, certainly. You don't realise how small a city is until you start traversing it by foot or bicycle even. And you realise like-- Oh, God. I mean, again, going back to the marathon a little bit, like, "Oh, man. If we're gonna fit 26 miles in this city - even Chicago or New York - it's like we could go to every neighbourhood possible to make this thing work." And when you think about it from a cost standpoint too - how many streets you have to shut down, how many police officers you have to bring in, how much fencing you have to bring in - then the 10K started looking even more appealing. However, the funny side of that is shutting down the highways - not cheap either - so we ended up having to back ourselves into that one too. But yeah, the 6.2 miles can add up really fast. We got to see the name of our race Around the Crown because you run around the entire uptown or downtown area of Charlotte, and that's what we love to see. You run around it, you see the whole city, and then you dive into it. You're on the surface streets going through these massive buildings that are in Charlotte. We think we have a beautiful skyline here. So it's fun to be able to see it at a speed and an angle that you never get to see it except for this one day a year.

Panos  19:50  
Now, one of the things, I think, that really stands out about this race when you start researching aid or looking at the way you want to be perceived through the website and other places, it sort of screams of being a race with a mission behind it. It's not just a 10K. It's beyond the brand being quite clear about how it wants to bring together the community. Everything that you do around it - some of the programmes we'll go into in just a sec - like specific initiatives you have seem to all come together behind the mission. When you started out, was there, like, a clear mission to the race? Is there now? And do you even have a mission statement - like, an actual formal mission statement about what you're trying to do with a race?

Brian  20:37  
Yeah, for sure. That, I think, kind of, goes back to that idea of what we were talking about earlier with open streets, where there seemed to be something more in it. There was more than just shutting down a street to disrupt. We want to do something grand for our city, and how are we going to do that appropriately-- and I think my wife can take a lot of this credit, or I'm going to give her a lot of credit in that. She was the one who wanted to have a strong brand and wants all of these pieces, and I think that mixed in with my marketing background is-- that's how you start a company. You have to have a brand. You have to have a mission. You have to have all this stuff. So our mission is the simple act of moving forward, regardless of your age, your race, your culture, your gender, your pace, and just moving Charlotte forward one step at a time. So we try to look back at that - or, honestly, look forward at that - as much as we possibly can, when we're creating some of these other, I'll call them, events throughout the year, because we have our one race totally on Labour Day weekend, each year. We're getting ready to do a holiday hustle here in a couple of weeks or almost like a 12 Days of Christmas type of style event where it's a scavenger hunt around the city. It's another one of those things where we just want to get people out and get them active, and we're activating our sponsors through that. They're donating some of the gifts for it. So we're constantly going back to this mission of moving Charlotte forward one step at a time. It's this guiding light that really helps us navigate where we want the race to go. And I think the other thing-- it's different looking at it now, but I think I can comfortably say, like, it also helps us not always make decisions based on financials. Sometimes, there are going to be decisions that we make that may not make us the most money, but it's true to our mission. And if we stay true to that, we'd like to think and it seems to be proving true that everything will eventually work out. You'll have partners or sponsors that come on that agree with that so much that maybe your registration costs should have been higher because it didn't make up fully for shutting down the highway or whatever that looks like, but when you have a partner that truly understands that or a sponsor that comes in and is able to do that or beneficiary that you can give money to that then supports you through volunteers, it all seems to work out. It's trusting in that mission and trusting in what you're doing is the right thing for the city. And I think we've realised that once you really start to ooze that and exemplify that, it attracts very similar people and they want to do that as well, and the money will follow that's needed to do things like this. If you kind of keep that mission in mind and keep that at the forefront, then it'll all kind of work itself out, which has been really fun to witness, somewhat, from the front seat.

Panos  23:26  
Yeah, I credit one of my earlier guests for this complete eye-opener. Peter Abraham-- we did a whole episode on branding and mission statements, and I have to say, like, the more time that passes since that discussion, the more I realise how truly important having a brand and a mission statement is. He was actually mentioning a similar example to what you're saying, which is that-- so he worked for a number of years for the LA Marathon and he was mentioning that, basically, at some point they sat down, they looked at their mission statement - which at that time, for them, as well involved, like, in community and other stuff - and, basically, with a guiding light, they started looking at what are we putting in our swag bag, and what are we doing here and there. Like, they had to drop some income, right? They had to disappoint some people, right? Because looking after the pennies is not always fully aligned with the mission statement. But in the long run, it does pay to stick with that because the cacophony that comes with, "Yeah, we're sort of about this, but oh, opportunistically, maybe we do this other initiative or something that doesn't fully tie in with that." I mean, I can't quite put my finger on why that happened, but the whole thing sort of breaks apart. And what I've seen is that great races, great organisations, great brands, they need to stick to their mission statement even if it means not maximising profits or not doing other stuff. And your mission statement seems to, sort of, revolve quite a lot around inclusivity and other things such as sustainability, which we'll get into. And inclusivity, I have to say, is something that we haven't touched on in the podcast too much and I would love to hear from someone like yourself. Why do you think inclusivity is so important in the industry and for races to basically foster and take to heart? Why is inclusivity that important to you?

Brian  25:28  
To touch back on a couple of things you said there, I was making some notes here on the side. One, I want to make sure I listen to that Peter Abraham podcast after this too just to hear that because LA Marathon is one that we have looked to from a brand standpoint. A lot of their races that they do underneath of that as well with-- If I remember correctly, I think they work a lot with MLB out there - the Major League Baseball - and, like, do some pieces with the stadiums out there but they have, like, the Rose Bowl 5K or half marathon or whatever it is. 

Panos  25:53  
Yeah, they have Rose Bowl. Yeah. 

Brian  25:54  
And their brand is consistent throughout all the races. When you see it come out, you know it's under that and it's clear that they've had a discussion about that. I can't say I know anyone there. I don't know Peter, but now I want to listen to this and learn a little bit more. I know you say he was previously there, so I'm curious to see where he's at now. That's definitely been one that we've looked to from a brand standpoint - everything they've done. I've been on their website many, many times. So kudos to them for taking that step back and analysing their mission and their brand. And then, the other thing I'd say too. I was just looking up a quote from my wife. I think I forget when it was learned or where but one of the things I think she's always said from a brand and from a mission standpoint was people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And I think if we look at a lot of the brands that we probably purchase from even just in the running industry, in general - or sometimes, I look to the cycling industry as well - I feel like one of the brands that has come up pretty big, and we haven't talked about this before, so I'm curious to get your thoughts on it. But Tracksmith, for me, is one of those brands where I don't know why I spend the money that I do on their product. It is highly-priced. I don't have many products from them. I think I have one thing I got on sale and I got another one at the Chicago Expo. But I open up every one of their newsletters. I read all their social media. From beginning to end, it's a story every time. And I think they clearly have a why. They clearly have a mission. All of their products, the thread they choose, why their hair looks a certain way, why they're doing a run club, blah, blah, blah. Like, there's always a why behind it and I eat it up every time. And I think that they're a brand that-- it's almost like I understand why the price point is there because I see how much time they're putting into it. The quality is very good, but is it at the point of where their price point is? I don't know. But the why - I can understand that.

Panos  27:48  
I'm not actually very familiar with that brand, but I can think of other brands that actually carry that. I mean, the obvious one, I guess, that people might know about is Patagonia, right? I mean, it's, I guess, the epitome of mission-driven branding and, like, how everything comes together. It's the beauty of a strong brand that somehow you will justify it commanding a premium, and you will just love it without exactly being able to put your finger on it. And it's so important for a race to be that. 

Brian  28:16  
Yeah, for sure. And I agree with Patagonia. I mean, anytime there's some kind of announcement from Patagonia, I tune in, I'm all ears, and I want to know the background of it. I want to see how the video was made and everything else. They seem to be doing things right from the worn-wear side of things that they have and where their money's going. Yeah, it's fun to keep up with a company like that, but inclusivity-- sorry to decide real estate for a second, but I love talking about the why sometimes. Inclusivity. So I'll move on to the next brand that we work with and really love, I think, also, as a why. I think what guided this was Brooks. So Brooks has this "Run happy" as their motto. I'll probably mess this up a little bit, but they say something along the lines of, "We believe that a run can change a day, can change a life, can change a year, this and that." And in my mind, I read that as, "When we run, it makes us happy. And when we are happy, we are able to make just better decisions in life." I feel like when I get done with a run, I'm a better parent, I'm a better husband, and I'm a better business person, I'm sure. And if I'm able to make better decisions in my life that then affect the people around me in my city, how great would it be to have everyone feel that way - that they had this natural high of getting done a run? And where could our city go? Where could our state, your country, or the world go if we all felt that at all times? And I think that's where a lot of this idea of inclusivity came in. It's like, selfishly, I'm so passionate about my city that I want the best for it at all times, so if I could unlock this realm for everyone to think a little bit differently and just be happy, where could our city go? And the more people that are able to get on that level, the better. Then, I think the second part of that is if there are people that have different backgrounds than me for many different reasons, again, gender, race, culture, the speed at which they're running, what kind of other fun ideas that they're going to bring to the table that I'm not thinking about, that when we combine or when they combined with someone else, we have this brand new idea that's so exciting and can do some other things that we haven't thought about? I think that side of it is just so interesting. So our idea of inclusivity with Around the Crown is - what it comes back to and what we've kind of coined with this - we're really trying to work towards our start line looking like our community. That goes, again, to colour of your skin, to the age, to the gender, to speed, to culture. We're really trying to work towards that. We know it's not something that we can force by any means, but we want to try to work toward being as inclusive as possible and learning along the way, and a lot of that comes to being just open to a conversation, and maybe not fully understanding what to say the first time you get in those conversations, but admitting that and saying, "I'm going to do my best to stumble through this, but please let me know, along the way, what I've done wrong or said wrong, and educate me from there. And hopefully, we can both come out great on the other side." We have met a lot of amazing people through that, and we do that in business and we do that personally. I feel like it's already been eye-opening to see what it's done for our race beyond just personal with my wife and I, what it's done for our race and some of the partnerships we've had, and all of that. It's been amazing.

