Canceling your Race and what Measures to Take

black road
Even despite the best planning efforts, sometimes the stars don’t align and you’re knocked off course. You might feel you’ve done everything right, from understanding your audience to marketing your race in the right locations to the right caliber, but still, you’ve not sold enough tickets. Perhaps sales are fine, but the weather wreaks havoc on race planning and safety, which is not uncommon for races on the edge of winter. There are several scenarios could leave you with no option but to cancel your event. And in the case of one of these, its best to be prepared so that you know how to manage it gracefully. 

Why could your race be cancelled?

  1. Weather. The majority of the time (we reckon 90%), when a race is canceled it is due to the weather ("an act of God") and is canceled either the day before or the morning of the race. None of us have control over the weather, and we all share in the risk involved if Mother Nature intervenes and makes it unsafe to continue with the event.
  2. Logistics and Permits. One reason a race could be canceled well in advance is that something happened with the permitting process and the event producers were told they do not have permission to hold the race. Note, however, that an event should never be promoted prior to all the necessary permits and permissions being secured. Cancelling due to lack of permits will likely receive backlash, so tread carefully.
  3. Lack of Interest. Another reason for a race to be canceled well in advance could be due to the much lower level of interest in the race than was originally estimated and projected, that is, the lack of entries. No one wants to continue producing an event knowing very well that they are going to lose a ton of money if they continue. Is this ethical? It depends on the circumstances and was communicated up front and in advance, either on the race application or on your website and race pages. 
  4. Lack of sponsorship. This could happen if you were planning on making up for costs with sponsorship allocations that didn’t materialize or weren’t fulfilled in due course prior to the event. There should ALWAYS be language included about the possibility of cancellation and what that means to everyone involved - the promoter, the sponsors, the paid entrants - in your terms and conditions.


Have a robust T&C’s

Participants often assume that because the race is canceled, the organizers will have all of the funds available to reimburse their entry fee. In reality, when an event is canceled close to race day, the vast majority of the expenses have already been incurred. Even if the gun isn’t fired, the tent vendors, porta potty vendors, T-shirt and medal suppliers, independent contractors, and a myriad of other parties still need to be paid. Typically, then, it is not financially feasible for the race to reimburse the participants more than a fraction of their entry fee, if anything.

Reflect as much of your reality as possible in your Terms and conditions, while being fair. However, note that not all participants will read your race’s entire T&Cs before signing up. But you shouldn’t use this fact to take advantage of participants.

You will still have to defend your policy when it comes to a cancelation. There is only so far that saying “well, you signed the T&Cs” will get you, when you’ve got angry participants demanding answers. So make sure what goes into your race T&Cs makes sense.

What’s in your T&Cs may not be legally enforceable. That is one of the many reasons why you should run your T&Cs by a lawyer. Just keep in mind that in many jurisdictions there are consumer laws that will trump your T&Cs and, in some cases, throw your whole T&Cs up in the air if you try to get people to waive rights that can’t legally be waived.

If you have a large race with several thousands of runners, a good course of action is to have a ‘Cancellation Policy’ page on your website. This can help re-direct some of the questions that might be coming your way if bad weather forecasts are on the horizon. On here you could include:

  1. Refund policies
  2. Causes for cancellation
  3. Relevant weather and warning forecasts

Here are some examples which you can take inspiration from…
-The Buffalo Marathon has a good cancellation policy page.
-The Color Run has a clear road map for outcomes of different weather situations.

Provide a reason

It can be frustrating to hear that something has been canceled and not be provided with a reason. If the weather was to blame then the reason is relatively self-explanatory, but communication is still due. If it was a lack of sales or a location dilemma, we recommend you try to explain why the event isn’t going ahead. You can be as detailed or as brief as you feel is right, but providing a concrete reason will help your attendees better understand your decision. It may well help your event be more successful in the future, as you’ll probably get support from your community, possibly helping in the area that caused this event not to work this time.

One tip here: if your reason is that someone else let you down, don’t air your dirty laundry in public. At best it will make you look unprofessional and at worst you could open yourself up to litigation. In this case, rather just explain the decision has been caused due to ‘supplier issues’ or something else that is true but non-identifiable.

Communicate the Cancelation Effectively

In the case of a cancelation, make sure you’re using the following communication channels:

  1. Emails. If a cancellation is in the horizon, we recommend sending out a few prelimiary emails with the possible outcomes to brace people for what's to come. Once the decision is made to officially cancel, make sure an email is sent out straight away without delay with the news. Try to have a ready-made email to send out in the case of cancellation so that you don’t have to delay the process any longer than necessary. 
  2. Social Media is a powerful tool to help your news get out, as you can reply to peoples comments, others will share your posts and you can use your Facebook event to target all your event-goers. 
  3. Event Content Pages. Make sure you update your website and event content pages to relfect the cancellation, so that if people are searching for information about your race they can have all the relevant updates they need. 
  4. CLOSE REGISTRATIONS. This should be obvious, but don’t forget about it. In extreme cases, continuing to take registrations or allowing people to incur expenses when you know the race will be canceled can land you in court.

If you haven’t done so already, try to find something to offer your disappointed participants as a make-good gesture. If you organise more races in the same area, see if it would be possible to offer discounted entries. If not, think about offering some privileges to participants for next year’s race, e.g. discounted entry, priority entry (at a minimum you should offer this if your race gets sold out), some extra giveaways etc.

