The Motorcycle Monster has been actively attending and organizing rallies, events, bike nights, and poker runs for over 40 years. Organizing and sponsoring any motorcycle rally or get together can be very rewarding and fund raisers can raise huge amounts for needy causes but the planning and organization can be daunting and is not recommended for the faint of heart. The Monster is neither an accountant nor lawyer and does not offer legal or financial advise, however we have spent more than one night under the stars next to my own red scooter in a holey sleeping bag sizing up the latest concert or bikini contest. We have had lots of experience and we’ll be happy to offer this document as our opinion and share our ideas. Remember, We are not professionals and “Don’t Try This At Home”.
For any motorcycle event to be successful and bring in large groups of riders it must offer great entertainment value, high energy, and motorcycle excitement. With those elements in hand, with plenty of time, and a vast amount of energy, and organization you just might become the next promoter of a giant biker bash. Bring your “big girl panties” because it’s not easy. Many struggle for years with small numbers, little or no profits, and slowly die from financial ruin, but a select few, grow, learn, and transform an idea to a huge success for their cause or profit margin. Tighten up your seat belt. It’s a crazy ride that can be wild and successful beyond your expectation or one that “breaks the bank”. If you still want to “roll the dice”, buy some headache medicine, a three ring binder, pay up your cell phone bill, and buy a box of Bic pens and let’s get started. Keep track of every dollar, and watch every penny, or you’ll come up short on the other end. Take lots of notes, we’ll need everything we do to be written down, to build our “Motorcycle Event Planner Guide”.
Probably the most important decision you will make when organizing an event is where and when. This is very important because you want to pick a time when folks are available to attend, when inclement weather is not likely, and when you don’t have a lot of competition for bikers and their entertainment bucks. If you take some care and talk with perspective teams members, you’ll avoid the trap of running up against a bigger biker show that may take your crowd. Give yourself two or three possible dates and “shop them around and get a feel for the support you can receive with these dates. Be sure they work for prospective partners and get approval ahead of time.
I always look for strong partners. Not necessarily partners who put in cash money or share the profits but partners who “team up” with you to help make the event a success. Local dealers are always the best in that department. Your local Harley, Honda or Suzuki store many times will help with basic expenses like site fees or advertising. The local Chamber or Main Street organization might give you lots of help just to bring new business and revenues to your community. These organizations might help procure facilities like parks or fair grounds for little or no costs. They want traffic and spending for their local business’ so they are anxious to help bring folks in. Hotels, restaurants, and bars have lots to gain and are many times happy to become co-sponsors. Beer distributors are one of the best because they are usually anxious to get their brand as the only beer on the event property. Ask for help and be careful to not annoy anyone. We need friends and team members to help us make this a success. Try to not leave anyone out. Enemies are bad and friends are key to success. When we hit it out of the park, we’ll need help from our friends. A few years once in Ohio, we realized that the local Harly dealer had a strong family connection with the Budwiser distributor. The problem was, we had cut a deal with Miller Beer and the Harley guy left us. He eventually promoted an event on the same day as ours. Not Good…. Remember business’ also have facilities. They have large parking lots, kitchen capabilities and advertising opportunities and event budgets. Get those partners on board and use their tools to your advantage. When good business relationships are built, strong teams are formed, and success usually follows.
One of the main reasons event organizers get resistance from local officials is they have not done their “do diligence” or “Homework” as far as Police, Fire, Traffic Control, Facility management, bathroom facilities, and rubbish removal. If you want to close a public road, you must have governmental authority to do so. If you want to have fireworks, you’ll need a city or county permit or maybe both. If you have a crowd, you’ll need police officers, medical first aid teams, and provisions for bath rooms. If you want to play music loudly, you must know what your community’s rules are. Do I need a permit? Do we have to stop at 9:00 p.m. ? What permits do I need and how difficult are they to get. How long do I need to apply in advance. The larger the event and the more public spaces effected by your crowd, the more prep you’ll need. Make a “to do” list and keep adding as you find out who needs to bless your event. Get permission first from each different player individually. Over come the objections one by one with the specific person you need the blessing from. Have those objections covered before the board meeting outlining you event. If you go before the City Council, have the Fire Chief, Police Chief, DOT Director, and Parks Director all on board before “Nay Sayers” ask deal / event killing questions. If you have your important players onboard, you’ll save lots of negative conversation and you’ll instill confidence that you know what you’re doing. Once in Florida, I persuaded the local Fire Chief to trade EMS Staffing to our event for a trade out that gave the Chief and his new million dollar fire truck number one position in our motorcycle parade. His new truck was introduced at our event and I saved a few thousand dollars in medical fees.
