We make it our business to know the ins and outs of our business, and that means that despite us not being the biggest on the block, or the most profitable, we are generally slightly ahead of event trends for a reason.
When we started doing this, we were eager kids with a lot of free time, not a lot of business acumen or long term vision, unlimited energy, and extremely limited income. We landed large sponsorships from recognizable companies, got a lot of local support, and made it feel like this was an easy place to make our way.
My, how things have changed!
In 2010, we had a stable of ten events: adventure races, triathlon, runs, bike races, mud runs, and more. We worked hard, we played hard, and hopefully we made a lot of people happy. In 2016, we’ll be self producing two events. Why the shrink?
A number of factors, many of which affect the future of all events going forward:
- Insurance changes – As time has progressed, events have gotten larger as a whole and had more attention from the insurers themselves. Since land managers won’t let you produce an event on their property without it, insurance is a must. But when the requirements for insurance start to impinge on the ability to produce an event, it starts to become a problem. This could be required coverage increasing over 100% from one year to the next, it could be restrictions on an event’s features (aka, you can’t have water activities or obstacles), or it could be flat out refusal to insure, depending on the event. History, longevity, and safety records don’t matter.
- Politics and resource management crackdown – Whether it’s Florida or California, we’ve experienced more and more difficulty because of permit requirements from management agencies. We’ve had government agencies demand we hire a specific company in the permitting process for a service that charges way more than something any other company could provide, we’ve had safety agencies require above and beyond coverage because of one thing happen with a different event because of poor management and planning, and we’ve had increased demands for permits – requiring thousands of dollars of professional services we used to be able to do ourselves. Things like this limit creativity, and definitely limit profitability for an event. We’re proud of our professionalism and ability to navigate this world and make things work (our 24 hour race this year involved 14 different permitting agencies working in conjunction with one another in a location we’d never hosted an event at, and everyone left happy!), but that’s a benefit of over a decade of learning the game. The newer entries to the event world will have a harder and harder time, especially as we feel the squeeze.
Marketing Challenges – Ten years ago, we didn’t have quite the sophisticated marketing machine we do now. This is good and bad. You can target the heck out of people you think would like to know about your event, but unless you have the $$ to do so, you’ll never get through. An old advertising adage was you have to hit someone 7 times before they engage.
- How much will that cost? We particularly loved Spartan Race’s Joe Desena in an article with Obstacle Racing Media: “When Spartan was first beginning to advertise in 2010, DeSena said he had a “moment of insanity” and was spending about $300,000 a month on digital marketing. In what could have been a warning to potential competitors looking at the Obstacle Course Racing business, DeSena said if he were to attempt to reach that same amount of people today it would cost about eight times that $300,000 monthly expense. “It would be hard for us to recreate that today”.”
- In 2014, we went into $15,000 debt to throw everything we had at marketing our obstacle race and triathlon – and the result was what we expected: not enough. Fancy website redesigns, aggressive online targeting, and billboards just won’t do it. Without a built-in desire by the population to find your event, unless you’re an established something in your community, it’s a massive uphill battle that requires either patience or lots and lots of money. Neither of which is a guarantee of success.
- Community Support – We’re not talking about the racing community here. If you are putting on a good quality event, you’re touching your participants in a sincere and impressive way, and you’re relating to them on a peer level, you’re winning. The key here is getting enough of them. But, no, we’re talking about the larger community: local businesses, governments, and tourism boards getting behind what you’re trying to do. We’ve seen events have a LOT more success here than we by bringing a different game with them: while we’ve been putting on events *we* think are cool, the better tactic for support is finding out what the community wants and bringing that forth. This can be through demographic research, surveys, or asking. But, for us? We’d rather do what we love than do what others want us to.
- Big business/scalability/adaptability – With the advent of the Internet and social media, we’re very, very connected. The local mom and pop event won’t draw to its potential unless you go big. Just like chain businesses where a loss here and there balances out with a portfolio of locations, so too are the more successful event chains.
- At the same time, we’ve watched the rise and fall of attempts through the years, most notably the obstacle course races. Remember Zombie Runs? Man, when all the zombie movies came out, I was sold. But what was promised and what was delivered couldn’t line up. Beyond that, people moved on from zombies to the next trend. The undead are dead.
- Obstacle course races in general definitely peaked a few years ago. We had to compete with two other events locally one fall, both under delivering and blighting the offering as a whole. And, beyond that . . . only a few races have maintained viable numbers (though they are falling vastly from their peak years) from what we can see – and they did it by scaling big time right away, plugging in, digging deep, and expanding internationally. Only so many people have the investment and skill resources to make that work. Certainly not the majority of event producers, and to the detriment of why most get into it in the first place – to have fun!
