Robert Pozo Combines a Business Background with a Passion for Running (Event Director of the Month)

Robert_PozoRobert Pozo has produced or helped produce over 350 events throughout the United States, working with all types of groups, from for-profits to charities to municipal entities. He began his race production career in 1997 with Swim Bike Run, Inc. (SBR) and managed triathlons, duathlons and 5K runs in the South Florida area. The knowledge gained from SBR soon led Robert to spearhead the inaugural ING Miami Marathon® as the president and race director of PR Racing, Inc. Then, after 6 years at the helm of PR Racing, he sold the company to US Road Sports and Entertainment Group, joining the team as its vice president of business development and executive race director. Robert is currently the executive race director of his own company, Continental Event and Sports Management Group, which launched events like the Myrtle Beach Mini Marathon, the Divas Half Marathon® & 5K Series, and the NC Half Marathon at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Robert also holds a Master’s degree in both Accounting and Exercise and Sport Management, and was a professional endurance athlete. He was a three-time member of the U.S. Duathlon and Triathlon Team and an eight-time track cycling State Champion. Plus, as a USA Triathlon certified coach, he coached one of only three U.S. male triathletes to the Athens Olympic Games and one of the two U.S. male triathletes to the London Olympics.

What made you decide to take the leap from a career in accounting to one in endurance sports?
As an athlete, you’re always participating. There are so many things a race director does that he thinks athletes will love, but they may not even see it. I knew what I wanted as an athlete and thought others would want similar things too. I also had the business background and was entrepreneurial, so I didn’t think it would be a huge risk to start producing events.

What are some ways you’ve differentiated your events?
SBR mostly produced cycling and triathlon events. When we were getting started, I took a look at the Tour de France, because there’s a lot of loyalty to and branding around their sponsors. Festina was the official timekeeper of the Tour and instead of awards, we decided to approach the company and ask for watches as prizes. If you hand out merchandise at your events that’s being handed out at the Tour, you are able to give participants something special and memorable. It was great to have Festina support us for those awards.

Also, when I was competing in triathlons and first started SBR, triathletes did not have secure fenced transition areas. We’d throw running shorts over Speedos (yes, Speedos) and grab our bikes from the side of the road and go. Our triathlons were some of the first to offer that security, which is especially important because bikes are getting ridiculously expensive.

For the ING Miami Marathon®, we really thought about the area, the glam of South Beach. We timed the race so it would start at 6am, just when the clubs were closing down. The club owners could easily kick partygoers out to watch the start and our participants got to experience the allure of South Beach in winter.

Now with Divas Half Marathon® & 5K Series, our premier series, we did a lot of homework. We thought a lot about how to appeal to women—boas, tiaras, fire fighters handing out red roses at the finish line. That event is about being happy and feeling good in your own skin, which I think we do a good job at accomplishing.   

Speaking of the Divas Series, it’s been a huge success. How did you predict the trend of female participation rising?
With my accounting background, my tendency is not to invest $1 in something unless I know I’ll see $1.25, so that’s why we did our homework before launching the Divas Series. I had coached a lot of charity groups, such as Team In Training, the Arthritis Foundation, and Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, and saw all these women who were not runners getting involved. But I also saw that participation model getting fatigued—you can only recycle a marathoner once or twice a year. But the half marathon distance is different and we saw trend shift toward the half marathon, especially with women. You can run several half marathons a year, it’s an easier distance to get approved by cities, and it’s still long enough that people will travel for it.

We weren’t he first to come up with the women’s-only race idea, but we were the first to create a series and really grow it. Our numbers have seen a consistent growth. We can thank the Mob events for helping us with that too.

So you don’t think Mob events have cannibalized your participants?
Not at all. We’re getting all these participants who were not even 5Kers, they were couch potatoes. A whole new set of people are getting tricked into running—they were “only going to run if they were being chased.” They’ll do a Mob event and then have so much fun that they want to try a timed 5K, and then they get hooked and want to do 10Ks and half marathons.

This was a clientele we (in the traditional endurance market) couldn’t reach before, no matter what, so I think Mob events are a great thing for us.

How important is having a business background to being a successful race director?
Twenty years ago every race, with the exception of a few, was put on by a running club. Each event would raise enough money to fund the next one. It wasn’t about making a profit, it was about the sport of running. But now you’re seeing more and more race directors come in with business backgrounds and run their events based off of that model. They aren’t as passionate about running, but they are passionate about business. I’m lucky that I’m passionate about both and that has helped me stay profitable, even in the middle of a recession.  But overall, yes, it’s really important to apply a business model to your event to be successful.

Do you have any advice for other event directors?
There are a few pieces of advice I’d give:

  • Really get to know your product—don’t think because you love it, everyone else will. Figure out what makes it special and different, and market it that way.
  • Put on a small event first. Or jump on the coattails of a bigger event and ask to put on a 5K in tandem with their half marathon, for example.
  • Intern or learn from someone who is really successful (or several people). When I started my company, I was a national coach for USAT and got to see all of their events. It typically takes about five years to be profitable, and you can do your best to shorten that time frame by learning from someone who’s a pro. 

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