The Optics of COVID-19 Cancellations
While we encourage race directors to plan that events six months down the road will be proceeding as normal, there are definitely variables that must be considered due to the pandemic. Namely, one should consider how they will react if their event is cancelled—as a race director’s actions following a cancellation or postponement are critically important.
Standard procedure is to postpone the event if possible. Let registrants know that you are planning to reschedule and express that you understand their frustrations. If you must cancel, consider how you want to resolve the subsequent situation—will you convert your race to a virtual run? How will you treat individuals who are not satisfied with the race policy?
The crux of your cancellation or postponement planning should be surrounding optics. Will you be offering refunds? What about deferrals? Consider how a race director’s response to an emergency might influence registrants down the line. A person who remembers that a race director treated them fairly in a cancellation scenario is much more likely to register for that director’s events again in the future. Inversely, registrants who feel that a race director was unfair in their handling of emergency cancellations might never go to that director’s events again. This needs to be considered.
Many race directors cannot issue refunds by the time they are certain they must cancel—as many of the proceeds have already been used for race logistics. This is okay—most people will understand this. However, be prepared to have an alternative policy in place. Consider offering partial refunds. If at all possible, allow people to defer to future events—a large chunk of people will opt to do this instead of looking for a refund. If refunds are out of the question entirely, let registrants know in your cancellation announcement that race expenses have already been accrued—thus putting you in an awkward situation where not all funds can be returned. Again, most people will understand the circumstances.
It helps to give registrants multiple options when you are announcing a cancellation. For instance, consider a partial refund as one choice and deferrals as another choice. Doing so will show your registrants that you are prepared to be flexible during a difficult time for everyone.
This is a situation where it helps to have a good liability waiver to fall back on. If you have clear policies outlined in your event liability waiver, you reduce the chances of conflict if you are forced to cancel.
In the event of conflict, take the high road. People are scared right now—rightfully. Sometimes that will be expressed. If someone is losing their cool and treating you poorly due to your race policy, try your hardest to maintain civility—as a race director, you are under scrutiny from potential registrants and your reactions could end up benefiting you or hurting you. This returns us to the concept of optics. Remember how potential registrants will view you and how your choice may influence their future registration decisions.
Be prepared. Have a contingency in place so that if you are forced to cancel, you’re ready to handle the aftereffects.