Panos  31:55  
So you mentioned this idea of making the start line look like the community - which is really important, and it speaks to inclusivity. Lots of people these days start thinking about inclusivity and lots of races pay, kind of, like, lip service to that, but you guys have really put your money where your mouth is in terms of the, like, actual programmes that you've rolled out that are doing some great stuff, some really fun stuff, and some really business savvy stuff, I would say, around inclusivity. So let's take a closer look at a few of your initiatives. Let's start with First Timer's Club, which I've seen with other races as well - it's, like, an interesting concept. Do you want to talk us a little bit through that - what you were trying to do by introducing this First Timer's Club - and also a little bit about how it works - sort of, the actual, nitty gritty of it?

Brian  32:44  
Yeah. So our Feetures, or our First Timer's Club with Feetures, or Feetures First Timer's Club-- they're the kind of sponsor that assists us with that. It's kind of, like, a training plan on the next level. So we put out a training plan and we really wanted to do that. That's available to anyone anyway. But we knew, again, this idea of inclusivity that-- I think this knocks on the door of the pay side of things of-- unfortunately, we do have to have a pace maximum with our race because we do shut down a highway, which we're still trying to work on with the city because we don't want that, so we're trying to change that. But for the time being, we want to try to help people get to that pace, which is 13.45 minutes per mile, if they're not already there - or, if they want to get to the next level, what does that look like? So this First Timer's Club is a 10-week programme which matches up with our training plan. This past year, we met, I think, like, six times - so, like, once a week or so at different run clubs. We have, like, a Meet the Pacers event where they can come out and meet the pacer - the person that's going to be hopefully running with them to get to them to their goal pace to run a loop around the city. We have pacers all the way from-- I think, it starts at like a sub-7 pace to the 13.45. So we have someone at that last, kind of, point as the caboose in the race, and they're our happiest person on course. They're the biggest cheer and they're a good time, to say the least. So this First Timer's Club-- they get the training plan and they have this kind of dedicated service with our, we call her our head coach, Lisa. She heads up a company here called Forward Motion, which is just, like, a coaching service that I personally use, but she also heads up a lot of that with a couple of other coaches through Forward Motion. She's there for questioning all the time whenever we meet - or one of the employees of Forward Motion - and helping people out along the way with any questions they might have on race day. And I think we all know what those questions can be. It's not just necessarily, "How do I get faster", but it's like, "What do I wear? What do I bring with me?" So we try to make it as open, inclusive, and silly as we can. There's no reason to be serious on something like this. And then, with that, too, a lot of our sponsors step in and give them some extra pieces too - Feetures being a big one. They're a company here in Charlotte that's, I think, the leader in running socks in, at least, the nation and probably one of the top contenders in the world. But they make daggone good socks, and they happen to be, like, two miles away from our start line for their headquarters. So they come in with some socks. They come out to a lot of the events as well and they help us push this out and get more people involved. And then, our other sponsors are bringing in stuff like free dry needling at our Carolina Sports Clinic - one of our other sponsors here. So it's just everyone trying to get people new to the running world into this through different ways. Then, the biggest thing we do too is we try to break down that barrier of price as well. So we cut the price in half. For this one - this programme - you have to somewhat apply to it - you send me your name and your email or your name and your date of birth, and I search it real quick on a couple of websites to see if you've done any of the races. And then, we give-- it's pretty much like a half-price entry. So it's 20 bucks to get in and you get all this stuff for free. Again, it helps us break down that barrier of entry because it's not necessarily that these people might not have the money to do it - it's just they'd rather use that money on something else because they don't necessarily have the interest as much as they want to get into running. They might want to use it to go out to eat that day instead. So we tried to break that barrier down by offering a half price while still holding them accountable, and then we meet with them. It's really a great time. The people that come through this programme are wonderful. And honestly, they become lifelong customers, if you will, after that. And hopefully, we've gotten them into other races. They're moving on to the half marathon or whatever else they might want to do - into trail running or the next race. A lot of times, we actually see that they sign up for it because they've never run a race before. And then, within those 10 weeks, they actually sign up for another race before ours just to get used to it, which is pretty cool that by the time they actually get to a race, it's not their first race. But they've come into this programme and they've gotten so in love with this sport, this hobby that we were into. They signed up for another, which is super fun. So yeah, love the First Timer's programme and am excited to kind of keep that going for many years to come.

Panos  37:02  
The $20 discounted entry that I think is available to the first 100 people who apply to the club-- did you fill all those spots? So basically, did you get all of those discounted entries to be taken up?

Brian  37:17  
Surprisingly and transparently, we do not. We're working on, like, more ways to try to get this out to the right people. So the way that we're currently trying to market it through newsletter and social is, like, "Tell your friends," because we know that people that we're most likely talking to are not first timers. I mean, anyone in our email database is someone who's run our race. So clearly they've run a race before. So, we're trying to market to them to get it out to their friends, their family members that maybe haven't done a race before, or maybe they've done, like, other forms of racing, that maybe they're into the cycling side of things or the swimming side of things and they want to try out running. So we fill up a lot of those slots, but not all of them. If anyone has any ideas, please reach out. I know I'll be giving my contact information at the end of this on how to reach out, but we want to fill those spots up. We want to get more people into the industry and into this community. So yeah, we're working on what that looks like. Each year, we get more and more people with it and, honestly, having Feetures on board-- they send it out now to their database, which is much larger than ours, brings in a few more people, but we're still working to bring more in. And then, hopefully, when we get to that level, we'll be at a point where we can say, "You know what? The limit is no longer 100. We're up in this more and we can financially take on some more and figure that out."

Panos  38:34  
Part of my question was because I've been wondering myself, particularly since we've been through the pandemic and there have been all kinds of noise around how price sensitive the industry is and, basically, how much of a barrier really price is. I mean, we all know that races, as a sport, have been becoming more popular. Like, some races have really, really high entry fees now. $40 for an event of this magnitude where you get all of this amazing experience and stuff to go with it, I think, is a very, very good price. But do you get a sense of - that's why I asked, like, how many people actually come and claim, essentially, the discounted entry - how much of a barrier really price is for people?

Brian  39:18  
Yeah. Definitely agree on the prices of the industry, and I also understand it. Like, I agree that it's getting absurd, but I also see the other side of it where shirt prices are going up, medal prices are going up, and police costs are going up. There are new laws in different cities and states where you have to have X amount of fencing because of security reasons from, unfortunately, what we've seen at races. And just insurance as well - like, it's all going up. So I understand why that price is going up but I know something that we're trying to focus on. I think this goes back to why having a mission is super helpful and that being our guiding light sometimes - it's taking that to our sponsors and saying, "Hey, we're really trying to keep our price at where it's at because we feel like it's pretty darn high already. And from an industry standpoint, yeah, we're right in the middle, if not on the lower end of pricing for our distance. But if you think of it from where else would you want to spend $40, we want to try to make sure that we're still relevant to these people of, 'We're worth the money.'" So we're constantly talking to our sponsors about what that looks like. We're constantly trying to bring in new sponsors that do make sense and fit with our mission and our vision, and making sure that price is not a barrier of entry for our race. We have a couple of other programmes that assist with things like that and, honestly, the runner has helped with that too. I'll kind of just guide us right into the Pay What You Can entry and what that looks like - we'll get into more of what that is. But one of the things that offer is runners are available to pay for the next runner. So if, at the end of their registration, they're paying their $40 or $45, or whatever it is, depending on when they're entering, they have the option to pretty much pay it forward. - it's this programme that we have called "Pay What You Can" entry and they're able to donate $5 or $10, or whatever it might be, to help the next runner get in that maybe financially is not able to go out for a race and they need to spend the money on getting new shoes. I know that we say running is very inclusive and that all you need is a new pair of shoes and a pair of shorts, but these days, I know, since I've been in the industry, that a pair of running shoes has gone from an average of $100 or maybe $110 to $160 to $180 now.

