Several years ago, I got involved with my Local Masters Swimming Committee (LMSC) because I saw opportunities to help make our organization better. There are so many ways to contribute one’s time to clubs, LMSCs and U.S. Masters Swimming at the national level. I am now the chairman of my LMSC and recently began turning my attention toward adding competitions for our members. I would not declare myself an expert at organizing events; however, I decided that creating these competitions for our swimmers was worth venturing outside of my comfort zone; after all, my job is to serve our members …
My objective was to create new events for our swimmers. My LMSC already had an open water swimming series in the works and was in discussion with teams regarding hosting meets in the future. With so much activity already occurring, I thought that a relatively short postal swim (500 yard freestyle) would be a good event to add to the calendar that would not exhaust our coaches, swimmers or volunteers. So, with no experience as a meet director, I decided to create a new event, The Phoenix 500 Postal.
My first step was to talk to other people who had organized postal swims in the past. I wanted to get their perspective of running a similar event. I wanted to model their success and I wanted to understand their mistakes to be sure I would not make the same ones. I reached out to these seasoned meet directors and immediately realized how much effort was involved. With hundreds of paper entry forms, checks and other information pouring in over the course of only a few months, the task of hosting a postal event immediately seemed daunting.
There had to be a better way.
After extreme brainstorming and researching various meet management and logistics options, I decided to create an event that used technology and providers to do the majority of the work. The event would also use U.S. Masters Swimming partners and sponsors whenever possible, along with local resources that had worked with our LMSC before. I wanted this event to serve as a model for future events in my local area.
Establishing event details was my second order of business. I collected all of the required verbiage, distances, rules, names, links and other data regarding U.S. Masters Swimming and postal swim procedure. These details would serve as the majority of my meet information and registration form. But before I could complete these documents, I had to copy required sections of our sanctions form and write the other parts. I looked at other postal events and meet registration forms to get an idea of what should be included. After a couple of hours, I thought I had what I needed to move forward.
The third step in creating this new event was getting a sanction. This was an easy process; the one-page form is online and only takes a few minutes to complete. I emailed our sanctions chair to let her know that this form and the event details were coming her way soon. I wanted her to review everything to ensure it complied with U.S. Masters Swimming requirements and was error-free. She responded within two days with a sanction number and listed the event on the U.S. Masters Swimming web page. The ball was definitely rolling and we were well on our way to hosting our first ever 500-yard postal event.
Step four required my creative self to surface. Though I had the event details, the distance and the sanction number, I was missing one very important piece of the puzzle: a name for the event. The idea of racing continued to flood my thoughts as I brainstormed about the theme of this event. I thought of events like the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and other popular races, which led to the branding of our new event: The Phoenix 500 Postal. Once I had settled on a name, I purchased the domain name www.phoenix500postal.com from Uzipa so I could direct traffic to that site.
My vision of this event was a well-branded and “professional” look and feel, so I was determined to present it in that manner. I had prior experience with a marketing professional and reached out to him to help me with the branding of The Phoenix 500 Postal. Within a couple of days he had a series of designs from which I could choose our logo. We worked together to make some revisions, and a few days later the final design emerged. The design was not only going to brand our website, but it was going to be used on the medals, T-shirts and other places where we planned to identify the event. This marketing professional became so intrigued by what I was doing that he even started swimming with one of the local clubs!
Event registration was the fifth component of creating The Phoenix 500 Postal. I called Club Assistant because I knew that they were highly recommended by U.S. Masters Swimming and had just read their article in the U.S. Masters Swimming coach’s newsletter, News from the Deck. We worked together to create an online entry form for the event so that swimmers could sign up for the event online. Club Assistant also helped us by setting up a merchant services account so we could accept debit/credit cards. After a few weeks of testing and tweaking, we had the event online and ready to accept entries.
My sixth step is an ongoing commitment and is what I call the “make it or break it step to creating an event”: promotion. The event needed to be promoted for people to know about it. I listed the event on the U.S. Masters Swimming website as well as on the U.S. Masters Swimming discussion forums, on a local triathlon site, on our LMSC website, on our blog and on Facebook. I also sent emails to all of the members of our LMSC. I told anyone and everyone that would listen about the event and encouraged everyone to participate. I even convinced Club Assistant staff members to swim in the event!
Step seven is simple: Make it special. Because Hasty Awards is a U.S. Masters Swimming corporate sponsor, I contacted them regarding medals for this event. They will create branded awards for us by using Mylar inserts and will mail the medals out to the awardees after the event has concluded. This process will eliminate one of the many manual tasks most meet directors have to deal with while also making the event special for participants.
So, within seven simple steps I was able to create an event that I am sure people will enjoy and add to their annual calendar, and the best part of this experience was … all of it was paid for by sponsors. One of my Masters swimming teammates owns Bonded Logic, a local business that makes all-natural cotton insulation. I asked if his company would be interested in being the presenting sponsor for this event, and he said he was thrilled about the opportunity: “YES!” he replied quickly. His brother, another local business owner, also eager to become involved, agreed to become the title sponsor for the next postal swim we will host later this year! So all of the upfront costs for this event have been paid for; any revenue that comes in from these events will be profit for the LMSC.
The Phoenix 500 Postal is up and running; you can enter online at www.phoenix500postal.com. Everything is running smoothly, and as we promote this event, more and more swimmers continue to sign up. From now until the end of short course season, there will be little to do other than encourage people to participate. Entries are starting to flow in and administration has been a breeze so far. I would already consider it a successful event.
What have I learned by creating The Phoenix 500 Postal?
Lesson 1: Everything takes longer than expected.
No matter how well you prepare, a new event involves many elements you cannot control. Your estimated schedule will slip by several weeks at least as you attempt to put all the pieces together. Relax, this is normal and you will be fine. Learn from this and use this knowledge to make everything run better next time.
Lesson 2: Make things simple for everybody involved.
Walk through the event in someone else’s shoes. What will it look like from a participant’s perspective? Is registration easy? Are event details complete? Spell everything out clearly and make it simple to participate. Anticipate questions and have answers or systems in place to address them.
Lesson 3: Add value for the participants.
Why would somebody spend time and money on your event? What value does it give them? If your event is fun, interesting, relevant, etc., you will draw more participants. Nice awards, apparel and goodies help, but ultimately your event should be an experience that is compelling to be part of because it is operated well and enjoyable from a swimming perspective.
We all have the opportunity to contribute to U.S. Masters Swimming and add value to our membership. Whether it is a postal swim, meet, open water swim, clinic, social or other event, use your skills and talents to make it the best you can. It will be a learning experience that will yield positive results and provide valuable experience that you can apply elsewhere in your life. Good luck with your efforts, and hope to see your swimmers be a part of the inaugural Phoenix 500 Postal!