Many times a local motorcycle dealership will add your event ad to their full page biker magazine ad for no charge by making them a co-sponsor of your event. TV, newspaper, and radio stations routinely trade ad space or air time to become a partner and sponsor a local event. Remember, everyone wants to be part of a winner event, so project your winning attitude and prepare yourself well. You basically trade advertising space in their ads space for space on event banners saying sponsored by ABC Harley Davidson or WIBC radio. It’s a trade out that is a win-win and you get the endorsement from the H-D Store, air time for advertising while building credibility and awareness. You may comp that same dealer or radio station with free booth rental in trade for some raffle give-away. Soon, fear of loss will prompt other dealers and advertisers to jump in and get on board to avoid being left out. Probably the most effective advertising is always TV. TV time is very expensive but if your event is benefiting a local charity, or cause, local TV crews are anxious to tell the story. Bulletin board on TV stations are looking for local charity events. This valuable asset can make your show come to life if you are diligent, and stay on top of these folks, you’ll get “lots of free”. Don’t be bashful, boldness and perseverance reap huge rewards. Community interest stories telling about good folks doing good deeds is also a great way to get your word out. You’ll get your story out with TV at little or no cost. Also local motorcycle dealers have TV space running most of the year. Ask those dealers to add your event info into their ad package. These dealers have push with TV stations. Their helpful hand ( a telephone call) will many times get you lots of free ads. Ask for it and ask again. It will work. Again, you get the dealer evolved, he helps you promote and you help him maintain his business through his advertising and promotions throughout the event.
Try to book your date when other motorcycle events are not going on. Don’t go head to head with a H-D party or The Honda Hoot…you’ll probably fail. The loyalty that H-D and Kawasaki stores enjoy is tough to compete with. Include those folks (dealers) and that loyalty for existing groups to your event and have their full support. Being the only biker party in town has it’s advantages. Bring in the big players and everybody wins. Also get civic organizations with similar causes involved. Many times a complementary booth to the Kiwanis or Rotary club will bring lots of new visitors to your event. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts not only bring the club members but parents, grand parents that add to the numbers and excitement. Be inclusive and invite other groups and they likely will support your cause and you have added another ally.
One of the most basic elements of any motorcycle show is the number of vendors and the quality of those vendors and their products. Bikers love “biker stuff”. When there is lots to see and lots of shopping available, crowds stay longer and when they stay, they continue to spend money. The vendors thrive, the gate thrives, and the show is a success. Big Rig vendors from our favorite manufacturing company and well known motorcycle personalities will help bring them in as well. I like to say “big names bring big crowds”. Big name bike builders, local celebrities, or name bands can add that punch that brings in the crowds in a big way. ZZ-Top will bring your event thousands, but ZZ costs big bucks and your event can easily fall short if you outspend you income. Vendors not only come, they help promote your event by telling folks where they are during your rally. They tell their customers, their friend vendors, and the event begins to gain a life of it’s own. Vendors should be treated well and fairly, and they will add to your success. Let them know what to expect, where they need to set up and have their electrical hook up up and running to keep it going smooth. Be considerate to your vendors. They are key to your success. Some vendors (usually new ones) are demanding and will make you crazy. Avoid a vendor melt down by writing down the rules and explain the set-up fully. Have them on-board fully or don’t rent them space. One crazy vendor can ruin your life. Have the details worked out. Plan you event well and stick to your plan. If a vendor is unhappy from the start, address it or get him out of your show. Don’t allow one vendor to ruin your vendor village. It’s your show and you make the rules. I tell them I won’t discuss it and I refuse to debate. Keep control.
