Events act as the bookend of sports, documenting and narrating progression within a given discipline, showcasing the refined talents of professionals and amateurs alike. In the world of cycling, events come in a variety of forms, ranging from locally organized dirt and road criteriums, to prestigious World Cup events, with the majority of cycling events falling somewhere in-between.
Ken from Dunbar Cycles at the 2012 Silver Star BC Cup
Regardless of the scale, organization is required, as cycling races do not organize themselves. Successful organization demands a dedicated task force of individuals who strive to deliver an event that runs like a well-oiled machine, oozing with commitment and passion. Some organizers stumble out of the start gate, while others execute with distinguished precision. Events presented by SE Racing & Promotions fall into the latter category.
Growing up in the Greater Ottawa Area, Exley was introduced to bicycle racing at an early age through the Ottawa BMX race circuit. Following a stint racing the Ottawa BMX Circuit in the 1980s, Stephen dove headfirst into the local mountain biking scene and was hooked!
Since 2006, Exley has been involved in downhill race organization in one capacity or another. His inaugural solo event involved an email into Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in 2008 to the resort's bike park director and this sparked a long-term race-partnership, and marked the birth of the “Western Open”.
2009 Podium at the Western Open with Luke, Nick and Jeff.
2012 Western Open Elite men's podium taking a champagne shower.
Four years later, Exley’s tireless work ethic and passion for downhill racing resulted in the Western Open being heralded by racers and spectators alike as one of Western Canada’s premier downhill races. In 2012 he was able expand his reign, deploying event organization strategy at Silver Star Bike Park for the 1st Annual Momentum BC Cup event. With his successful expansion in 2012, Exley has set his sights even higher for 2013 with the creation of the Dunbar Summer Series.
1st place at the 2012 Silver Star BC Cup.
Exley approached me over the winter of 2011 with the idea of the trials and tribulations of race organization. He hoped that by providing exposure to his ‘event organization playbook’, he could raise the bar for future events. By making racers, readers, and other event organizers aware of the effort that goes into building a cohesive event, he could assist in diversifying race organizers' tool kits, furthering the sport that they love: cycling
|I am unable to find one story or article that explains how events get put together, the time involved and the passion behind them. - Stephen Exley|
Behind every event is a cause. Exley’s love for his family and cycling propel his events forward. All proceeds raised at Exley’s events go directly to the ‘Love for Lola Fund’, a fund supporting Lola’s rehabilitation and on-going treatment (www.loveforlola.com). In the fall of 2008, his daughter Lorelai (Lola) contracted a rare form of viral encephalitis at the age of two and a half. Due to her brain injury, Lola is now non-verbal, suffers from intractable epilepsy and struggles daily to regain her former skills. Not long after she fell ill, Exley made a commitment to leverage his passion for downhill racing into an opportunity that would allow him to help Lola on her road to recovery. The SE Racing & Promotions venture and the downhill races it creates are the ultimate result of this commitment.
Lola's ongoing story is chronicled at www.loveforlola.com.
To date, donations to the Love for Lola fund have given Exley's daughter the opportunity to participate in music therapy, have allowed the purchase of various physiotherapy tools (ranging from an iPad to a specifically designed bicycle), with the costs associated with a live in caregiver & have generally improved her quality of life.
Although the majority of the registration for races occurs within the weeks leading up to an event, enticing racers with early bird discounts and social media-prompts provides organizers with an indication of interest. Exley strives to have his race registration along with a number of facets of his campaign deployed by early January:
- Social media marketing campaign begins, drumming up interest and laying groundwork for long-term promotion.
- Coaches for race clinics are booked; clinic and camp registration is available to the public.
- Sponsors are confirmed, as sponsorship-levels are ironed out.
- Race merchandise (i.e. event t-shirts) are available for purchase through the online store (managed by CCN).
With many of the large details ironed out four to six months prior to the event-date, Exley then turns his focus and efforts to the other details that make a big difference.
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With a finite number of racers in each part of the world, race organizers compete with each other for participants. Consulting national and provincial race calendars prior to settling on your race date reduces the likelihood of splitting participants with other events. An event that is well received by the cycling community will trump any strategic marketing campaign. If an event is to be successful it must be packaged and sold as cream; rising above other events, especially when travel is involved.
Working with a resort gives you lift access to 4000 feet of vertical.
Over the course of the past decade, gravity-fueled mountain bike races have been occurring at resorts with increased frequency. The rapid growth of lift-access mountain biking has made downhill biking available to the masses, expanding the demand for gravity-fed events. From a race organizer's perspective, resorts offer centralized amenities that can support attendees, including accommodations, safety teams, restaurants, washrooms etc.
The Silver Star base area gives racers and spectators a first impression of the event.
The Western Open base area sets a tone and vibe for the entire event.
