MTBO Event Management Series: Venue Development

BURKE, VA — The inventor of McDonald’s, Roy Kroc, had a very unique view of venue. He once said that the secret to success was not how you made the burger, or the people who serve the food — although those are important factors. In fact, Mr. Kroc would say that he wasn’t in the hamburger business at all, but rather in the real-estate business. To him, location was more than a factor in his success, it was the reason McDonald’s is now the largest fast food chain in the world. Without successful locations, McDonald’s may have never become the popular franchise that it is today. The same is true with the development of a sports venue. Without a prime location that is (a) accessible to your customers, (b) conducive to your sport, and (c) far enough away to be considered country, but close enough to be considered within the area of your base clientele, it will be difficult to attract a significant draw needed to break-even. This is why venue development is one of the most important processes in event management, and why the location of your event — just like for Roy Kroc — is often more important than the event itself.

The first phase of any venue development strategy is in the understanding of two key issues: (a) the amount of property you need to conduct your event, and (b) what features your event requires to be successful. Since we’re focused on mountain bike orienteering (MTBO), obviously we need a good size chunk of property — possibly a park with between 500-1,000 acres — and a good network of singletrack, fire road, or natural use trails. Without these mixes, your course design may encounter significant difficulties that include doglegs, two-way traffic, simplistic control locations, and laps. Additionally, the size of the property might also limit the number of riders you can have participate and the type of event distances you desire. No one wants to try an fit a Long Distance course into a park that only has 5-miles of trail, nor do they want to choose a location that can only accommodate parking for 10 cars.

The features of the location also require some thought. Take for instance one of the most popular mountain biking trails in Northern Virginia, Fountainhead Regional Park. Fountainhead has by far the best singletrack MTB trails around, but 90-percent of those trails are connected by a series of one-way traffic loops that make MTBO very difficult. Fountainhead is also a MTB park reserved for intermediate riders due to the technical (and often tedious) terrain. While some riders would find this park to be a fantastic venue for MTB, most riders new to MTBO might not. Could you imagine hosting a MTBO event in a park that contains several hills so technical that they have been given names? Not to say that an MTBO event could be held there some day, but most likely not an event designed to accommodate new or beginner MTBO riders nor without some creative additions to the way Fountainhead’s trails are networked.

The next phase of your venue development strategy is understanding what roles you need to fill before evaluating a location. Ideally, you need to have roles of Venue Scout, Venue Planner, and Course Designer identified before you begin. These can be three individual positions within your organization or one person filling the need of all three roles. Regardless of your setup, the importance of these specific roles are as follows:

(a) Venue Scout – This role is responsible for discovering potential locations for events by typically researching, visiting, exploring, and documenting the potential of each local, regional, and national park, private property location, and/or public real-estate venue idea. The primary objective of this role is to determine if a particular location can support an specific event based on three primary criteria: (1) allowable mountain bike use and/or tolerance, (2) significant trail network, and (3) rider and spectator accessibility.

(b) Venue Planner – This role is responsible for locating a venue specific areas that can serve as the central location for registration, timing, start/finish, and spectator viewing. This role also determines how participants will enter/exit the location, where and how they will park, where bathrooms are located (or if portable bathrooms need to be obtained), any need for security, where emergency medical service is located (if not on location), how trash will be collected and disposed, and how many staff/volunteers will be needed to support it. The primary objective of this role is to focus on where all customer interaction will take place, before and after the race course.

(c) Course Designer – This role is responsible for locating venue specific areas that can serve as the primary race course, what areas can and cannot be accessed during the event, and identifying risky and/or dangerous property features. This role also determines how participants will execute the event, where they should and should not be in the park during the event, and how to best control the outcome by limiting route choice near specific features. The Course Designer’s role is focused primarily on the race course layout, flow, and direction.

The final phase of your venue development strategy should be documentation. Each role provide you with a specific product that will become critical to event management process. The Venue Scout will help you develop a list of properties that can and cannot support various styles/types of MTBO courses, and enable to you weed out locations that do not provide you with the necessary resources before you ever try to use them. Having a list of properties and all its available features also aids the Venue Planner in determining if a central location is even possible. If a venue that can support an MTBO course doesn’t have public bathrooms, has limited or no parking, or is packed with hikers on the weekend, the Venue Scout can allow the Venue Planner to either focus on locations that are more usable, or allow them to figure out work-around to issues without having to visit the location themselves. The final product of the Venue Planner should be a diagram of how a central location would be setup and information related to what resources are available versus what are still needed.

This is equally true with the Course Designer. Working with the Venue Scout and Venue Planner, the Course Designer can know which properties need a course, where the start/finish will be located, and how to best control the flow of the race without overwhelming the location. Working in unison with the Venue Planner, the Course Designer can figure out where the best spectator areas are, where the danger areas are, and how to best utilize staff and volunteers. When event are hard pressed for manpower, the Course Designer can be equally useful in determining the priority who needs to be where, or even figure out when certain locations no longer need support due to the progression of the event. The course designers ultimate product will be the course maps showing MTBO control locations, restricted areas, and an understanding of how many controls will be needed throughout the event and when.

Once you have achieved these three phases of your venue development strategy, you should have a very good idea of what properties can support your MTBO events, what resources are available to you, and what courses you can use when organizing your next MTBO A-meet!