Permitting For Events

In order to host an event, you will more than likely need to get formal permission from one or more land managers or land owners. The degree of difficulty in acquiring permits will depend on multiple factors. This can include, but is certainly not limited to:

  • Event/race type
  • Expected participant numbers
  • Time of year
  • Impacts on the land, resources, other land users, local community and businesses
  • History (has a similar event occurred on this property before)
  • Parking
  • Local laws or zoning of the property
  • Ownership (private, city, county, state, federal)

The number one rule is to present a thought out plan that addresses the owners’/managers’ concerns before they ask them. These include the above issues as well as a safety plan, an operation plan, and how the venue will benefit (AKA how they will get paid). Public lands are slightly different. Many park departments have a clause in their mission statements about providing recreational opportunities for the local and visiting community, so in a very real sense you are helping them fulfill their mission statement.

First things first.

You need to figure out what your needs are for the venue and then find something that comes close to fulfilling those needs. You need to figure out who manages the area, or areas, that you would like to use. Then you need to apply or ask permission to use it.

Permits can range from formal city/county council meetings to a handshake with a local land owner. In all of these situations you need to provide a clear picture of what you are planning to do on the property, how you will safely manage it, how you will clean it up, and how it will benefit the land owner or the community it is serving. Provide the answers before they are asked. Be prepared to answer several questions, given recommendations, comments, and/or concerns regarding one aspect or another of your plan. Note these. Follow up each one.

Venue will likely have hosted dozens of events. They know what works and what doesn’t for their location. Public employees may also be a concern. They may resent the extra work. Show them you have your end of things covered and that you want to work with them to reduce the stress of it all.

 

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How to Secure a Venue

Some people really don’t care about you. They care about facts and figures. How many people, how much money, what does the budget look like? What do other similar events produce and what’s your plan to do the same or exceed it?

This is where doing your research pays off. It also helps to be aware of failures, to be able to say why those things don’t work. Some land managers in this arena may have seen it done badly.

Offer solutions.

Principals will generally want to know the following upon meeting you:

  • What is your basic plan? (Mission statement)
  • What is the date you’re looking at?
  • Who will you try to attract, and how many people is that? (Demographics)
  • How would you describe your event? (Most people know what a 5k run is, but if your concept is a downhill bike or adventure race – they won’t.)
  • How do you want to use my land?
  • Have you done this before?

Like any good job interview, you should have questions:

  • Outline the area you’d like to use and ask if it’s possible.
  • Explain any specific needs like water, power, course or obstacle build outs, and parking.
  • Learn if the venue has done anything similar.
  • Inquire what the process for permitting is.
  • Ask how the venue prices permits and what is/isn’t included in that.
  • Find out what will it take to get permission to hold the event, even if the permit hasn’t been formally issued.
  • Get to grips with how long it will take to build the event out and how much time to take it down.

These are key to your success and energy levels.

If they don’t have experience in your event, some venues may need time to figure out some of the finer points. Depending on the scale of your event and the land agency involved, this process may take a while to dial in.

Here is what you should come away with:

  1. The venue fits your needs.
  2. You know what you have to do to secure this venue and start advertising it.
  3. The venue can fit your budget.
  4. You know what you need to do to make this event work at this venue.

You will likely need to engage with one or more land managers for months. They request things like operation plans (more on this later), maps, and fees. Permit securing can be one of the most taxing parts of event planning because it’s neither fun nor speedy. It is, however, part of the game. This is one of the reasons that keeping an event to as few land agencies as possible is key, especially for your first time.

As you become familiar with each agency and its principals, you’ll be able to successfully navigate the field and they will trust you a lot more. Events like adventure races, ultra runs, or triathlons may need more than one agency’s permission.

Super tip: Learn the lingo! Everyone has their own specific language when talking about something. The more you speak that language, the more you signal to the party you’re addressing that you know what you’re talking about. Read up on these industries. Address issues like “ingress” and “egress” with confidence before they have a chance to bring it up and you’ll be sure to impress them.

 

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Finding a Venue

Each venue works a little differently. Some will bend over backwards to have you there. Some will fight you every step of the way. Some will be cheap, some expensive. Some will be a free-for-all and some will be rigid and rule-oriented. The key is speaking their language.
Once you have determined dates, general course needs, and the ideal location, it’s time to start inquiring about specific locations.

There are a number of options out there:

Scout public locations on your own before you escalate. People appreciate it when you’re already familiar with their property and what you want to do with it. The more detail and preparation you can show upon meeting the managers, the better.

Go directly to the land management agencies in charge of a venue you are already aware of. Set an appointment to meet with them, talk about what you want to do, and tour the course. You may not be as prepared when you meet, but you may not have many options if the land is private or hard to access.

Contact tourism boards in the area for recommendations. Generally, they will tell you of possible venues or put out the call for you. You’ll receive solicitation from the venues interested.
Get on the Internet. If you need something like a park or ski hill, you’ll find it easily this way. Google Earth is your friend.