Panos  41:36  
Yeah, shoes are completely crazy. I went out and bought, like, a new pair the other day after, like, three or four years on Ultras that I've run down to the absolute, sort of, the sole. And when I looked at the prices, particularly, now with the new, like, carbon this-and-that shoes, I was like, "What?! Are you serious? You're, like, $250 or something or $200 for some shoes?!" I'm like, "This is crazy!" You're absolutely right. In fact, way beyond entry fees or whatever - like the $40 entry fee - the shoe is a hugely important cost for people.

Brian  42:09  
Yeah, yeah, for sure. And back to, like, the clothing too even-- I know we were talking earlier about these amazing brands, but the price points have gone up on all of that too. And again, it makes sense just of where we're at in the world today of prices going up, but it's as inclusive, I think, sometimes as we would like it to be from a financial standpoint - as much as we've touted from a running standpoint. So if there are ways for companies, brands, and races to help - and I think everyone's probably doing their own little part in different ways and we may not know all of it - that's our kind of small way of saying, "All right, we have this 'Pay What You Can' entry where you can do whatever price you want as long as the only thing, the only barrier there is-- we have a service charge that's part of our registration - I think it's, like, four bucks that have to be paid. But other than that, put in whatever amount you want and, then, thankfully, our title sponsor Truist is able to pick up the rest of that for us if it were there. What we found out is it's not even there anymore because other runners donate so much that they make up the difference of it where we haven't had to go to a sponsor to ask for that because these other runners have stepped in so much that they're paying for last year. That was one of the ones we have to cap as well at 100 for right now. But I think, this year, we're gonna up it because we noticed people were paying enough to make that happen. It's impressive.

Panos  43:25  
Of all of the many great things that you're doing through the race, I think First Timer's Club is amazing. There are a few other things we'll touch on. Pay What You Can and the fact that other runners are sort of, like, paying it forward for people who may not be able to afford it is just about the most awesome thing I've seen in racing in a long time. I think it's amazing because I totally see why people would do it - I would do it, I think, if I were to sign up for a race. It totally captures what you're trying to do with your mission statement - like, people helping other people do the race and sharing that experience. And it's just amazing to hear that it's working out also that well that, actually, you have so many funds come in from other runners that Truist, which is a great sponsor to involve and a great way to involve them actually, for people listening in to programmes like this - people who are, like, really, really keen to put their name behind these kinds of programmes in the community. Truist is a bank is a financial services company. Right?

Brian  44:28  
Yeah, they're headquartered here in Charlotte, which is great too - like, 90% of our sponsors are here in Charlotte. And then, there was something else I was just thinking too - the Pay What You Can. The idea kind of came from one of our beneficiaries, which is the Carolina Farm Trust - they put on a farm-to-table dinner - and they had this in one of their programmes or one of the dinners they did and that's really cool. We were talking to Truist a little bit about it and their, kind of, marketing division and they're like, "Oh man, let's kind of check this out and see what it looks like." Yeah, it's been great. We have a whole read-up on it on our website and through registration. There's a pretty big paragraph about it at the end of what this looks like, where it goes, and what it does. I think the best part of it is there's no checking in, there's no checkpoint, there's no-- we don't verify anything. Honestly, this could be a college student who's just trying to get by or trying to beat the system and just wants to stick it to the man or whatever it is. And honestly, they can do it. We have no idea. We don't check on it. I mean, it's a 100% trust system. And then, the second part of that or the other side of that is no one knows who they are on race day. There's not a different bib. They don't get a different shirt. They're just another runner on race day. They're sweating with you up this hill that they hate just as much as you hate, and that's that. Like, you just never know who they are. It's just such a beautiful thing. We absolutely love it and we're so thankful that Carolina Farm trusted us with something like this - like, gave us this idea - and Truist was able to help out with it, and then thousands of runners that donate to this to make it all happen allows us to just, kind of, further that mission a little bit.

Panos  46:12  
It is exactly what you say. It is a beautiful thing. It is great that people put up the money for other people. It is great that keeping it honour-based-- obviously, I mean, this has to be an honour system. You can't just be, sort of, like, testing people and the fact that people don't abuse it is great. The fact that on race day, everyone is sort of, like, running shoulder-to-shoulder without any, like, special this-or-that, obviously. Like, I think you've done it the right way. Like, it all sort of, like, makes sense and I think more people should look into this. And just, again, to put the slightly kind of like bottom line spin on this, it's programmes like this-- because I know lots of people struggle with getting sponsorship, it's programmes like this - when they align well with your race and the community - that bring in the non-endemic sponsors like the banks, like the financial services, the insurers, and all of those guys. They want to be involved in exactly these kinds of programmes and to be seen to be involved in these kinds of programmes. And for tourists, in particular, there's another thing that you guys are doing with them - the training tours that we're going to get into in a sec. Just wrapping up on inclusivity, let's touch a little bit - we're both parents and my wife says I'm a little bit too involved sometimes - with the stroller division. I've always wanted to run with a stroller. I don't know how well that's going to work out, but I also see lots of races not offering that option.

Brian  47:39  
Oh, so fun. 

Panos  47:39  
Have you done it? 

Brian  47:40  
Yeah. Oh, we've done it so much and we absolutely love it. I mean, there's been races where we're definitely frowned upon with it. But then there are other races where you find your stroller people and you all run together the entire race. It's wonderful. But yeah, I'll jump right into it. I mean, there's a couple of things we're doing from, like, the family side of things. We have a kids' race or expo that's huge - I think it's $10. And they get a medal, they get a shirt, they get food, and they get everything else. And there's a balloon arch, bubbles, and everything you would want a kid to have at a race and seeing the joy that they have - that's something that my wife is, like, fully taking over and she loves it. It's at .277 miles around our expo, which is similar to a race that's on 277, so it's just a call out to that. And we have a blast. So that's, like, one version of getting the family involved and getting the kids involved. And the second version of that is, for the younger ones that aren't able to run yet, we do a stroller division on race day. As parents who have pushed many times, I think the most memorable one for me is I did the Cleveland Half with our firstborn, so we only had one at the time. I think she was, maybe, like, a year and a half-- no. She was still drinking bottles, so probably, like, nine-months-old. So we got her up early in her PJs, still. She fell back asleep in the stroller by the time we get to the start line. We put a bottle underneath and we ran with her. And then, when she woke up, we gave her the bottle. It was, like, mile nine. She got done by the time we got to the finish line and she got her medal. And we were probably, like, one of three strollers at this multi-thousand-person race, and we're like, "Man, this is so cool. Like, how can we take this to the next level? And why are we getting frowned upon - because I understand, like, the flat tire side of it of, like, accidentally hitting someone in the back of the heel? So what can we do to make this different?" And because our course is so unique that, by mile one, you're on a five-lane highway, they can get out of the way, so why don't we let them go first? So we have our stroller division go out five minutes before the rest of the racer, so they're actually ahead of, like, the elites and things like that. And then, by the time the elites get to them, they're on this five-lane highway where they can just pass on the left so easily with cops coming up saying, "Hey, strollers to the right." Then, it's a cheering division for these elites. And honestly, we're not out there because we're getting bananas ready and who knows what else, but they've seen some video of-- we had a friend run out there with a GoPro last year and you can see them chatting. Like, the strollers were chatting with the elite saying, like, "Oh, you're doing great! Good job!" Like, these elites have their little running cheer station with them, which is pretty cool. And same with the elites back to these parents that are pushing pretty hard. And little side tangent from that this year, we actually had a stroller break the tape this year and finish first because he got the five-minute head start. No one else was able to catch up to him within that 10K and ran like something disgusting - like, a 32-minute 10K pushing a two-year-old in a stroller. Yeah, it was impressive. But this year, we had, like, 140 strollers register. They go out, like I was saying, like, five minutes beforehand and then it's just a tonne of happiness, smiles going out, everyone cheering them on, and it is so much fun and the kids love it. A lot of times, we give them a medal as well. And it's just such a fun little addition to our race that, as parents, is something we really wanted to do and there's really no pushback on it because when people realise they can pass them so easily - or the most people don't even catch them because of that little bit of a five-minute headstart on such a short distance race. You typically don't even run into them unless you're at that elite level. It's just a fun little addition. And if you're a race director listening in, I would highly suggest it because, man, it is fun. And from a bottom line or revenue standpoint, it's getting the whole family involved, it's getting the next generation involved, it's getting a new level of cheer stations involved, and it allows both parents to come out. So maybe mom can run hard that day, but Dad's gonna push the kids. And rather than standing on the sideline, now the whole family's involved, and the whole family kind of got it. For us, as parents, it was wanting to show our kids what we're into and what we love, and now they're totally into it. And then, the next step is towards getting to the kids' race, and then hopefully their first 5K or whatever it might be. So it's really cool.

Panos  51:51  
No, I think it's amazing. I mean, I always thought that kids' races are an absolute must and they're, like, super cute. But, like, stroller division - that's like mind blowing-ly cute. I don't think it could get any better than that.