- The other thing we’ve seen happen here is events that survive, adapt. Again, a great example of that has been The Spartan Race series: started in the heat of passion for the movie 300, thousands of people, inspired by the Greek Spartans signed up to test themselves. The original races focused heavily on the Spartan theme . . . but as the passion for 300 faded, they harnessed the passion for the workout it inspired, and the Crossfit revolution that started around the same time and created a symbiotic relationship there. It was brilliant, it was forward thinking, and it is something most of us lack the ability to do while mired in a million things at once. There are triathlons based on lakes are literally drying up and attendance is waning . . . adaptability is the #1 thing to do if you’re established but want success.
Recognizing that the market is saturated – It is IMPOSSIBLE to schedule an event that doesn’t conflict with a compatible event. You have to either be so cool and different that they have to try yours, or you have to be more accessible in some way or another. And you have to make sure the population that wants to go to both is big enough to fill both.
Bottom line, the only way to make events work these days is figure out what people want, and give it to them. But then you also have to have the means to do so.
Some of our events have failed dismally in the past, leaving us near bankruptcy. Some of our events have been wildly successful one year and then tanked the next, with no reason we can put our finger on. Event production is like playing a slot machine. Put enough money and resources in there and do it long enough, it will hopefully pan out. But do you want to wait around that long if you’re not lucky enough to start with a lot of money or win on the first few handle pulls?
I highly recommend reading Seth Godin’s The Dip to really make this point. Basically, you have two charts:
This chart shows you three possible paths for your endeavors – you’ll feel really good as your effort starts to go up but then . . . CRASH! or you’ll be fighting a good long time and then . . . CRASH!
What you need to be on is The Dip:
How do you get there? By getting better than your competition (and you always have competition, even if you don’t see it yet) and persevering through your competition’s hardships. Again, via money, energy, or time.
Another great, relatable book to our topic is How Bad Do You Want It? After reading the author’s case studies, I’ve found that in many ways, in many different arenas in my life, the answer is “Not bad enough.” When it’s time to crash out, cash out, or just stop feeding the machine, it’s when you answer “How Bad Do You Want It” with “Not bad enough.”
And that is why All Out Events has shrunk in the last five years. Though, arguably, the past few years have been our most profitable both from the ability to enjoy life angle and the events. Singling our attention to the events we actually want to put on makes a huge difference for a small business. We took a look at energy expenditure vs money income and the answer for things like our popular Mud Mash was: “we don’t want it bad enough.” It wasn’t a loser, but it took all hands on deck to make it go and it wasn’t growing enough for us to scale it or make it easier to produce.
This is where we get to the state of our beloved All Out Adventures series. How bad do we (and our community) want it? When we looked at the end of this year’s efforts and it netted a bit of a loss, and when we found out we were expecting twins in 2016, the answer was . . . we don’t want it bad enough. And so, we put it to the adventure race community and asked them the same thing . . . and the answer also was . . . not bad enough.
And that’s exactly the issue with that sport’s success. There are races willing to put in the effort to keep growing and pushing the sport, but unless there’s a large, adaptable, scalable effort on a national level, we’re getting nowhere. While we feel we have the skillset to make that work, we need more powerful resources to make it work. Most help has come in the form of asking us to simply work harder to prove ourselves, but we feel we’re past that, and we’re getting contracts that bank on our skills that pay maximally for minimal effort these days. Where is the motivation?
And so, dear reader, that is the state of events in 2016 from All Out Events’ perspective. We hope this was interesting and perhaps helpful!
Thanks for five years of great memories, you stinky little piggies!
First, we’re really sorry that we haven’t said anything sooner, but we wanted to have a game plan before we communicated with you, you dirty little piggies. Thank you to all of you who have contacted us about this year’s event; we’re so glad that despite our lack of involvement this year in communicating about the Mud Mash, you were still thinking about it and ready for the next one.
Mud Mash has been a fall SLO fixture for five years – and we’ve gained national (and even international) recognition for our work with the event, but the reality is this: despite everything we’ve done, it’s simply not gained the support of the community in important ways to make sense for us to continue to hold it.
Throughout the year all work is done by just two individuals – and when it’s time, we call upon a corps of very talented friends to help us build and staff it. We do a number of other events in the community, some adventure races, the Morro Bay Tri, and we take on contracts with others for events like the City to the Sea half marathon. In addition to this, we also run SLO Op Climbing (we just built a new location in Santa Maria! Check us out!). This is a lot of work for just two people year-round, and the Mud Mash is by far the most labor and energy heavy event we are involved in.
