Late Registration Fees

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Folks, at this point the dates in this editorial are a little old. The problem still exists, and it is my political goal within the official organizations of our sport to abolish these late registration fees and restrictions. In short, they are a hinderance to the competitors and (coming from the position of being an administrator) also get in the way for the administrators. I know I'm tilting at windmills, but my hope is to make a few important people finally come the realization that they inflict problems on themselves with these policies. Check back in a few weeks to see if I can put the position more elloquently. Until then, here is the original text.

This editorial has been long in coming and is directed at those meet and race directors who insist on charging late registration fees or do not accept day-of-event entry.

The classic example of this was the 1998 U.S.A.T.F. Master's Championships. Granted this is an important event, particularly to the participants (for the uninitiated, over 30 years of age, some up to 95 years old or so). But this years organizers imposed an entry deadline 27 days before competition. Come on, the Olympics, the Olympic Trials, the U.S. National Championships and the NCAA Championships do not have nearly as restrictive a dealine. Eminating from the original draft of this editorial we had a revolt at that event. Race Directors please, we need not be adversaries. Please remember your prime function (should be) is fulfiling the needs of your participants. Pre-registration deviates from this prime directive.

This statement will put me at odds with most race directors. You'll be ready to flame me--fine. But before you do, open your eyes and open your mind. The problem is not that you have too much work to do and you need the time to do it--you simply have created too much unnecessary work for you to do. Look at how much your existing system is slowing and crippling your efficiency. This is detremental to you, the athletes and the overall success of your race. There are alternatives and I'll be glad to advise you on how to solve this problem.

Any event that takes you over a week is being done wrong, period. I will go out on a limb and say you should be able to do it on the same day.

When organizing an event, you must take into account the fact that these athletes are human beings, frequently with lives outside of athletics. Even if they were totally dedicated to their athletic pursuits, situations change. Schedules change, plans change, most participants are not being paid an appearance fee to be at your event, most don't usually have sponsors and there are no contracts signed. Perhaps if you were paying them you could make higher demands, but would you really want to pay (someone who is otherwise unwilling to come) for what will likely be a sub-par performance or a DNF. The athlete is constantly training on the edge of illness or injury. With a weakened immune system caused by training, particularly at a peak, all athletes are susseptable to any disease that passes through their families. How long does it take to pull a muscle? Any training session could result in an injury that could take weeks to heal. In short, most athletes don't know for sure if they will make it to your event.

So why do you not allow for this? It is a disturbing trend in our sport, that meet directors refuse to take entries after a certain date (or at least charge an excessive fee) for this "privledge." Is this because you need the time to get the event(s) organized? If so, look at what is wrong with your organization--look at your registration procedure. Do you have to enter a lot of data into a computer? Do you need to know how many people will attend in order to order T-shirts and products to (effectively) sell back to your participants? Do you need the time to seed events properly? Let me offer alternative solutions.

All of these factors can be dealt with in a different way. Obviously, I'm not speaking from a position of fear of a computer--I live by them. But if your registration procedure takes so long to enter data into the computer that it holds up the process, then it is too slow a procedure. (I have been assured by an expert in "Meet Manager" one of the best, but most complicated computer programs that data entry for a same day event is not easy, but quite possible.) For large events, if you have to hire professional data entry services, you're putting too much data in. Let the entrants do the bulk of your work for you--they know how to spell their own name better than any keypunch operator could possibly know. If you must use a computer, remember all computer racing systems understand is numbers anyhow, all you need is the number and cross reference it to the paperwork (that the athletes fill out themselves). If you have access to a bar code system this can correspond the two quite quickly I have been told. If you need to put the data into a computer for later mailings etc., then you have alterior commercial motives and should be able to do it AFTER your event when there are no more variables to get in the way. If you need to know how many shirts to order, remember your first year is always a crap shoot. By your second year you should know approximately how many people will show up for a certain amount and style of publicity. There will always be a (large) percentage of late entries and a large percentage of no shows (I estimate that number to be around a 30% variation, but that's only an estimate on my part too). I only know about the people who still show up at our events, how many didn't even bother. Predicting anything by advance registration is STILL impossible. Why waste your effort?

Buy a certain number of T-shirts and say they are for the first, say, 1,000 (actually you will probably be left with a few of the odd sizes--XXL and Xsm--unless you have a children oriented event--and will run out of the popular sizes before you reach 1,000). Learn from your size demographics to better serve next year. A note of interest--unless your event is really special (I know you think that, but how does the participant really feel?)--most regular participants don't really want another T-shirt to add to the pile in the closet. You are under real pressure to make this souvenier something memorable--a great design or a notorious event are the best ways to go about this--if you are (in their minds) just another weekend 10K, run to the cone and back event, your shirt isn't that important. And think about this--to you, your event is usually to fund a noble cause, but think of it from the perspective of the participant. Is it a shirt with possibly the name of some hideous disease as the only readable word on the shirt--does he really want this?