Brian  52:03  
We added cash prizes to it this year and, like, actual awards with it from a-- one of our sponsors is a coffee company. So we figured, for parents, like, what better prize than coffee? So now, there's like cash prizes with it. So we have some people coming out pretty fast. So not only do we have, like, just everyone wants to come out and push their kids out on the highway for the one time a year, but we've got some sprinters coming out and we almost had the Guinness World Record broken this year by a female stroller pusher, which we didn't even know was a record until we looked it up afterward what the fastest time was. But it's fun to add some other levels to this too.

Panos  52:39  
Just to sort of, like, put my accountant hat on, does it create any additional costs, maybe, with insurance or anything running, like, a dedicated stroller wave compared to just your typical race?

Brian  52:53  
Good question. It has not, no. Because we're on a highway and so many other pieces that are involved in it, and unfortunately, some of the things that have happened in our industry over the past few years like Boston, the amount of insurance we have is absurd already, so adding that into it was not any additional costs on that end. The course has already shut down so early because we're shutting down a highway. We just start shutting down about four hours before the race. So it's already shut down. So we're not paying extra for police or anything like that. It's an added division in our results, so you can sort by stroller. Really, the only thing I was just thinking of that could be something funny to add is, like, maybe, an additional food cost because the kid takes an extra orange versus just one person taking the orange but that's not worth it at all to even think about when it comes to these line items and your P&L and all that good stuff.

Panos  53:45  
For so many of our podcast breaks, I keep talking about RunSignup’s amazing email marketing suite, race day tools, custom websites and so many other great RunSignup features helping race directors take their events to the next level. 

But there’s one thing RunSignup does - a very important thing, I think - that I haven’t touched on yet. Can you guess what that is? Brian mentioned it earlier in the podcast when discussing his business research before launching his race.

It is, of course, RunSignup’s absolutely awesome RaceTrends report. 

If you’re not familiar with the RaceTrends report, it is a treasure trove of statistics, data trends and analysis on races and racers based on RunSignup’s unparalleled data sample of race registrations. In it you’ll find detailed data on registration trends, pricing trends, stats on participation and repeat participation by event type and distance, data on participant demographics and so much more that can help you get a better grasp on trends in the industry at large.

For example, do you know what the average entry fee is for a race like yours? Or how that fee is trending year over year? Maybe you’re thinking of increasing your prices. Well, you’re not gonna get all the data you need to make an informed decision on that by looking up a couple of nearby races or speaking to a couple of colleagues. You need to know the numbers.

So many people use RunSignup RaceTrends report to understand where the market is, and you should too. 

The 2022 annual report is coming out in January, so mark your calendar for that - I certainly do - but I suggest you also go and take a look at the 2021 report in the meantime. There’s always new types of data being added to the report, and it’s a free amazing resource for our industry you simply cannot afford to overlook. Many thanks to Brian for reminding me of that today.

So to download the latest RaceTrends report at any time just go to It’s totally free to download - you don’t have to even give up your email like you do in some places - it’s just another great thing RunSignup does to help our industry and all of you guys succeed. 

Ok, I’m really glad to have been able to share this with you. Now, let’s get back to the episode… 

So, the other very important pillar of your mission and race is sustainability, of course, which is another thing that has attracted quite a lot of attention in the industry. And fortunately, many more people are thinking harder about this and doing more. But I have to say, I think for a race of your size, I don't think I've ever come across previously a cupless race. So you guys run cupless, which means that people have to basically carry their own cups to water stations. How does that work, exactly? I mean, I know how it works on trail races with the density those guys get. What about a road race of that size? How do you make this work?

Brian  56:49  
What you mentioned is a popular topic. It's something that people want to be a part of and the way that you describe it earlier with inclusivity or DEI and all that is, there's a lot of lip service out there right now saying, like, "Hey, we want to do this." And I think the term has become greenwashing in that, like, "We're sustainable. We're green. We're eco-friendly." And what does it take to put your money where your mouth is like you were saying earlier? So it was definitely something we started before we even had our first race. We were having these conversations and we wanted to make sure that we weren't doing that and we weren't doing it because it was the trendy thing. And I think, then - this was, like, 2017 or 2018 when we started to have this conversation - it wasn't as discussed as it is now. So it was nice to have it at our first race, so it wasn't something that we were converting to because it was trendy. It was something that people knew us from day one. If we were going to convert to 100% recycled shirts or to a cupless raise, it wasn't a hard transition for someone. It was just something that people knew us as "the crunchy race", we were the hippies that happened to put on a race or however you wanted to look at it. Like, there was never any kind of conversion from that because we had seen that issue in the past where a race wanted to become sustainable, so they were taking away this thing or they're adding that and people would complain, understandably. So it was really nice to be able to do that from the first race, which made it a lot easier for us from a marketing standpoint, from a communication standpoint. But when it comes to the cupless-- so I'm trying to think if that's even the best word, the way that you just described it made me think, "Is there a better way to a better word we should use?" We're not necessarily couplets. We are paper cupless. So at our water stations, we have almost, like, a neoprene cup that is reusable. So people can totally carry their own water vessel and then we'll refill that as well because we have that capability out there. But the majority of people use this cup. We use a company out of Florida called Hiccup - or Hiccup Earth, I think, is their website. It's like this thick neoprene cup that you pick up from a water station just like you normally would. You take a drink of it and you throw out the trash, but that is not actually a trashcan - it's a receptacle to collect them. Hiccup comes to our race - they take those cups back and they take it to an industrial dishwasher - like, at a hotel or something like that - and they wash them and get them ready for the next race. So it looks and feels just like a normal water station. The cost isn't much different and you're able to be a little bit better. A lot of that - the cup side of it - came into play because, one, my wife and I realised that we were crunchier than I think we knew when we started this thing. And then, two, if we're going to be on a highway and you think about paper cups going all over a street, one of the things about really any highways, there's just like a natural wind that's always along on interstate because the buildings that surround it in different pieces of it. So where are all these paper cups going to go once someone throws them? It's not going to just stay on that highway. It's gonna go down into the city in different pieces and we just hated the thought of that. So what can we change to be different if we're gonna have a water station out on this major highway? So that's where a lot of it came from. And gosh, we've loved it and Hiccup has been great to work with. It's amazing that they come to the race, just kind of give us the cups, take them, and go on to the next race. And they kind of make a little bit of a road trip out of it, where they'll try to knock out a few races either in North Carolina or other states that may have races and lineup, kind of, their fall schedule or whatever that might be. So they've made it really nice at the water stops. And then, at the finish line, we typically have something different as well because just a little six-ounce cup of water after a 10K in, kind of, the summer of North Carolina's is not enough. So we've found new ways each year to bring something different to the finish line. One year, we worked with our water municipality to tap hydrants and filter them and have different vessels at the finish line to drink from. This past year, we did canned water through the brewery that we work with - it was more of, like, sparkling water. We just purchased a water monster - have you seen those before or heard of those? 

Panos  1:00:51  
Yeah, yep. 

Brian  1:00:52  
So we just got a couple of them - just got two of those. We'll probably need some more but it's, again, a start towards what we're trying to work with to be a little bit more sustainable. But kind of In conclusion, a lot of this came from what you mentioned - the trail side of things of, "This is what I worked in. This is what I love. I run a lot of trail races and I love how they do it there." When you're in the woods and you see a paper cup on the ground, or in the desert, or wherever you're running at, it just doesn't look natural, it doesn't look good. So I think the trail world got over to it a lot faster and it makes sense. So we're trying to bring that into the road world. And there are some other examples out there right now of really large races doing similar things - I don't think all the way to the cupless side of it, but they're doing-- so I just did Chicago Marathon this year to go up there from a research standpoint, and they have a huge emphasis on composting all of their cups. And not only do they compost them to make more soil but, from my understanding of what I was reading there, they turn them into different features - kind of, like, that reusable plastic that they make like a place set out of them and stuff like that. I think they make like benches out of them and different things with the cups like the heat sheets and different things. There's a lady by the name of Tina Muir - she's doing some really cool stuff and she was kind of heading up a lot of their sustainability this year and making sure and almost holding them accountable - they hired her to hold them accountable. So she was trying to take things to the next level when it comes to composting things and different pieces of it. So it's interesting to see what other races are doing out there, especially on the West Coast of the United States - Big Sur International Marathon and California do some really cool things. So we've got a lot of people to look up to and there's always more that we can do, but it has been fun to really try to work towards being as sustainable as possible.

Panos  1:02:34  
It's an interesting idea now that you describe it the whole Hiccup arrangement because, basically, you're saying, from the runners' point of view, nothing sort of changes. From their point of view, it looks like a disposable cup. I mean, they drink and then they dispose of it, but then Hiccup just collects everything, rewashes them, and then they reuse them. Can you give people listening in just a rough idea of, like, the cost side of this? Like, how would it work for a race of X number of participants or something to bring this service to the race?