Start with Seed Money: I always come up with a expenditure budget that is an estimate of the costs involved in putting on an event. I always figure in a “fudge factor” (25%), just in case I guessed low. Usually I spend two times what I started with. Be conservative and try to always figure “worst case scenario” when budgeting. We don’t want revenues low, but it may happen, and you need to be prepared for the worst. Remember, the most important rule in business. STAY IN BUSINESS! The reason, I figure, I guessed low is because I always guess low. Expenses are almost always over budget so give yourself a cushion. As I do more events over the years, I get closer to the real number of dollars spent, but I’ll never figure it out exactly. It’s always a certified guess, or scientific “wild ass guess”.
It goes without saying that “Big Names” also usually cost “big money”. When you start your plan, you must decide on your level of commitment. If your not “all in” and ready to put your soul into it, you’re probably not going to succeed. Having the commitment is important but don’t over estimate your abilities to build a first year event. I like a step plan where we grow an event is a measured careful way. For one reason I don’t want to loose hundreds of thousands of dollars because my SWAQ was way off. Also, plan how you might grow your event and manage your budget with what you could afford. Don’t put your personal life and budget at risk for an unproven event. It’s not unusual for events to cancel because the promoter went bankrupt before the event happened. An outline of your plan is always important to map your course. Maybe year one, you’ll plan for a budget band and lower gate price. Maybe next year we bring in a top act, and charge accordingly. We can use year one profits to fund ZZ Top next year. Be sure your plan and budget match. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Be careful to grow the event in a manageable way. Nothing is worse than having bills left after the event gate money is spent. If you are not careful, a huge amount of money can be lost.
It is important to be sure you have event insurance in place to protect, you the promoter, from law suites arising from some one being injured at your event. You have responsibilities and you must talk with licensed legal council and insurance professionals to be sure you are covered and protected. Co-ordinate your insurance and lawyer meetings with facilities providers to be sure your bases are covered. This is one of the most important elements of putting a show together. Be sure you have legal council, advice and insurance coverage before you sign binding legal agreements. Also remember, event insurance is available, just in case God decides to rain your event out. It can cost a lot, but it is a great guarantee that just might help you avoid bankruptcy. You just might live to do another event next year.
Large events require a huge staff to cover all of jobs that need to be done. Gates must be manned, vendors needs must be addressed, emergencies dealt with, and misc. jobs continually pop up. With big crowds comes the need for huge numbers of energetic folks to deal with the next issue. Issues are never ending and should be expected and dealt with using a system. The management team must have an organizational chart where different issues go to different staff members. Do not run everything through the top person or he or she will not be able to keep up.
We like to break things down into 4 or 5 categories where staff members can have a focus. Different departments heads for different needs. Sometimes we do it like this.
With problems going thru these different department heads, most issues can be dealt with quickly and efficiently before things get crazy.
Communication with radios and transportation ( golf carts ) is key to get things done quickly and before they become full blown emergencies. Volunteers can make your show a success. Get good reliable help. Beware of those who offer to help, and then disappear after they get in the gate without a ticket. Know your volunteers ahead of time. Have them come to planning meetings and you’ll soon find out who is really reliable and can be counted upon.
Be sure you have some extra money in your budget for the expenses that must be paid before the show. Have money for the entertainers up front. Don’t count on gate receipts to pay bills that are due before your crowd arrives. Too many shows have acts cancel or equipment not be delivered, because the promoters don’t have enough money to pay for the porta johns, the band, or the ice man up front. You must have good cash flow or everyone involved will suffer and the promoter will look like a “flake”. We are still waiting for money from show promoters that were short up front. We worked the show as entertainers and are still waiting for money that isn’t there.
When you promote a show, the best advertising is word of mouth. If it’s vendors telling other vendors or potential attendees, last years attendees telling about a positive experience, or handing out flyers at the local bike night, word of mouth will make or break your show. You can never spend too much time telling folks about your event. Bikers are a close knit community and they listen to their friends. Get yourself out and pass the word. If you work hard, tell thousands, and organize well, you just might have a chance to build that next Monster Show.
Post Your Event on The Motorcycle Monster: The best of all promotional ideas is to put your event on the largest event web site in the Motorcycle World. www.motorcyclemonster.com Oh by the way…It’s free.
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