Requests for sponsorship and support often fall on deaf ears or end up in black holes. Companies are inundated with sponsorship requests and many emails go unread and unanswered. Writing short-concise correspondence increases the chances of garnering a response. Reputation can overshadow passion, and sponsorship requests from budding event organizers may never get the attention they deserve. With only a handful of weekends available to hold summer events, competition for sponsorship can be fierce, as sponsors may be tentative to commit resources to events that fall on the same weekend. When Exley was asked how he was able to get pros Chris Kovarik, Claire Buchar, Tara Llanes, Elladee Brown, Kirt and Lindsey Voreis, Ryan Berrecloth and MC Brett Tippie involved with his events his reply was simple: "I asked."
From an industry perspective, investing in an event without a proven track record is a risky venture. An introductory email clearly stating the expectations of the event, and a list of what the potential return will be for sponsors is critical, as is clearly illustrating the extent and expectations of the potential partnership.
Custom top caps to help ensure that every racer leaves with something in-hand.
While organizing the Western Open in 2008, Exley sent more than 300 emails to potential sponsors and over 1200 emails focused on the event. He describes the process of securing sponsors as a “cat and mouse race”. If you garner a response, keep chasing, and let the process begin of selling your event to the potential sponsor and growing the relationship.
Bikes shops provide a portal to potential sponsors. Exley argues that a bike shop acts as your key to the sponsorship portal; without a bike shop on your sponsorship roster, race organizers have little leverage. Events can promote brands, but bike shops sell bikes! Bike shops can provide contact information for sales representatives and distribution managers, offering organizers a taproot to the industry. According to Exley, sponsorship requests to large and medium sized companies may not be taken seriously without a bike shop; let securing a bike shop as a sponsor be step one.
Jason Louden from Loudenterprise fixing yet another bike for free courtesy of Pinkbike and Cycling BC.
One of Exley’s secret communication weapons involves sending e-mails around Christmas time, when staff are often on holidays. This often results in automated ‘out of office’ responses, providing you with alternative contact information for others at the company of interest and confirming that the email reached the intended target.
Intermingling elites with novice or new racers through race skill clinics promotes growth in grassroots racing. For the 2012 edition of the Western Open, Stephen brought Kovarik Racing (Claire Buchar and Chris Kovarik) on board, as the World Cup duo offered a two-day race skills clinic to up and coming racers. Race clinics also heighten the profile of your event and can attract riders that may have not normally attended.
Coach Claire Buchar from Kovarik Racing. Making the fast, faster!
Sponsorship has become more diverse over the past decade, tapping into resources that are not directly related to biking, as companies seek to expand the support and exposure an event receives. This is seen on a global scale, with banks sponsoring music festivals, natural resource companies sponsoring road races, and automobile makers sponsoring triathlons. Exley noticed this trend and hopped on-board signing sponsors such as Avon, Jeep and Sobeys.
For the last few years CCN (Cycle Component Network) has provided Exley with logistical and technical support for race and volunteer registration. In addition to managing all pre-registration and race-day registration matters, CCN sells Western Open/Momentum Downhill merchandise and race skill clinics. Exley emphasizes, “Their expertise in event registrations, willingness to try new things and professionalism from setup to payout is awesome!”
|You can't do it all alone, you need to surround yourself with the right people in order to make an event great and I have some of the best involved with my events each year. - Stephen Exley|
Phil Mowatt, owner of the Vancouver, B.C., based Cycle Component Network.
Two members of CCN team setting up registration at the Western Open.
Race weekend registration is the only time racers come face-to-face with the event organizer’s product (the race). The impression that registration has on racers can be a lasting one. Exley has found that employing a tried and true registration system, provided by CCN, eliminates the need to pour resources into the race’s registration infrastructure. With registration taken care of, Stephen can focus his efforts on ensuring that when race day arrives, timing, marshalling, first-aid and other operational areas receive the necessary attention.
First aid staff from the resort keep an eye on everyone while some racers kept an eye on them.
Amateur sporting events are not possible without the support of parents. Without parents, young athletes have no means of traveling to events. Exley recognizes this and feels indebted to parents, thanking them for attending his race. His pitch to Avon was well received, as they were eager to help in whatever way possible. With the help of Brett Tippie (Event Host), along with the distribution of household and beauty products left the mountain biking mothers with smiles on their faces as they were recognized and appreciated in front of the crowds.
Tippie handing out gift bags from Avon to all the racers' moms.
A month before the event, all of Exley’s prizes have been received and organized. A certain degree of miscommunication between sponsors and event organizers is inevitable, as the ‘five hundred dollars’ worth of swag that arrives in the mail is not what you imagined it to be. What is promised is not always what is received. Allocating some leeway for sorting out these issues provides event organizers with time to sort and allocate swag as needed.
Stephen’s prizes are divided into three categories prior to the event
Cowbells at the finish area help provide a great vibe for the event.
1) Swag bag- Distributed by the Event Host throughout the event. Exley has found ‘non-size specific prizes’, including water bottles, chain lube, cowbells, one size fits all hats, and tools are ideal. In an ideal situation, no one in attendance would go home empty handed.
2) Podium prizes- Podium prizes are very important for non-elite categories that do not have cash purses; rewarding podium riders with quality awards and small prizes is important to get the riders hooked on your event. When racers leave the podium with goggles, helmets, wheels, or suspension, they will likely have a cheek-to-cheek smile on their face.