Brian  1:03:10  
I'll give you straight numbers and I can do the quick math on it here. I think it's pretty cheap, if not comparable to paper cups. So I think paper cups are somewhere around a penny each. 

Panos  1:03:23  
It would sound reasonable, yeah. 

Brian  1:03:24  
Yeah, I think ours are somewhere around, like, nine cents a cup, and that's everything - that's the delivery of it, that's the execution of it, that's everything. So yes, I guess, from a percentage standpoint, it's nine times more. But when your starting cost is a penny and you're going from, I don't know, $100 to $1,000, it's not a noticeable line item when it comes down to it. And the difference that you're making, I think, is completely worth it. I'm saying all this and I can understand where someone would say, "Gosh, that's $900 that I could spend on something else," or whatever it might be. I think it's we're having that mission guiding things sometimes and the availability of a sponsor to come in on this like you're talking about earlier. The insurance company, or the health care company, or the bank-- this is an opportunity for them to step in and say, "You know what? This is our waterstop sponsor and it's gonna cost you $1,500." Like, from a sponsorship standpoint of a race of more than 1,000 people, that's not a large number from a sponsorship cost and the fact that they get to be the one putting their name on the sustainable, really, noticeable part of that day. It's a good activation and a good selling point for a potential sponsor. It just gives them that opportunity to activate on it versus just a name on a logo-- oh, sorry - a logo on a shirt or a logo on our website. It's that potential activation point. So just think of it that way of how can you purchase this thing and then how can you offer some amazing company a way to do that if that's part of their mantra, their mission. 

Panos  1:04:54  
Yeah, I guess you're also saving on recycling costs and, like, sweeping costs and because they take care of everything. For a 10K like Around the Crown, roughly, how many cups per participant would you, sort of, budget for? Like, how many Hiccups would you think you'll need for the entirety of the course?

Brian  1:05:12  
Yeah. I think, this year, we did a total of 7,000 cups because we did two water stations and we had almost 5,000 registers, which equaled out to about 4,000 runners or so - a little bit more, I think. What we recognise this year is we want to do two water stops even though it's only 6.2 miles. When you're planning it, you don't know what the weather is going to look like. In the south here, like, humidity and heat can add up pretty fast if a hurricane is on its way or whatever it might look like, so we try to give extra just in case. It's worth paying that extra couple $100 to make sure of it. What we did notice, though, is not many people take it at waterstop. I mean, it's a mile into our course, which is the first place or the last place we can offer it before the highway because, now, the police and Department of Transportation have asked that we don't do a water stop on the highway anymore because the setup and cleanup of is little hard. So the last place we can offer it before getting on the highway is at mile one. At that point, runners just aren't needing it or wanting it yet. And I think a lot of people have recognised that what we're doing with the couple of styles and things like that, they're bringing their own water or they're planning to not have water until the finish line too and that totally works out as well. It's easier than you might think it is to switch to something like that.

Panos  1:06:34  
So let's switch gears a little bit and look at marketing. You're a marketing professional by background. You've focused quite religiously on brand, which is a big component of marketing, I guess, starting out. And you also have a very big focus on community. You're pulling together so many different running clubs, sponsors, and local businesses. What kind of initiatives did you undertake on offline marketing? What kinds of things did you do particularly earlier on in the race to raise awareness around the race and get the community to pick up on the new event?

Brian  1:07:17  
Yeah. I like the "offline" there because I think that we naturally go to, "What are you doing on your social? What do you do on your website? What are you doing on videos and things like that?" We have a tonne of fun with that, too, but offline-- we really try to show up in person as much as possible. One of the things that we recognised when we were launching this was, a lot of races, when they launch registration, it is done all online with, "It's open. Go ahead and register. Do this and that," and it didn't feel much of a connection when we are asking someone for their money - and you're getting a lot of it - in that first debut because it's the cheapest and you're announcing it. So each year, we've done some version of a launch party to say thank you for last year because it's typically pretty close to when we had race day, and now, pushed it back a little bit, I think, our race or races to September and doing a launch party in January, so it's a little bit separated. But we do a launch party where if you show up in person, the first 100 people are getting a swag bag with a bag of coffee in it, a coffee mug, and a hat. Your entry price is 25 bucks and we do a little bit more with that. And then, we typically do it at the brewery sponsor that we have that has a Run Club. So then, we all go running together and chat about everything that went well or didn't go well and we address those issues in person versus doing it as a keyboard warrior and, really, a lot of times, call that out before someone says, "You did this thing wrong. you didn't have enough porta potties, or water ran out, or whatever it might be." We're really trying to address that and calling ourselves out in person saying, "We screwed up. You're right. We're gonna address that next year. Like, so sorry. We're learning as we go. Thank you for feedback. That's the only way we can grow" kind of thing. And doing that in person versus over Instagram, or Twitter, or whatever it is, I feel, is so much more meaningful and those people become part of your brand then. It's nice. So to get back to your question of offline stuff, doing a lot of in-person run clubs, when it really gets into the heat of it - like, from the summer, I'd say from April, May to September - we're doing a run club a week or maybe two weeks or so where we're going out and going to these different-- in Charlotte, North Carolina, we have a tonne of run clubs. They're always at breweries or at restaurants, and there are multiple a night that we can go to. Some of them have 7-8 people and some of them-- we have a run club here called Mad Miles that's really impressive - they'll have 350 people every Tuesday. And then, on Saturdays, we'll have 150 people. So we'll go out to that one pretty often. They've become really good friends of ours. It's doing that kind of stuff. And then, another one that kind of comes to mind when you were asking that question was, this year, we actually did outdoor advertising with, like, a billboard on the highway. So in the month leading up to race day, we purchased a massive billboard on our inner beltway and it just said, "Speed limit changing 50 to 5 on a race day." So it gained a lot of attention and we weren't sure if it was something we needed to approve with the Department of Transportation or not, because it was a little like, "Is this a bad thing or not? Is this okay?"

Panos  1:10:24  
It's a pretty smart idea.

Brian  1:10:25  
Yeah. I will say to get a billboard on the highway was not cheap. If we could have done it on the surface street, it probably would have saved us a lot of money, but it didn't have the same impact. And what was really cool is, we then took that-- so it was a four-week contract that ended the day after our race. So that billboard was up on race day and the runners could see it. So we did a social media contest around it, too. So we took the offline online, and said, "Hey, the person that takes the best picture with this race that says--" pretty much, "5 is great than 50" is one of our little mottos of, "We think moving at five miles an hour is better than moving at 50 miles an hour. We had a social media contest where the best selfie won a race to enter next year. So we had some fun with that. And we made sure, like, our drone photographers and videographers were getting some footage of that on race day too. So there are a couple of things we definitely do offline that are just as different and unique as some of the online stuff that we do and really just trying to talk to the entire community. It's not always running-based either, which makes it really fun showing up to some of our beneficiaries of these farm-to-fork dinners and different events that they have, making sure it's known that we're doing some cool stuff for the community.

Panos  1:11:39  
Yeah, I guess the thing you were mentioning earlier - this tendency people have these days or-- when you mentioned marketing, the thing that comes to mind first is online marketing. Lots of people do it and, like, lots of race directors these days are very, very comfortable around running their own paid marketing and stuff like that. And I guess the billboard, in a way, is a traditional ad that aims to reach out to a large number of people, which sort of is a little bit comparable to what you might do on paid marketing. I think the reason why people are not doing as much grassroots stuff as you were mentioning with running clubs and, like, getting involved at that level with a community is perhaps the impression that it's not really scalable and, basically, you'll need to put a lot of effort into it - "For what?" one might ask - right? I mean, what do I get out of it? Did you ever think about this kind of, like, trade-off? Do you have either any data or any, like, strong conviction around these grassroots type activities working out at just a strict ROI type level that actually makes sense for the time that you put into them and the money you'll have to put into them?