Network. There are private venues out there that you can only find through friends.
Once you’ve got a couple of ideas in mind for your venue, it’s time to meet with the principals involved. Some land managers have done this all before and will know ahead of time what you can and cannot do by their own policy or by local jurisdiction. It’s awesome if they do, but don’t always assume they will know. Depending on what you want to do on the land, and the experience of the land managers you meet with, you may have to do some follow-up research with the government or additional land managers to determine if the site will work for you.

Consider meeting with land managers a job interview. You will need to sell yourself as a professional (as you see yourself), your attire, demeanor, and preparation will matter. We’re not saying to wear a suit, but “business casual” with the ability to do some hiking is appropriate. Don’t be distracted, defensive, or unprepared.

As a rule of thumb, there are three ways to impress people: connection, history, and facts.
Some people are highly influenced by the connections you have and the connection you forge with them. If you encounter someone like this, they will likely engage in small talk. Always look for ways to find common ground and people in your lives. They need to feel as though they can trust you. If you are not comfortable with this, there are tons of sales books that can advise how to get better at that instant connection. Remember, you are selling yourself with this person.

Some people don’t care about you, but they do care about your credentials. How long have you been in business for? What can you show in terms of your ability and work ethic? Even if this is your first event, you can shine with these people by being prepared with a general plan and even anecdotes about how you have handled things in the past. Some people simply believe that if you can outlast others, you’re worth paying attention to. Finding a way to dig into your past means extending your experience beyond that first event.

 

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Where (and When) to Host Your Event

You have likely started looking for locations that meet your needs. It’s time to see if this is a go. Venue managers will need to be convinced that you’re on your game and will bring value to their own work either by way of business to them, permitting fees, or exposure of the venue. Don’t forget that event managers have to believe you can pay the bills, which means they need to buy into your concept. Think of it like an open house. There are a lot of lookyloos, but if the house is a find it pays to show you can move when it’s time.

1. The Ideal Date. Knowing your demographic will help with this. Weather can be a factor, as will unique details like wildflowers and how busy your town is (ie, if you live in a college town and you attract college students, summer’s probably not a brilliant idea). If you’re attracting regular competitors, check race calendars and find out what people’s training schedules are. If it’s a school event, put it closer to September, when everyone is excited about school, rather than June, when everyone is over it. You may consider piggy backing on an already existing draw if the event compliments it. Remember to check the calendar for competing events at least two hours’ drive away.

2. The Ideal Location. This should be at the forefront of your mind when it comes to your event. What will make people come to your location? Proximity to a city center? The natural beauty? Do you want to show people something no one knows about? Once you know the attractions of your location you can start looking for venues that fit your needs. Sometimes it’s really just about finding a parking lot. In the end, it’s not the beauty and quality of the course that keeps ‘em coming, but the story.

3. The Ideal Course. Just as location should have been your true inspiration, now the details of the course come together. Who. Why. What. Questions like what will be physically appropriate for what you want? How much parking will you need for visitors (a good rule of thumb is one car to every two participants)?

 

So did you like this? Bet you’re going to LOVE our book!

Stop reinventing the wheel – get the 2nd edition of our event production book!

 

Born out of people constantly asking us how to get started, All Out Events poured their almost 20 years into diverse event production into this little baby. The second edition has even more information, new images, and updated ideas!

Whether you’re a veteran event planner, or just starting out, we’re sure you’ll find something in there to help you take your event production to the next level!

The All Out Events Guide to Great Sporting Events Book

From 5k to 500k, the complete guide to starting and running a successful and profitable outdoor, human powered event.

Available in Kindle and Paperback Book format!


Capitalizing on over a decade of experience producing diverse events and series, All Out Events brings you information on marketing, organizing, hiring, course, design, volunteer management and more.

Whether it’s your first event or 100th, you’ll find tips inside this event book  for race and event directors for the entire process. We guide you from start to finish with information on:

  • Founding your own event business
  • Working for other people as an event producer or race director
  • Choosing and working with a non-profit
  • Working with land managers and authorities
  • Choosing your course
  • Branding, marketing, and developing your website
  • Seeking sponsorship
  • Budgeting
  • Hiring and managing staff
  • Race/event day preparation

Let us take you through the steps to a successful event

  • Determine goals of the event. For whom are you doing this? Is it a market that exists and you’ll be sharing or one you have to create?
  • Determine scope of work for event. Create a discovery document that serves later as your operations manual.
  • Create and evaluate a budget. How much will this cost to put on? Where will the money come from? Where will it go out to? Determine if this is a worthwhile event based on goals for the event.
  • Set the price or profit that makes enacting the scope of work and budget worth pursuing.
  • Secure a contract and deposit if hired for the event. The deposit should be considered seed money for efforts prior to the main payback. This includes business overhead, paying yourself, marketing, and the like.
  • Create a timeline of deliverables based on scope of work.
  • Work on deliverables, keeping to timeline and evaluating priorities as deadlines approach.
  • Profit!

Get our FREE budget template to get a taste of what awaits!