3) Prizes for volunteers- In addition to having sponsors that provide volunteers with the ‘essentials’ (sunscreen, water, food, bug repellent, etc), volunteer prizes can either be distributed or raffled to the volunteers. Race marshals and volunteers are essential to delivering an event; keeping volunteers interested and happy ensures that they fulfill their duties. Exley sets aside a handful of ‘podium level prizes’ for his volunteers. One lucky volunteer at Silver Star BC Cup walked away with an X-Fusion fork donated by Brian at Renegade Cycle Solutions.
Custom medals provided by North Shore Billet gives the podiums some bling.
Volunteers make events. On race day they keep the pieces of your race in place. Volunteers come in all ages, shapes and sizes and fill a myriad of positions, including: first aid, course marshals, vendors and timing to name a few. At mountain bike events volunteers litter the course to ensure that riders make it down the track safely. Longer race courses could require additional volunteers, strategically placed at technical or confusing portions to guarantee that everyone gets down safely. On average Exley uses 17 to 20 volunteers per day at each of his events and many are the same kind folks year after year.
Events like this could not happen without the hard working volunteers.
Although some volunteers do work harder than others...
The care of volunteers should not be overlooked. Volunteers are the unpaid event ambassadors. They are the faces that represent your event. Well-informed (start list/schedule/contact information) and equipped (radio/first aid kit/food) volunteers keep events moving forward.
All Western Open and Momentum volunteers are supplied with a ‘care kit’ of essential supplies (listed above) and food/water for the day. The philosophy is that volunteers who feel appreciated are more likely to be friendly and accountable, creating a positive atmosphere. A happy volunteer is a good volunteer, and a happy volunteer can help to make a good event great.
A successful event does not hinge upon one detail or occurrence. The coordination of hundreds, if not thousands, of small events dictates an event’s performance. Attention to detail separates elite events from their poorly organized counterparts. Professional timing, entertaining MC, efficient registration, informed volunteers, and a well-orchestrated podium all contribute to a successful day.
Tara Llanes with a grom from the Shimano Kids Race and her new helmet from Nut Case.
Volunteer Meeting and Race Registration
Racers come to race. They don’t want to spend their precious pre-ride time waiting in line to register. An efficient registration campaign can streamline delays, ensuring that everyone is on their DH rigs as soon as possible.
From 8:00 - 9:00 A.M., volunteers were educated on protocols and responsibilities by resort staff and Cycling BC officials. At 9:00 A.M. sharp all volunteers were cleared from the registration area, making room for pre-registered racers who were eagerly waiting. At 10:00 A.M. volunteers are in place and the course is open. Having a schedule and being on time is huge to the success of any event.Stephen was able to shuttle racers through a three-step registration process
1) Forms picked-up and signed as racers entered the room
2) Waivers signed & witnessed by resort staff
3) Pick up a number plate from CCN
4) Purchase lift ticket
5) On the hill and set for the weekend
The efficient use of CCN and resort staff shortened registration line-ups, and racers were able to get on their bikes less than three minutes after entering the registration area.Just call me "Tippie"!
Sport announcers bring a pulse to live events, providing listeners with a running commentary. Exley employed ‘Mountain Bike Hall of Fame Inductee’ Brett Tippie to MC at his events. Tippie’s unmistakable cackle, wit, along with his extensive cycling experience brought magic to the microphone.
Tippie helps get the event to the NEXT level
Exley put together an ‘Announcer’s Package’ that contained a binder with race results from the past two years, the varying levels and intervals at which event sponsors should be recognized, information on the race venue & food options and lots of cold Red Bull. With the information provided, the announcer can focus on the delivery of the information instead of scrambling for talking points. Tippies’ charismatic delivery on the microphone, combined with Exley’s ‘Announcer’s Package’, resulted in a lively and entertaining weekend performance from the well-known Fro-Rider.
Looking Forward, 2013 and Beyond
Brett Tippie leading a racers meeting and keeping the crowd pumped with random prizes
Dunbar Summer Series presented by INTENSE for 2013.
Commitment to perfection and professionalism is a necessity of event organization if participants’ expectations are to be exceeded. Exley emphasizes the importance of learning from others:
|Go to as many other events as you can and of all types. I have learned more from larger events like triathlons and roads races than other smaller cycling events. I take what the larger events do well, then shrink it down to fit my event, resort and budget. - Stephen Exley|
Exley’s commitment to evolving his events is proof of his commitment to hosting the best gravity fed mountain bike events. He is a student of event organization, continuously learning and expanding his race calendar, adding Fernie Alpine Resort for 2013. The growing allegiance of racers who attend is confirmation of all of this. Take a page out of someone else’s event book, study it, understand it, and implement all the while in pursuit of the perfect event.
Please visit the SE Racing & Promotions page for the latest news, registration details, Facebook links and more www.seracing.ca
: Brett WildemanPhotos By
: Danielle Baker and Clayton Racicot