Brian  1:12:58  
Absolutely not. And I think that's the best part of it. We have no ROI. We have no trackability. And I think that's why a lot of people don't do it - because we've gotten so used to online stuff, giving you immediate results of, "You had 7,000 people look at your ad and then 700 of them clicked through to the website, and then 70 of them registered. So you had a 1% return on this ad. That is pretty good because the average is this." You don't have that with a billboard. You don't have that with a run club, and that's the best part of it is. I have no idea if the ROI is there on a billboard. I love them. I think they're super fun. I think it validates your brand when you have a billboard on the highway that you're running on because the other players up there are Coca Cola, Truist, Allstate Insurance, and these other ones, and then we're the little guy that happens to be able to barely piece together enough money to get our marketing up there for four weeks. It validates us that way and I think shows the community that we're legit and we want to make a difference. I think that has to be some of your marketing plans sometimes to do what you feel, like, is appropriate and don't worry about the trackability. It's hard to get over that for sure. And yeah, we totally do paid marketing and we're on that side of it too, but you've got to diversify your marketing. You've got to do some mailers sometimes or you've got to do some yard signs sometimes because, one, not everyone's on social. Two, it's just another touchpoint. It's another reminder that's not on your phone that were just constantly scrolling through. I personally think that that's going to start leading the charge even more, especially as we're hearing just this week that, "Hey, is the tech boom starting to slow down? Is it starting to get over as we're laying off employees left and right at Meta and Twitter and all these other places?" I hope it's coming back. I'm all for out-of-home advertising and that kind of stuff, and I think it's nice to not always track things. And then, the last thing I'll say on that, too, is in 2020, when we were all figuring out what to do in our industry from a running standpoint of, "How do we get all these people together? We can't do a 5000-person race anymore." The way that we converted to this alternative race was a multi-day event and it was a tonne of fun. But one of the things we recognised is the way that we had to do it was, every half hour, we were allowed to let 25 people into this place. We then shot people out into the community, and there was tape on the ground to show you where to run. Something we were able to do that year that we weren't able to do in any of our other years is to have a conversation with each person every time they went out. We did it for a week straight from 7am to 7pm. We were pretty much talking to at least one person every half hour about what they wanted in the running community, what they saw going well, other races that they loved and what they were doing there, and that's a conversation that you can't put ROI on. You can't track that because you can't have that on social media. You can't have that on your website or anything. It's a completely different form I don't think you can track trust on Instagram and that was something that we were gaining by having these conversations each time - being able to have that face-to-face even though you couldn't see our mouths at the time because we were having a great conversation of, "What was going on right? What was going wrong?" and that meant so much more than tracking what our click-through rate was or anything like that. 

Panos  1:16:28  
Yeah, well, all of this talk actually makes me think about race ambassador programmes, which is sort of the spearhead many races use for grassroots engagement. And everyone I've spoken to about this seems to think that it's a very, very effective tool for, basically, in a way, leveraging your reach within the local community in a nice, kind of, like, grassroots level. Do you guys have one? I couldn't find one on the site. Do you run an ambassador programme?

Brian  1:17:01  
We do not. It was something we discussed and talked about. I think by the time period at which our race came onto the scene, we were a little bit behind the original versions of when that was coming through. At the marathon, we had it there and they still are doing that. But I think by the time that we got on the scene - and maybe you've seen this little bit too - people are ambassadors for a lot of things. I think it is great, but you had to be doing it a little bit before we were there. We do a version of it and I'll explain in a second, but it just didn't seem like it fit our brand at the time and it didn't seem like we could do it better than what was already being done, so we didn't jump into it. I do think there are some people out there that are doing it really well and I do see the advantages of it, but it just didn't seem to fit, kind of, our marketing mix at the time. But the version of it that we do that's kind of like it is our pacers. So, a lot of races have pacers, for sure, and they engage with them on race day. We engage with ours throughout the year where we do parties for them and we take them out on running excursions. We've done a lot of fun things with them. This past year, we rented a couple of boats and took them on to a lake and we brought food out there for them, we brought beer out there for them, and just told them, "Thank you," and that was it. There was nothing else other than like went on a run on some trails beforehand and then jump in the lake and it was a good time. They've kind of naturally become that version of an ambassador, where they're constantly talking about us on social and they're wearing our stuff all the time because we give it to them. And they've been our pacer for three, four years at a time. So, I think that's the closest version we have. It's been kind of fun to have them very engaged in our race and you see them - they're noticeable on race day. They are the ones holding up the sign that says, "We're doing this." You've seen them at the pacer party and a couple of different versions of it. It's almost nice that they're having these engagements without us really asking them to because they love the race as much as we do because they see a lot of the backend, they know a lot of what we're doing because they're around all the time. And a lot of them have become close friends of ours and come over to our house for dinner and things like that. So it's a version of it. But yeah, it's not fully something we do.

Panos  1:19:25  
And you mentioned earlier that you also do some paid marketing. Can you talk us through a little bit about what types of paid marketing you do? Also, what's the objective of it and, sort of, the timeframe over which you do that? Is it sort of, like, later toward race day? Is it earlier? Is it sort of, like, spread out evenly? What gaps are you trying to fill with that, sort of, overall marketing mix? What are you trying to do with that?

Brian  1:19:52  
Yeah, certainly. So paid marketing-- I'd say the first thing that comes to mind for most people is social. We do paid ads on there. That typically fits in from a brand standpoint of imagery and copy. It's similar to what we're talking about at that time. So thankfully, I have a close friend that does it as a little side company, and we're constantly talking to him anyway. So I'll say to listeners, for something like that, it's almost good to have a friend or someone who understands your brand and really understands what you're doing handle that versus a larger company that might be really good at paid marketing, but they don't understand running, or they don't understand the community or what you're trying to do because he comes to us with feedback all the time, and is like, "Hey, what if we change up the text a little bit like this because of your brand - not because I think it's going to do better, but I think this fits your brand better?" And things like that. And he's just wonderful. When we run them from a payment standpoint, we typically match our price increases. So if we have a price increase coming up at the end of March, we'll start paying more during that time. And one thing that we've started doing with that that we've tested and - again, reach out if you have any feedback on this as well and I'll give email and all that stuff at the end of this - we've played with, "Do we do a large circle around Charlotte? Do we do a 20-mile radius around Charlotte and we market to that? Or do we do a 5-mile radius around Charlotte and a 5-mile radius around Gastonia, which is a little city near us, and then a 5-mile radius around here? And do we just pinpoint those people more? Or going back to the 20-mile ideas, is it Charlotte, and then it's Raleigh, and then it's Atlanta?" And we found with our race that it works doing it with the small, kind of, neighbourhoods around versus going to other cities that are close to us because of when we are with Labour Day weekend and things like that that makes more sense for us to kind of stick here in Charlotte and get people to stay in town to hang out with us. So that's one side of paid marketing. The other thing I'll say-- something that we invested in this year substantially was PR. We do a lot with our PR team now. We actually found them through Feetures, the sponsor we were talking about earlier. We were very particular with who we wanted to work with again. So the company that we work with is a bunch of runners and a bunch of hikers, campers, and bikers, and they're into craft beer, and they're into all the things that we're into. The conversations with them have been just very natural. And again, they give us feedback. They understand what we're trying to do. The owner and our, kind of, rep came down with their daughter and their husband to volunteer at our race and they wanted to be there on race day because they're in Asheville, which is just about two hours away from us. And they came to town to see what it was all about and volunteered and spend time with us that entire weekend, which was huge. They've been so amazing for us. We've been on so many great podcasts this year and different articles like running insight of how we kind of found each other to help us out. And the thing that we've learned about them that we wanted to really make sure we understood before we did it is this is not a one-year deal. This is a three or maybe five-year deal that we need to continue to work with them to really build out what it looks like. We're not going to get on every single website and every single podcast in year one to talk about all these fun things we have going on. They need to build relationships and they need to work towards that. So we knew that was going to be a multi-year expense of what that looks like and those conversations have just been different than what normal paid social, I think, looks like, and we've really enjoyed that. Those are, I'd say, the main two forms of, like, paid marketing outside of outdoor advertising and things like that. But those ads on social and then our PR team have just been wonderful.

Panos  1:23:38  
Yeah. PR, I think, is another thing that is not particularly high on most race directors' shopping list also because, to be fair, to engage an actual agency costs a good amount of money, I guess, that most of the smaller races don't have. But as we mentioned, Meg Treat was a PR professional that I heard on the podcast a few episodes back, there are lots of things that people can do on PR that they can sort of DIY, like reaching out to local media. The most important thing about PR which is probably why it works so well with Around the Crown is having a good story, basically - basically, having a good brand and knowing what story you want to tell around that. And then, like, local media, the press-- they will scoop that up. If the story is there, they want stories to run. So I think people seem to, sometimes, hesitate thinking that, like, "Oh, why would, like, the local newspaper or the state radio or whatever be interested in my race?" But it's their job. It's those people's job to be putting stories out and races are naturally newsworthy, and they have stories to tell. So it's definitely something that people need to look more into. I want to wrap up this very, very interesting discussion before you could tell us about your future plans, which is also very important to see where the race is heading. I want to wrap up on one other very important thing with you, which is sponsorship and you seem to be doing that also fantastically well. Every programme that we've discussed so far, the Pay What You Can, the First Timer's Club, the stroller division - even things that we didn't have time to touch on your training plans - your training tours, like, you do lots of things, and there's always a title sponsor or a presenting sponsor behind that, and it always feels very natural. As you were saying, in some of the training tours, Brooks was there, whose brand is also aligned around inclusivity. So it all seems to fit perfectly well into that. And there was a discussion in our Race Directors Hub group on Facebook the other day about something and I wanted to have your take on this. So there was a race director there who was saying, "I had a - I think, it was - like, a physio or, like, a sports clinic or something. They were sponsoring my race, which I took to mean that they were giving cash to the race, and then they realigned their sponsorship programme a little bit. And then, recently, we went to them for renewal, and they said that they can't actually do the cash, but they can turn out on the race and they can still provide the free service, etc." And it's always, I guess, a black box for many people looking into races like Around the Crown. How many of those sponsors come up with actual hard cash? And how many come up with more, like, in kind-of propositions like giving up products or services for the sponsorship? And also, what is your approach to how high you set the bar for accepting those in-kind sponsorships? Basically, are you the kind of person who looks at, really, like, the race experience and, "Oh, these people may not be able to contribute cash, but they can add a lot to the race." Or are you one of those people who says, "I have a premium event. It's an awesome event. People need to pay to get into it." I know there are lots of questions there. But like, what's your overall approach to this - to the in-kind, and setting the bar? Like, how do you approach those kinds of negotiations?

