Permitting and Working with Authorities | Sports Destination Management

Permitting and Working with Authorities

Dec 31, 2012 | By: Dave McGillivray


Tony Taylorstock/

There are plenty of people who attend sports events like road races, and because they enjoy themselves so much, they become participants in those same events. With that accomplishment under their belt, they often feel the next logical step is putting on their own race to benefit a cause or charity they favor. The rationale: they love sports, so they'll love organizing a sports event. And how difficult can it be to put on a 5K, anyway?

News flash: a lot more difficult than it appears, and the difficulty starts with obtaining permission to hold the event in the first place. In fact, it is fair to say that this could actually be the toughest challenge an organizer will face: getting permission to hold the event on the course being proposed. The rules and regulations can be surprisingly complex; in fact, it's hardly ever one-stop-shopping because multiple agencies are usually involved.

Why the difficulty? Because there has been huge growth and proliferation of race events, many cities are hosting races every weekend. That leads to traffic and parking restrictions, a need for police presence, and ultimately, complaints from those who have to cope with the disruption. As a result of these objections, many cities are imposing moratoriums on the number of events that can be held at any given time. They've tightened their permitting processes in order to ascertain the events that are held are well organized and in tune with the needs of the area. If you're in the midst of planning a foot race, or any event that will take place on a public thoroughfare, here are some essential pieces of advice.

Do your homework:
Laying the groundwork for your event isn't just good advice, it's absolutely essential if you want your event to get the go-ahead from the local authorities. In this case, it means:

Being prepared. Know who the decision-makers are, what groups you'll have to go through, and what the process is for approval in each place. Allow for delays and for extra time to resolve any difficulties or problems. Have all paperwork completed and submitted well ahead of time. Each municipality is different, so learn all about yours.


John Kropewnicki/

Have all the answers ready. This cannot be overstated. Come in with your full plan in writing, with all details available, or as many as possible. Where will your start line and finish line be? What course will the runners be using? Will there be water stops set up along the course, and if so, where? What about portable toilets? Will you have medical support? If there is a post-race area with refreshments, where will that be set up and how much space will it require? How many runners are you anticipating? Where will they park? How many racers will be accepted before the event sells out? Will loudspeakers be used? Will there be music playing? If so, how loud and for how long? Will you require electrical hookups or will you bring generators? Will barricades be needed? How about safety cones? Where can spectators stand? (And these are just a few of the pieces of the puzzle; there are plenty of others).

Be ready to supply all information regarding logistics. Will your proposed race require any road closures, lane closures, detours or parking restrictions? If so, where, and for how long? (Quick hint: Don't pad your hours. Estimate set-up time, race time, and how long it will take your crew to do clean-up on the course, particularly in areas where there will be water stops. This will give you a better grasp of exactly how long the area will be impacted, and officials will be more apt to look favorably upon your request for a permit). Will you require police support? How many officers and during what times? What duties will they perform? Where will they be stationed? All these questions will be asked, so you might as well ask them of yourself first.

Be ready to show how you can overcome obstacles. It's not enough to say you need a road or a lane closed. You'll need to show officials an action plan that allows residents and businesses in the area to get around and go about their daily lives despite your race. For example, if your race is held on a Sunday, and your course passes by a church, you will need to show authorities the race will not delay people who are trying to attend, or get home from, services. Therefore, it will be incumbent upon you to know when services are held, when they end, and to develop a start time that allows runners to be safely out of the way of the church-going folks. If you don't have a complete plan to show the authorities, you can expect them to hand you back your paperwork and refuse permission for now and ask you to come back later with a more detailed plan.

Officials aren't unfair; they just want what is best for their communities. They know from experience that the best events are those that have been well planned and well thought out. If you can present an organized, cogent plan for your event, it's likely you'll get a favorable response. If you can get community involvement, awareness and support well beforehand, that will help your case too.

A final word of advice here: Don't start publicizing any event unless and until you have a permit in hand. There are no exceptions to this rule, ever.


John Kropewnicki/

Getting an Early Start:
Permitting can be complicated, but it is one essential part of any sports event. An additional three factors are key to the success of the event:

Lead time in Planning: Not everyone has a clear view of how much lead time is actually needed to put together an event. I always try to do planning a year in advance. After all, the less lead time you have, the more risk you're taking. The services and vendors you need may not be available, and potential participants may already be committed to another event being held that weekend. And having seen all the pieces that need to be in place (described above), it's obvious that rushed preparations will lead to an inferior event on race day -- that is, if you even get permission to put it on.

Funding: How much money does the race need to make in order to break even? If you have sponsors to cover various aspects of your costs, you'll have an easier time reaching this figure. Sponsors can help cover the costs of food, T-shirts, any facility rentals, prizes and more. However, it takes time to secure sponsors, and they generally expect publicity in advance, so you'll need to reach out to them early. (See "lead time" above).

Management:  It is easy to make the mistake of thinking that only 'big' races (like marathons) need professional management. However, a good race management company has the logistical tools and the experience to make sure a race (or any sports event, for that matter) comes off well. A skilled manager knows about everything from start line to finish line, and all the things that have to be in place beforehand: permitting, course certification, event insurance and more. Handing over the onerous tasks to a detail-oriented firm can allow the organizer to concentrate on other aspects, such as fund raising and publicity. Just make sure to sign on with a manger well in advance since they need time to do their job well too.
If there's one final thought to leave you with, it's this: when it comes to sports event planning, don't take anything in the permit process for granted. Work with the authorities. Answer their questions and listen to their concerns. Make sure you're planning an event that they can be as proud of as you can. Municipal authorities can be your strongest allies or your most formidable opposition. Wouldn't you rather have them on your side?

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