Some hard nose might think "O.K., I just won't allow late entries." Many overofficious types do. Result: At one race (new defunct) that did not accept late entries they had to create a second chute for all the bandits that didn't (couldn't) enter. How much money did they make on those potential entrants? Zero (plus it created a major disturbance). Sure you can complain all these "bandits" were stealing the organizer's hard efforts, but who's choice was that--they weren't allowed the opportunity to pay to enter.

If you need the information for seeding your event, chuck that out the window too. Accuracy won't happen if any coach has an opportunity to manipulate numbers (lying is commonplace). If you somehow devise the perfectly seeded event, someone will throw it amok at the last minute by just not showing up. At most meets that figure too is around 30%. When I work as a Finish Line Coordinator or Clerk of the Course (which I do frequently), this attrition makes computer pre-generated paperwork useless. We waste more time reorganizing heats because of the inflexibility built into your system, your meet runs late and the officials look like they are causing the delay.

Instead I suggest using a clipboard with a pencil (or perhaps speed up the procedure by having the athletes write their name on a tag to stick on the clipboard). Gather the participants, start at a good mark and ask for anyone who can claim to do it. I've been at meets where we started at almost impossible times and someone stepped forward (in the '70s a 200 in 20 flat was almost unheard of, but '76 Olympic Champion Don Quarrie stepped out from the amongst the high school kids to take his lane--yes folks, even the most elite athletes can work under this system). There is an ultimate truth to seeding at most events. If you can't run with the big boys, you lose badly. Either you are seeded in something close to the correct place or you will be shown up to be out of place quickly. (Sometimes that is unavoidable, I legitimately was the 2nd fastest 400 runner at the meet, but I lost to then World Record holder Lee Evans by almost a straightaway--he was the one out of place). Use their honesty and some common sense (someone should recognize the elite athletes--the kid in flats doesn't belong with them), most people don't want to be blown away but they will be if they are in the wrong race.

In our sport, unfortunately, we don't normally have big crowds to announce to anyhow. Maybe if you were doing a high status, televised event you would have to be a little more discriminating (so some unqualified idiot doesn't have the easy opportunity to get in a race to take part of his 15 minutes--or less--of fame). If you have that kind of broadcast commitment, perhaps you need to make some special arrangements. How many of us direct events meritorious of being broadcast live? Not many. I can list two that I know of, none in our immediate area. (If you know of an event to be televised, pleasecontact me by e.mail: info@creativestuff.tv--this is what I do professionally--check out my video production company's Home page In short, you have no urgent need to know who a particular number is instantaneously. As your audience size makes this an important factor (for a live announcer), your event will commensurately be large enough to provide the manpower to transfer a copy of the lane line up or bib numbers to the announcer so he can look it up on demand (Oh to have such problems). At that, you best also post someone to read the numbers of the leaders before they come into view (aren't cel phones and radios wonderful). In short, the instantaneous recall function of a computer is nice but NOT NECESSARY. The need for you to have this unimportant capability should not effect the quality of your meet. I suggest by restricting the entries of a sizable percentage of your participants to cater to the computer, you ARE effecting the quality of your event. Just like taxes discourage people's behaviour, you are discouraging their entry or at least, unnecessarily penalizing them.

As a meet director myself, albeit small events, I have learned it is easier on me to not spend the weeks before my event worrying about processing the paperwork. Most of the time that is useless work, disrupted by people no showing and other people showing up at the last minute. I could pocket the money from the no shows and turn away the last minute entrants, but that's not why we're putting events on, or is it? Are you event directors creating this drastic advanced registration as a means of raising money without delivering the goods? You still have to go through all the paperwork just so it dead ends in a missing participant. Given the usual number of no shows, all that is for naught as things have to be rearranged at the last minute by hand anyhow.

I envision that we're here to provide people with an opportunity to participate. Yes, we charge money for the privledge of them using our hard work to provide them with that opportunity to compete--if you turn them away, you don't get their money, do you? For me it is such a hassle to deal with that unnecessary paperwork that I charge an extra $3 for the extra work their EARLY REGISTRATION puts me through (funny, I've never had a taker).

But don't think that this applies only to smaller events. I also work with many of the people who put on some of the largest events in California and have been involved in managing the most important event in the world--The Olympics. O.K. I was just a cog in the operation, but I was there (backstage) to watch how they put on the show. I've also watched how (in older days) some of the largest races in the world were able to process tens of thousands of entrants in one day (for free I might add--in the days before insurance fees and police permits)

This entire web site is here to promote various forms of running. I do it for free as a labor of love to encourage people, to help people find the opportunity to participate. This editorial is not meant to berate you hard working event directors but to encourage you to see the error in your ways. Improve your systems so you and our sports valuable participants are not a victim of it. We can't afford to waste our efforts by putting impediments before the people we need to make our sport grow. If that means I need to help provide you further advice, please e.mail me info@track.info.org


A note to Track Meet and Road Race organizers:

As one might predict, the response to my editorial falls totally favorable from participants and patronizingly negative from the few organizers. By now, you've read my opinions. I'll put my money where my mouth is--I'll be glad to offer (anyone willing to listen) my techniques to implement short deadline registrations. Open your mind, watch, learn.

Please continue to my latest update on this subject, especially if you attended the 1998 National Championships in San Jose.