Brian  1:27:17  
Yeah. All awesome questions. And I think I wrote down the majority of it and I think I have answers to the majority of them, but feel free to remind me if I do forget some of them. To close up on PR real fast, I think you brought up some good things with Meg who was on here before. 

Panos  1:27:30  

Brian  1:27:31  
Completely agree on the DIY side of things. The hiring a firm was in year four. In year one, it was us doing it and kind of playing with, I'm going to shoot an email or a tweet or a DM to this news source to see if they'll do it. It was getting a partnership with a local news station to have them, hopefully, market some more for us, but it was in-kind sponsorship and there was no cash involved. And it was just a "we'll be your go-to media source" kind of thing. And then in year three, we finally hired, like, again, a friend to do it and it wasn't a tonne of time she was able to spend on it because of what we were willing to pay or what we were able to budget. And then, in year four, it was a full-on firm. So it was something we worked towards and tested out, and wanted to see that it has worked. So don't think that you need to hire a firm or an agency right away and spend $15,000, $20,000, or $25,000 on that. Yeah, try it yourself and see what you think and then eventually go to it. So I think that's a great point. And, again, I want to tune into that one too. So now, I have Peter and Meg that I need to listen to, which I'm excited about. But on the sponsorship - great questions and definitely something, I think, I learned a lot more about when I was at the Whitewater Centre. A friend of mine, Adam Bratton, who was kind of above me there and taught me some things about what is in-kind look like or VIK - I think it's what we call it a lot "value in kind" versus cash. And a lot of times they will use, like, a 1.5 multiplier. So if you're going to offer your shirts at a discount, for example, like Recover who does all of our shirts, maybe our sponsorship level is $5,000 to get to tier one. If you're doing a value in kind, it's got to be at $7,500 to be at that same level. And that's a guideline. It's not a hard line at all. That's something we've realised and I think I'm getting used to it more. I can't say that I'm a professional at it by any means yet because I look up to a lot of good people in that realm of marketing. But one of the big things I think we've realised is it's such a personal relationship and a personal conversation. This is not something that you hand off to any random employee or any random company. We had someone come in and help us with our sponsorship in 2020 and she was absolutely amazing. And unfortunately, when the pandemic came along, we weren't able to hold on to her. But it was something that we talked about a lot and we thought about a lot before we handed that off to someone else other than myself or my wife, and she did such a good job of it. And that was the first person we hired - that sponsorship manager - because we knew how important it was to talk to the right person at the right company, and then also go look for these leads. But when it comes to how high up you're willing to go for a tier one or tier two sponsor, who can give you that value in kind? We don't allow it to be, like, the very top-tier presenting sponsor like someone like Truist. They definitely offer value in kind in certain ways, but we wanted to make sure that there was a very large portion of that was cash. But even at our - we'll call it - like, our tier one and put "Presenting" above that, when he got our tier one-- one of our main sponsors there is a local Subaru dealership called Williams Subaru, and one of the things they were able to offer was a car, and that's a massive value. And maybe, we can't put it at the level of what it's valued at on a ticket price of a $45,000 outback or whatever it is, but there is some substantial power behind that. They were willing to give us a new car each year that they're going to rewrap with our branding on it, and then they're gonna give us cash on that as well. They have been one of our top sponsors, by far. I mean, they 100% do not give the level of cash of what another tier one might give, but they give us the car, but then they also give us just nonstop communication. They are wonderful. They let us do a billboard on their lot as well. So we actually have two billboards in Charlotte, which is really cool, because - I don't know if you've noticed - a lot of times, car dealerships host billboards because it's a property that these companies can talk to put a space up. So they have rights to one side of that billboard. So they allow us to be that brand on there with our Subaru that says, "William Subaru drives us Around the Crown." And they're wonderful to help out with other pieces of our marketing throughout the year. Like, in the scavenger hunts, they're giving Subaru-branded pieces to then hand out and things like that. So yeah, we totally do value in kind. And a lot of times, when we send out the sponsorship tiers that we have, we let people know, like, "This is a jumping-off point. This is not a hard line. This is a conversation starter. These numbers can ebb and flow. Let's make sure it makes sense for you." And a lot of times, the ways that they ebb and flow is like multi-year contracts and what else can we offer to talk about these things - that's been a big part of it is. The multi-year side of sponsorship is so helpful to not have a conversation after every race to say, "Hey, you guys coming back? Can we do this thing? Can we do that thing? Because we want to continue talking about you. So how can we do that each year if we're to make sure that we're still friends." So we, kind of, tried to start a three-year relationship. And for us, being a race, we didn't want to go much further than that because we wanted to make sure we'll still be around. I'd hate to say, "Let's do a five-year sponsorship," and then a global pandemic comes around and shut us down or something like that, which was totally part of the conversation. So it's been interesting to learn that. But I think the biggest takeaway that I've had is, it's our most personal relationship that we have of talking to these main players within the company and making sure we're doing right by them, and the ideas that we have for activation match what it is that they want to do, and match a lot of the things that they want to do. But I've also found that I absolutely love it. It's such a passion project for me to talk to these companies and figure out how to activate them appropriately. I think, in a former life or maybe in a future life, I want to work for some sports agency and have so much fun with how to activate these different companies and what that looks like. It's fun stuff.

Panos  1:33:56  
It is good fun. When you're in the zone and you're having those conversations, and you're speaking to sponsors who sort of, like, get you and you get them, I think it could be, like, truly, truly magical stuff. 

Brian  1:34:08  

Panos  1:34:09  
Because of your background also - your involvement with Charlotte Marathon before and the other things you've done before - you probably got a pretty big head start on where other people may have started with their sponsorship programme. But I wonder, in the earlier days of the race where you weren't up to the numbers you're now and you didn't have all the credentials, like, all the, kind of, like, pedigree that you've developed since then, when you were talking to sponsors and they sort of get you, they want to get on board, but maybe you expect them to contribute more. They're not quite there yet. I guess your attitude in that - would it be, "Yes. Let's get those guys on board, start the relationship, fill this lot, let me show them what I can do for them and also what they can do for the race." or are you more on the side of, "Nope, we have, like, a hard stop on what I need to see from you. I believe in my race and I'm not going to get you in cheap or at a discount, or how I might perceive to be a discount kind of thing."? Like, what would be your attitude in that - because it's a bit of a chicken and egg building a sponsorship roaster, basically, getting people on board?

Brian  1:35:20  
Yeah, good question. I lean towards your first version of, "Get them in, show them what you got, and prove to them that the value is there." But obviously, you can only do that so much. Like, you can't have zero cash coming in with sponsorship. One of the things that we recognised early on is we wanted our revenue to be a 50-50 split - 50% being registration and 50% being sponsorship. We weren't going to able to do that in year one, and we knew that but we knew it was something we wanted to work towards. I think that's where the multi-year contracts came in, of getting them in the first year and saying, "You know what? Product is great this year. Value in kind is great. If you can give something to our runners, that's wonderful. However, we're gonna need to talk about a multi-year contract because I do want to make sure and I hope you understand that if we've proven our value, next year, maybe we go to $500 or $1000, or $5000," - whatever level they're at. I think that's where the multi-year really came in, if you can explain it to them. And honestly, this may not be business savvy or legal savvy - I don't mean, like, it's illegal, but it's just maybe not the smartest way to do it - but we would tell them pretty early on, "If it doesn't make sense, and you're too, let's have that conversation. If you absolutely need to get out or we didn't deliver on it and we both agree with that, then, hey, we get it." And also, like, "If the brand didn't make sense, we were getting into this because we each thought that we were comparable when it comes to sustainability or comparable when it comes to equity in the community, and we didn't live up to that, then, yeah, let's have that conversation." But it was always an open door. It was always a conversation of, "What was going on?" And that's happened in a lot of different ways through different sponsors - yeah, just knowing that you're not always going to be able to get cash that first year - but if you're able to have that conversation of, "Let's kind of start down this road and see if this works. Just remember what it was." The other thing that we have done, that was honestly Truist's idea, that we have really liked-- it seems like something so simple and it's, like, one of the things that you'd kind of kick yourself once you hear it. Like, that really makes sense - I want to say by merit, but your sponsorship grows if you grow. So rather than just putting an escalator in there and saying, "We plan to grow by this amount. So this year, it's going to be five. Next year is going to be 7,500. And the following year, it'll be 10 because we know we're going to grow." You say our base is 5,000 and if we grow by 10%, your sponsorship grows by 10%. So next year, you'd have to get $5,500 or whatever it might be. And being able to give that to sponsors-- after Truist gave us this idea of what, maybe, our sponsorship could look like, we have now taken that to other sponsors and said, "Hey, look, we don't want you to pay more if we're not growing." We think growing looks like a lot of things. It doesn't always necessarily mean registration. But if we have to measure it by something - something that you can see as tangible - and we were talking about ROI, then let's go off of that. And we've had so many sponsors say, "Gosh, that's refreshing. Like, thank you so much. We appreciate that." That's been a good way to at least get the conversation started. Sometimes, it doesn't always end that way via Truist or other companies, but it at least gets your brain thinking a little bit differently of, "Let's not just charge you more because our prices are going up. Let's prove it. Maybe it is registration or maybe it's some other way, or whatever it is." Just know it's worth having that conversation too with a business sponsor partner of, "Let's make sure we're growing together and you understand where your money's going."