Despite the support of your registration dollars, our awesome event partners, our charity partners, and the countless volunteers (especially the Grizzly Youth Academy) that make it go, the event gets more and more expensive and intensive to put on. Recent changes in city policy have made parts of the course inaccessible to us this year, and permitting fees are going through the roof as a result. We’ve lost our free parking area for you because the Topaz Solar Farm is done, and we continue to get no traction with any sponsors, despite our best efforts.
We’ll be honest, we are spread pretty thin and charging after cash or in-kind sponsors is just one thing we are not great at; w
e’re so grateful to those who have believed in us all this time and made it easy to partner and bring you free beer, epic obstacles, and an awesome mud pit, just to name a few. What we ARE great at is putting on world-class events that get better every year, but we simply can’t find a way to make it worth it any further. We’d hoped last year that our all-in efforts to rebrand and spend a lot of money on marketing would yield a net income that allowed us to hire a staff member to add to the team, but it was not to be.
Therefore, we will not be seeing the return of Mud Mash.
Thank you so much for being a part of something wonderful and fun. We look forward to seeing you guys every year and we didn’t come to this decision lightly.
Thank you for everything so, far, it’s been a heck of a ride,
Kristin and Yishai Horowitz, All Out Events
(But don’t despair – check out the Checkpoint Challenge – all the obstacles nature can throw at you!)
2014: 0ctober 26
2013: 0ctober 26
2012: October 27 & 28
- 2012 5k Mud Mash Saturday & Sunday
- 2012 10k Saturday and Sunday
- 2012 Industry Competition
- 2012 Unknowns
Jennifer Best Photos
Kaori Photography Photos
- 10 K individual ~ 10 K Teams
- 5 K individual ~ 5 K Teams
Like you need an excuse to see our kayaks and epic ropes courses in action?
“For the past 3 years the UC Production Master Class has been documenting the Gold Rush Expedition Race in California. All 3 documentaries have aired on Universal Sports Network and now we are releasing them on demand to support the future of the project and our ability to produce a documentary on our latest filming for Expedition Alaska.
We are in pre-order phase and the documentaries will be available starting on 10/1”
A month ago, our friend and fellow SLO resident and race director, Josue Stephens, flew out with his young son to take him to Mexico and be a part of a much hallowed, respected, and super cool race, the Ultra Caballo Blanco. The race was started by Micah True and made famous in the book Born to Run – a chronicle of how modern science interferes with evolution in humans and sparked a minimalist, fore-striking movement.
I read the book. I totally tried the barefoot running shoes, the Nike Frees, the New Balances, and you probably have, too. Whether you’ve stayed with it or gone the Hoka One One route (totally the opposite), most athletes know about True and this race and the indigenous Tarahumara running stars profiled in the book.
When True died out in the desert on a run, his friends looked around for someone to take the reins – settling on Stephens. For the past few years he’s worked with True’s friends to produce a race in a rough part of Mexico (it’s cited in the book as a hotbed of drug activity) that both highlights and supports the Tarahumara there.
What should have been a beautiful destination race that gave back to the people there and gave much to the participants ended up being canceled last minute. It was such a big story, that the New York Times picked it up, along with the usual running magazines, sites, and blogs.
Sitting at my computer, looking at Facebook, I was shocked to see this update from Stephens come through my feed:
Runners are safe and the majority of them have begun their journey home. We will have more information in a few days once we are home and rested. We encourage everyone to run this week in support of peace, in the Copper Canyons and all over the world.
Because of the race cancelation we were unable to distribute the corn to Raramuri finishers as was traditional. However, we are working together with Norawas de Raramuri to arrange fair distribution of this corn to the Raramuri villages that have participated in the event before.
What what what?
When Stephens returned, he told us that an incredible thing had happened – drug violence had escalated to the point he didn’t feel safe putting on the event as people were being found literally decapitated and he his son had been caught in crossfire between the drug violence in town.
So, with the racers all having arrived, he made a difficult choice to cancel the event. The Mexican government, eager for good publicity and tourism dollars literally took his bullhorn and told people to stay, that it was safe and they would be protected. Really? Who was protecting the Stephenses in the street, the police he saw dearmed and abducted?
And so, the race was off.
And dang, rightly so. You do not send people under your protection, many of whom are in a foreign country and do not speak the language? NO BRAINER.
Did you know that race insurance (much like home insurance) has clauses for just such thing – and it’s terminated in case of war, acts of God, etc.
So, what was definitely a safe call by Stephens was met with major controversy in the running community. Why? Because Fuego y Agua, Stephen’s company was not refunding people’s money.
As we like to do here from time to time, let’s take a look at this for a moment.
