Partnering with other races is one of the most under-utilized promotion strategies out there. When it’s done, it’s done badly, and it’s hardly ever done to begin with.
That’s a shame, because race partnerships can deliver benefits no other growth channel can match.
In the rest of this post, we look at a number of awesome partnership strategies you can use to grow your event. Not every single one will work for your race – but you should get enough ideas to put together your own race partnership plan.
But before that….
Race partnerships: a recipe for success
Why do so many race partnerships either not work out or not wield the desired results?
The answer is lack of alignment: the partnering races are either a poor match or not pulling in the same direction.
When you go into a race partnership you are working to make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. And that requires a serious level of commitment.
So, before you jump into ill-conceived partnerships and waste time with unsuitable partners, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this for the long term? Is this a relationship you can see enduring for years to come or just a convenient stepping stone? You will be investing time into a race partnership if you’re going to make it work, so it’s better it you’re in it for the long run.
- Do I know what I expect to gain from this? Going into a race partnership without clear, strategic objectives about what you’re hopping to achieve is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.
- Does my partner stand to gain in this? You may be surprized to hear this is on you, but it is. If your fellow RD jumps into a partnership with your race without consideration, you’ll end up wasting your time. So make sure this works for them as well as you.
- Is this the best strategic choice of partner? When you know the type of race you want to partner with, you need to take some time to consider the best possible partner. Don’t just go with the first race to match your criteria.
With that in mind, let’s look at some specific race partnership ideas how you can use them to grow your race.
Strategy 1: Play the training plan
This is an absolute winner of an approach that works best for 10k and Half Marathon races. We actually wrote an entire step-by-step Facebook strategy about this – below is the partnership angle.
If you’ve ever trained for a Marathon or Half Marathon, you are familiar with the standard 16-week training plans. Most online and offline sources offer them and most runners use them to train for the event – particularly beginners.
What is interesting about these plans, is that they all include a shorter prep race before the target event. For a Marathon the prep race would be a Half, and for a Half the test would be a 10k. This prep race usually takes place a few weeks before the target event (usually around week 10 in the standard 16-week training plan) and is used by athletes to gauge progress towards their end goal.
You can use this regularity in training plans to your advantage. How? By partnering with target races in your area that would promote your 10k or Half as their official prep race.
For example, if you’re organising a Half for 15th September, look for a Marathon close-by happening around the end of October. Then approach the organiser of that race and ask them to promote your race to their registrants as the ideal Half marathon prep race.
To get the organiser of the target event to agree to help you out, you can consider offering them one or more of the following:
- Promotion of their event on your platform
- Financial incentives for referrals
- Discounts for referred participants
Deploying this partnership strategy can deliver a number of advantages:
- People often enter races, as well as train for races, with friends. So getting one participant of the target event interested in your race will likely entice their friends to join.
- By finding a local target event to partner with, you are appealing to the most likely prospective participants for your event
- Partnering with local events will likely create additional opportunities for both the target and prep race in this strategy further down the line
So, can you think of a good target race to approach with a partnership proposal?
Strategy 2: Be a qualifying race
Working towards making your race an official qualification race for more prestigious and sought-after events is a kind of standardized race partnership that can greatly boost the appeal of your race.
Iconic races like the Western States or the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, faced with overwhelming participant interest, have resorted to qualification systems for registrations. This is to ensure the integrity of qualification results as well as a minimum experience of registered athletes.
Making your race a qualifier is really worth the effort, in most cases. Your race will be included in exclusive directories of similar races and will attract the attention of athletes searching for a suitable qualifying race in your area.
Strategy 3: Do it like the Swedes
Another fantastic way to foster partnerships between races is pulling together races of different disciplines into a multi-sport cup.
Case in point: the Swedish Classic (En Svensk Klassiker)
In 1971 – a long long time before endurance racing became the popular pastime it is today – race organisers representing some of Sweden’s premier endurance races came together to create a cup. The constituent races represented a variety of disciplines from trail running and cross-country skiing to swimming and cycling.
The result? The awesome Swedish Classic. To earn the Swedish Classic diploma, an athlete would have to complete races in all four disciplines within a 12-month period. The mark was set for endurance athletes the world over.
The idea is brilliantly simple: pull together races that happen at different times of the year and do not compete with each other, and make them part of something bigger. Promote the races together and you can establish a prize that any ambitious athlete should aspire to. Everyone wins.
And everyone has. The success of the Swedish Classic has been remarkable. The much-coveted diploma is many endurance athletes’ dream and all constituent races in the Classic remain hugely oversubscribed every year. No doubt, a significant part of registration interest continues to originate with athletes chasing after the Swedish Classic diploma.
There are lessons to be learned from the Swedish Classic story. Create something that participants would want to aspire to. Look for partnerships where all member races are aligned and everyone benefits. Be greater than the sum of your parts.
So what can you do?
Well, recreating the success of the Swedish Classic after 40 years of work will not be easy. But consider this: Is there a ‘Classic’ waiting to be put together in your parts of the world? Can you find a strong local cycling partner to your running race?
Can you make your race part of something bigger?
Strategy 4: Work a theme
Some races have a theme. Others share a common thread, for example, a common historical reference point.
Collecting races with similar themes into a cup or series is a great way to enhance the desirability of each member race to participants.
For example, let’s say you organise a trail race that takes place on peak A of a mountain range. A neighbouring trail race takes athletes around peak B instead in an event of similar character which takes place 6 months later. Why not reach out to the organisers and discuss a Mountain Cup, where finishers of both races get a special trophy?
Or, perhaps, you organise a race around a Civil War battleground. Guess what: there’s a series in the making if all similarly-themed races pulled together into an American Cup or something of the sort.
There are really no limits to how creative you can get with this. If potential race partners in your thematic area are similarly sized (or ideally for you a bit stronger than your race) you have the makings of a winning partnership.