Work with suppliers

Your decision to not go ahead with the event will affect others too, such as your suppliers. Contact them as soon as you possibly can to let them know the news. The sooner the better, because you might still be able to negotiate on any money you owe them. If they’ve not actually supplied you with goods or services, you may be able to pay just the deposit.

However you should be aware that they may also have passed on other business opportunities because they were committed to your event, so you should be fair. It’s important to build strong relationships in the industry, so burning bridges and refusing to make good on congrats or agreements is rarely a good long-term strategy.

If you have bought supplies for your race and giveaways for your participants, try and keep them for the following year, or consider donating food and other perishables to a charity. If you have items with the date on them, you can ask participants to pick up T-shirts and other goodies, if they wish, since they have paid for them.

Precautionary Location Measures

There are many cancellation risks you will not be able to eliminate through planning. However, there are some you should reasonably be expected to prepare for. So, prepare for them!

For example, certain areas are susceptible to adverse weather, e.g. snowing, flooding, rockfalls etc. If these areas form part of your racecourse, ask yourself what you will do if you woke up a few days before race day with the areas affected. Do you have plans for diverting the course or mitigating the impact?

These are contingencies you will likely work out as part of your risk assessment. It can be helpful to contract an outside events ‘Health and Safety Officer’ to help you manage this. They can help you produce ‘professional’ risk assesment documents to help you plan for worst case scenarios. 

Race Cancellation Insurance

Event cancellation insurance (the kind where you, the event organiser, is protected against having to cancel your event due to unforeseeable circumstances, such as bad weather or natural disasters) has become a lot more common and considerably cheaper in the world of mass-participation sports.

Taking out a race cancellation insurance policy can help you recover costs and/or lost revenues should you have to cancel, postpone or abandon your event due to reasons beyond your control, including severe adverse weather, wildfires, labour strikes, acts of terrorism etc.

The premium you can expect to pay for a race cancellation policy can vary a lot with the type of event you put on, the location, time of year etc, but it typically ends up being some very small percentage of the insured amount.

An example of a company that can help you meet your event insurance obligations is Protect Group. They can help find a solution to standard race insurance and event cancellations. They can also help you manage entry refunds for participants who can no longer make your event, so that you don’t have to offer them a refund yourself. Here are 2 of their products, Event Protect and Refund Protect:

  1. Event Protect can provide protection for event organisers from the gross booking sales loss arising from the cancelation, disruption or rescheduling of an event resulting from circumstances out of your control. In the case of an event cancellation, affected customers would be asked to complete a simple online form. Protect Group then handles all refund applications within 48 hours and refunds customers directly, ensuring your initial ticket revenue is protected. It works on a 1.5% ticket fee (must be of on tickets sold),  which can be charged to your customers or absorbed by you. 
  2. Refund Protect if for customers who wish to protect their ticket independently. It’s offered at check out and, if chosen, allows customers to claim a 100% refund (including all extra fee’s and charges) if they are unable to attend their booking due to unforeseen circumstances. Customers can claim a refund right up until the time of their booked event commencing. Customers seeking a refund would complete an online form. Protect Group would  handle all refund applications within 48 hours and refund customers directly, insuring initial revenue is protected. It works by charging a 3.5% fee per ticket, which is passed on to the ticket buyer as an optional additional purchase. This cover events of all types, for their financial liability & refund obligations, to ticket holders in the case of a cancellation or postponement. 

Don’t drag it out

Theres certainly a few things we can learn from the Fyre Festival Fraud documentary that went up on Netflix, of the disastrous caribbean island festival. Apart from the organizational shambles of empty promises, where a styrofoam packed frozen burger patty was meant to represent 5 start Michelin food, cutting your losses early was something which would have helped their cause. 

Fyre Fest is as a great example of what not to do when your event is heading for the cliffs: keep on postponing the inevitable announcements.It is perhaps normal to want to postpone your event’s cancellation as much as possible, wishing a miracle might happen. But the best thing to do here is to be honest with yourself. If there’s an issue that cannot be fixed, let your participants know you’ll have to cancel early.

Bite the bullet: cancel as soon as you know you’ll have to.

Feedback and analysis

Once everyone is properly informed and you’ve got a moment to spare, you should reflect on what could be done better next time. If the weather wasn’t to blame, think about what went wrong, and what could you do differently in the future. 

If the issue was around low ticket sales, it may seem counterintuitive but you could get some great insights from those who actually did buy tickets. What appealed to them? What nearly made them not buy? How could your messaging be strengthened in the future? What would it have taken for them to tell their friends and family (or colleagues) about the event?

If you used ‘Find a Race’ and/or ‘Lets do this’ to market your race, take some time to dig into your organiser dashboard to see which marketing channels worked (and which didn’t)? Were people signing up from the geography you expected? Did any partners you relied on not have the outcome you expected?

Conclusion

It’s every event organiser’s worst-case scenario to have to cancel an event, but done in an open, responsible way it doesn’t have to be the end of your event idea.

In fact – painful though the lessons may be – what you take from it may form the basis of a very successful event in the future.

On Hand To Help

The team at eventrac are on hand to assist with all components of your event. From advice on promoting your event through low cost channels such as social media, to a guided tutorial on a specific feature of eventrac. We are here to help.

Signup To Our Newsletter