Limited Capacity Events – 3 Ways to Manage Online Registration

As we have seen with our clients, there are several ways to manage online registration for events with limited capacity.  Many such events take registrations up to the limit and close.  Some large marquee events hold lotteries.  Others set up a waiting list for potential participants who missed the initial cutoff.   Below, some longtime SignMeUp clients explain how they manage their own events, and discuss some of the advantages and pitfalls of each method.

There are plenty of examples of events that reach capacity and close registration – North Country Run, Wharf to Wharf, ChelanMan Triathlons are but a few.  This method is the most straightforward and, with the exception of disappointed potential participants, is probably the easiest for event organizers to manage.   Participation is essentially first come, first served – those who register first get in.  Elizabeth Vincenty, Fleet Feet Chicago‘s Event Marketing Manager, explains that Fleet Feet closes registration after reaching capacity for its 10,000 runner Soldier Field 10 Mile race because “Soldier Field 10 Mile is the most popular and largest event we produce.  At this race and all of our races, providing a great participant experience is our number one priority.  Placing a cap on the number runners is essential to accomplishing this goal because we can manage race materials and avoid disappointing the participant.”   Like many limited events, Soldier Field 10 uses inventory to help determine when to close registration.  “We rely on SignMeUp’s online registration system to help us control the registration numbers as well as shirt inventory,”  Elizabeth said.  “Smart use of the inventory tool enables us to provide every participant with the race shirt that he or she ordered.”

At the other end of the spectrum is the coveted 26,000-runner Nike Women’s Marathon.   Nike uses a random drawing to select most event participants.  Hopeful runners apply within a specified time frame on a SignMeUp waitlist form.  Registrants are then selected from the applicant pool.  One upside of this method, according to race organizers, is that it is fair:  all participants get an equal shot at being chosen.  A downside, however, is that it is somewhat complicated.  We received many questions from applicants who didn’t completely understand the process.

Finally, some sellout events close when full, but then allow additional participants to sign up for a waitlist.  While managing a waitlist can be tricky, Lisa Ballou, Turtle Triathlon‘s event director, explained that she has several reasons for waitlisting participants.  “First and foremost, most of my participants are VERY connected to me personally. If they want in the race but can’t get in, they are devastated and I am overwhelmed with emails, phone calls, and uncomfortable trips to the supermarket!!! The waitlist allows me to calm them down with a hopeful option.”  Lisa assigns inventory to her Turtle Tri online registration form, and once capacity is reached – typically within 50 hours of opening online registration – she switches the form over to a waitlist.  When a confirmed registrant requests a refund, she accepts additional participants on a first come first served basis.  SignMeUp “is great in that it time stamps when people complete the application.”  While many events don’t offer refunds for cancellations, Lisa said that “given the intimacy of the community we live in, I just don’t feel good about saying no to the majority of people who ask me for a refund — they are probably the same people who have made me cookies, driven my children to practice, or volunteered at a training session for me.”

Giles Thelan, Grizzly Triathlon‘s event director, presents another perspective.  Grizzly offers a waitlist because since the race “has a pool swim (the largest pool swim triathlon in the USA), it is crucial to have a wait list option so we can fill 100% of the 450 slots.  “While initial registration fills within an hour, since it opens “4½ months before the event, we always have 25-40% of our original entrants cancel their slots due to injury, travel plans, poor fitness, or whathaveyou.”  Like Turtle Tri’s waitlist, Grizzly selects on a first come first served basis.  As for the refund policy, “we give 45% refunds to those racers that opt out of the race if they cancel at least three weeks prior to race day.”

Do you have a limited capacity event?  How do you manage it?  Let us know, and also check out our new tutorial, “How to Create a Waitlist Form.”

View Tutorial

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