Panos  1:38:55  
Yeah, it's a great way to align, basically, your incentives and your payout, and basically say that you'll be getting, sort of, proportionately the kind of thing that you're getting now if we grow and it gives you the incentive to grow. What's next for the race? What's next for Around the Crown? Where are you guys heading with it? What's your ambition? What's your target for the years coming up?

Brian  1:39:19  
Gosh, a couple of things come to mind. We're doing some new forms of marketing this year and it's been working really well for us. I'd love to share to see if other people could use it and what their examples are of it or how it's working for them. One thing we recognised - and I think everyone recognises - is your biggest price bumps are always on your price increase. People want to save $5 so they're gonna get in and that's when you get a couple of hundred of people to register or 10 people to register. So we're trying that out on a different level where we're doing limited registration to kick things off. Our actual launch isn't until January but we're doing these limited registrations that kind of revolve around our brand in that. The 277th day of the year-- we did a limited registration because we go on I277 and we always play with that. So on the 277th day of the year, we did 277 race registrations at $27.70, and registration opened at 7:04, which is our area code here - so it was very Charlotte-based - and we sold those 277 registrations in, like, seven minutes. And we've never seen those kinds of sales before. Like, that's massive for us. We might get 250 - that's probably about as high as we've gone in the past on the day that we opened registration because prices are really low, and we have the kickoff party. So for us to do that amount-- and that's not including kid's races or virtual entries. It works really, really well for us and it's a way for us to kind of combat what the pandemic did to our numbers. I mean, the numbers went way down and I'm sure a lot of you have seen that we're coming back. This year was an amazing year of growth, but it's still not at the level that we expect it to be at in year four when we didn't know a global pandemic was coming and all that. So it's one way for us to kind of get back some of our registration numbers. So we're doing it again on November 30 because it's 277 days away from race day and doing the same thing again. So I think that's sort of the future of our marketing is looking at. I don't want to call it, like, scarcity, marketing, but it's something like that. It's something of that degree. And the one that I've kind of amounted to but a friendlier version is how Iron Man does some of their registrations. I don't necessarily like to look to them too much for how they do things because I think I put them in that boat of like, "Man, you pay a lot for something that I'm not sure if the value is totally there on some of their stuff." And I love what they do and I have no hard feelings toward them. It's just their price point is sometimes hard to wrap my head around. But they do it based on numbers of the first 250 people get it for X price, and then the next two and a half to get it for this. So it's never a date price increase. It's a number of price increases. 

Panos  1:41:50  
Like an auction, sort of. 

Brian  1:41:51  
Like an auction, yeah. Maybe it's auction-based marketing - maybe that's what we'll call it. So we're trying that out. And we may do different versions of that along the way, but it's working really well for us. I think it could be a tactic for people to use for business and marketing to get your numbers back to where they were pre-pandemic. So that's definitely some of the future of looking at different versions of marketing. I think other things in the future-- obviously, looking to grow in numbers-wise, not into new cities - we get that asked a lot, like, "Hey, are you gonna go to Raleigh or Chattanooga or some other city and do another version of this?" I think this race works well for us because we love Charlotte and our passion, and we're not gonna take this passion and put that into Atlanta, or Roanoke, or some other city, or some other country. And I think we're looking at what could a series of Around the Crown looks like within Charlotte? So what if you ran physically Around the Crown at different races that are Around the Crown, meaning in different spots within Charlotte, but then built up to our race in September? So we just acquired our second race last year - it's a race that we've volunteered at for the last decade or so-called the NoDa 5K. That's before our race. We're looking at other races that are already existing in the community and how could we either acquire them or help build them up and kind of bring them into the fold of this idea of working towards a 10K that are either already core to the neighbourhood that they're in or have the potential to grow into that. And then, I think the second part of that is-- we talked about inclusivity and we talked about-- I know one of the things we didn't get into but you can look at on our website is our Truist training tours, where we go into different parts of the city that you don't typically have a race in and we set up a run there. It's just a community event. It could be a barbecue. And then, we have walking with it. Tha't not even necessarily running but, potentially, looking at some of these areas to host a race in if the neighbourhood will have us and doing some races in different parts of the city that don't typically have races in them, and what could that look like to bring as a part of Around the Crown. I think that's part of the future. And then, I think, the next part would be-- I kinda want to get back to the trail running side of things a little bit. I still do it a lot, personally, and I missed that side of it. And I just got done another trail race and looking at bringing something like that to Charlotte at a level of where Around the Crown is of bringing in some larger sponsors and looking at what it takes to bring the elite running scene to the East Coast because, right now, in the United States, everything is west coast, everything is Colorado, because that's where the big mountains are, or it's Arizona, or Utah or California. And you've got a couple on East Coasts that I think are doing it really well, but I would love to be a part of that and hopefully grow those races as well that are here in the mountains of North Carolina and the mountains of Georgia. We have some great races here, but I still think the East Coast deserves a little bit brighter spotlight than what we're getting because I think there are some great races out here and I hope that we can join that band, if you will. So I think that's the future beyond that. I think there's a chance of non-running related things involved with Around the Crown because we are involved so much in Charlotte that what does it look like to do something else that maybe has a running focus - like, "This is not it." But if it's a coffee shop that happens to do running-related things at it, that there's a water fountain outside, and we have group runs every morning at 4AM for the people that are parents and need to get up at that time to go running, but they want someone to run with. I think it just gonna be a running focus piece to other things, really. I think that's kind of the future of where we're headed. It'll be fun.

Panos  1:45:31  
Yeah. Which brings us in a nice circle back to what I was saying when we started out that chat, which is it's remarkable how many things-- and I'm thinking business-wise, mostly, because I think it's obvious what you're doing for the community-- but like, how many things business-wise you can do with a race as a platform and around the race, which, hopefully, we manage to share with people today. Brian, I want to thank you very, very much for your time today. I'm guessing the sun might probably be coming up around this time in your part of the world. 

Brian  1:46:02  

Panos  1:46:02  
So there you go. 

Brian  1:46:03  
It is, yep. 

Panos  1:46:04  
Starting your day. I want to thank you very much. 'm hoping lots of listeners got a bunch of new ideas on the back of this. If people want to maybe reach out, have a chat, say hi, ask a question, where can they find you?

Brian  1:46:19  
First, thank you so much for having me, Panos. This is a blast. I love chatting about running and it's fun to share that again. We've done it a couple of times, but I really appreciate it. So thank you. And completely agree on the platform side of things on where you can take this thing that maybe is a one-day-a-year event, but it is a platform to do something greater in your city and for your community and things like that. So thank you again. This is awesome and we absolutely love it. Our website is or - you can find me there. Instagram-- I'm on there a lot just because - I don't know - I somewhat have to be. So, @aroundthecrown10k. Our Twitter handle is @atc10k. My personal one is @BMister06 - that's my first initial and last name. And then, my email-- please feel free to reach out. It is Please reach out with any questions. Or if you have suggestions or ideas of what we've talked about, I love hearing that kind of stuff. I used to be on the Facebook group for Race Director HQ, more back in, like, 2019-2020, and then I think kids came along and I'm just not able to be on it much more, but it makes me want to jump back on there a little bit more and see, kind of, what's going on. I'm excited to listen to Meg and Peter as well - that'd be fun - and then, future guests of races that you have on here just kind of talking about the overall realm of different "How do you take all these different little pieces, put it together, and make this brand and this mission and this vision?" It's exciting. But yeah, thank you so much, Panos. I really appreciate it.

Panos  1:47:53  
Well, thanks again, Brian. It was a pleasure having you on. And thank you very much to everyone listening in. And we'll see you all on our next podcast.

Panos  1:48:07  
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode on Around the Crown 10K with co-founder and race director, Brian Mister.

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website You can also share your thoughts about some of the things discussed in today’s episode or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Many thanks again to our awesome podcast sponsor RunSignup for sponsoring today’s episode. And if you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite player, and check out our podcast back-catalog for more great content like this. 

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

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