Canceled or Postponed? It’s Complicated

          This is definitely going to be an “interesting” year for Obstacle Course Racing (OCR).  We are almost halfway through the year and very few of my obsessive racer friends have even stepped foot on a course.  As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the country and society attempts to return to normal, races are being canceled and postponed.  As I scroll through Facebook comments, I see a lot of “Why don’t they just…”, “Don’t cancel, just…” or other solutions which seem like an “easy fix” from a racer’s perspective.  Whenever the solution appears simple but a company seems to be doing something else, it is usually because the actual problem is a little more complicated than people realize.

Let’s look a little deeper because it’s not always easy as shift the race date to the right two months and run…

1. Not every weekend works

Lots of things need to align for a race company to reschedule a race on any given weekend.  Here are just a couple of things race brands need to consider:

a. Availability of build crew:  Many companies only have one build crew.  If they are working on a different build site, they can’t build the rescheduled race.

b. Availability of venue: Not every venue works for every weekend of the year.  Races often use moto-cross tracks, farms, personal property or stadiums, which have other functions.  The venue might have other events occurring on the new weekend.  Plus, build crew size-dependent, the build may span two weeks (one for build and one for race/breakdown), which means the venue/race company really needs two weekends in a row that are free, not just one.

c. Weather for that location: Doing a race in the south is the middle of summer is a bold move and the heat can make it less enjoyable for participants and build crew.  This might affect the number of people that show up to race and be a bad business move for getting returning customers as the race company is blamed for the weather and/or date selection.

d. Other races of the same brand planned for that time of year that require setup/build:  If you have a race in Dallas on one weekend, you probably can’t hold a race in New York the next weekend.  Part of race production involves deconflicting travel and attempting to minimize costs.

e. Other races of a different brand that are the same weekend creating competing interest: Scroll through some Facebook comments when two national brands hold a race on the same weekend within a couple of hours of each other.  Literally everyone complains and on top of that it becomes a lose-lose for both companies as the crowd is split between the two locations. 

2. Economic Viability

If you are reading this article you are probably in the hardcore OCR community.  You are checking on a daily basis to see if your next race is a go or is canceled.  When races open back up, you’ll be the first one in line.  However, you aren’t representative of the average participant that makes up the majority of paying participants. 

          While many of us view racing as a “essential” part of life, or at least more essential than other aspects of life that were never placed on hold, not everyone does.  Races that were breaking even on venues or losing money will see a drop in attendance as people become wary of not only of racing but also traveling for races and signing up far in advance.  I know personally, my schedule has shifted in 2020 where I will be doing more local races and less traveling. 

          If we, as a community, go with the attitude of, “who cares, I signed up for a race so they need to hold it regardless of possible economic loss” you may find that the company you demanded hold a race is no longer around next year.

3. The Longer the Quarantine, The fewer Weekends Exist

There are 52 weeks in the year, if we subtract all the really bad weather months, then subtract the quarantine months, then subtract major holidays, all of a sudden it doesn’t looks like we have a ton of time.  Add in all the factors from point 1 (Not Every Weekend Works) and it suddenly it isn’t so simple to just shift the race day a couple of weeks.

4. Not Every Brand has the Same Morals/Beliefs/Ethics

I’m not saying this as a bad thing, just saying that brands are different.  As of this writing, many brands aren’t allowed to hold races.  Some are still collecting registrations for events in the next month because they think things will open up again, while others don’t want to risk upsetting customers.  Some brands canceled races two months out because by their predictions it wasn’t going to pan out, while others held out hope, then canceled last minute.  Some brands view their position of having a moral obligation to keep people safe and therefore should avoid mass gatherings if they don’t think they can properly enforce social distancing to a reasonable degree. 

          Remember in the first week of March (before quarantine officially started) when the Arnold Classic in Ohio canceled and fitness professionals freaked out?  They were legally allowed to hold it and the organizers canceled due to their sense of moral obligation.  Something which was bold at the time, now seems like an obvious move among all the other cancelations.  If you remember, during the first week of March people had a different opinion on if “the world’s largest multi-sport festival” should be canceled.  This means that not every brand will start holding races right away just because they are legally allowed to do so, even if its an economically viable move and they have a free weekend.

5. Marketing is complicated and relies on predictability

If you are reading this, you probably don’t need to be convinced to do a race.  However, most of the population that shows up needs to be convinced through targeted marketing.  Surging this targeted marketing in the last couple of weeks before a race drives lots of registrations.  As a race company, if you aren’t sure if you are going to be able to hold a race, it limits the ability to drive a successful marketing campaign that adds participants.  Much of this revenue is used to pay venues, build crew, upgrade/refurbish/build obstacles and other costs associated with race day.  Without these added registrations, there may not be enough money to pay for the event.  New dates and new COVID related pre-cautions may add to the list of costs including new marketing materials, graphics and safety requirements which adds to an already large event cost.

What’s my point?

Regardless of your situation, this pandemic has been challenging for everyone in some respect.  For some, it was the loss of a job or economic uncertainty about their future.  For others, it was the loss of a family member or the unexpected sickness, just because you were living normally.  Still, others just had the “joy” (which may include highs and lows) of homeschooling their kids while attempting to do telework.  Whatever your change was, it was a change from normal.

          At the end of the day, the race companies are the ones who are accepting the majority of the financial risk.  Let’s say a race was canceled and went out of business.  The worst-case scenario for me, as a racer, is I lose race entry and pre-booked travel costs (most of which is refundable/transferable).  If a race company holds an event that is a complete bust, it could not only be devastating to their business but the families of the owners and the employees of that brand. 

          The bottom line is this, show some understanding and compassion over the next couple of months.  Races will get postponed, canceled and shifted around as companies try to balance your safety, the health of the nation, keeping their workers employed and keeping customers coming back to the course. 

Be thankful for what you have, even if it is only your health, and let’s show some compassion during this unusual OCR season.   

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