The obstacle racing industry has been plagued in the past few years with events being set up, money collected, and then quietly canceled. Outside magazine profiled a race company that did it with marathons. Is there much recourse for such things? Some, yes, but most of the time if they’re filing bankruptcy or you are getting the hell out of dodge with untraceable funds – there’s no real chance you’ll see your money again. (In this case, however, it’s always a good idea to dispute charges through your credit card – they’ll likely help you out and there are consequences for the company that then comes under investigation by the credit card for fraud.)
But when an event director comes to a location, has the entire thing set up, staff in place, shirts, finisher prizes, permits, insurance, etc in order – should he or she give back all the money?
No. Here’s why: do you love that organization? Do you want to see it continue to succeed? Did you know that most races cost a pretty penny to put on?
When all those expenses are laid out prior to event day, who eats those costs if people give you back full refunds? The company – and many times, a specific individual. If you’re not working with a big budget, that’s going to hurt. It’s going to result in things like bankruptcy and Ramen for dinner . . . and why would you want to do that to someone? If you’ve got enough cash laid out to attend an event, train for it, and race in it, my guess is that it’s not worth it to you to make someone else suffer mightily because the event doesn’t happen for a good reason. Events, let’s face it, are luxuries. For the people in Mexico – they were able to come together, get their race swag, have a great vacation, and many went and ran together in solidarity in other, safer places.
But there’s always a few.
The whole thing left a bad taste in Stephens’ mouth and he immediately relinquished the race for the following year – it’s been given to the nonprofit beneficiary for the race in the past, Norawas de Raramuri. We hope that they’re able to continue this beautiful race in a safe way for the future. Now the locals are empowered to use the race as they see fit to help their community. As someone who shared the notice said, sin palabras (speechless). It’s a beautiful gesture for a race with a huge following that could have been sold at a profit. Scam artist? Heck no.
Our race director, Yishai, had the honor of going to Nicaragua a month prior to assist Stephens’ Fuego y Agua series there (here’s a great blog with beautiful photos of it) – and Y came back with much respect for the honor, professionalism, and calm that Stephens exuded. We will be proud to partner with him in the future on our events and on his, and we’re glad he made the decision not to go destitute because of a few indignant, albeit loud, voices.
We’ve seen, and, unfortunately, partnered with scam artists and people with poor character – but he is not one of them, and that next race you enter that gets canceled might be for a good reason, too. (Hey, did you hear about Ironman Tahoe last year? Canceled at the starting line. No lie!)
Understand the costs, and we hope you’ll understand the choices made.
“Why don’t you do the six-hour race anymore? That was awesome!”
A few years ago, we suspended the Checkpoint Challenge (aka the “sprint race”) because we were doing the 12 hour race the first day and that race the second. It was SO MUCH WORK for very little return. The six hour was the same.
But then we got better at putting on events, on budgeting, and on not undercharging for awesome stuff. (Though our business mentors say we still do – what do you think?)
When mud runs and obstacle course runs (OCRs) got popular, adventure races seemed to die out and so we went that way, developing a really epic Mud Mash. But lawdy, does it take a long time to build and operate. Our first love is AR . . . and now that millions of people are flocking to OCR races, we thought . . . we bet there are enough people out there going, “Is that all there is?” and took a bet that there was – and we brought back the Checkpoint Challenge last year.
It lost money. We gave away entries, did was we could to get people psyched, and all our regulars came back, bringing friends, but it was still a loser.
We knew it might be. That’s okay.
A race outside of Moscow in the dead of winter? Man, Russians are hardy folks. We had our doubts, but he had a great team and they were super efficient with communication and payment, so we went forward with the project.
Tasked with looking at Google maps and designing a course (and obstacles) within a certain budget, our race director, Yishai, got to work. Using Google Sketchup to create a full build guide with materials lists that translated to the dimensions and supplies available in Russia, we got the project done in a month, and checked in periodically with them to see how it was going.
It was quiet.
Maybe it wasn’t going well. But they hadn’t contacted us about any issues they had with our materials or the build out . . . perhaps it just wasn’t going to happen.
And then we got a great report from the team!
Here’s a short version of the course video (if it looks familiar to our Mud Mash, that’s because a lot of those obstacles were incorporated – with a few modifications for -20 degrees F conditions):
Can’t get enough? How about a long version of it?
And help them get going! Like them on Facebook!
They had an amazing planning and build team, and there’s more on the way:
Overall people were happy and seems like they liked it!
We already plan to the second race in April 25th in Moscow and then in May 25th in Saint Petersburg.
If you need an excuse to visit Russia, maybe this is it!