4 Important Ways to Manage and Support Race Spectators

As endurance events have become more socialized, participants’ friends and families are now an integral part of the race day tableaux. They provide energy, enthusiasm, and encouragement to your runners and more opportunities for directors to increase revenue. But they also increase your responsibilities.

Given the potential for both risk and reward, we encourage you to build a plan that covers the ABCs of spectator management: Activities,  Behavior,  Communication, and Safety:

Spectator Activities

A family-friendly race scores points with runners who want to bring their spouse, kids and friends along for the day. Some races provide activities like bounce houses for kids to fill the long hours between the race start and finish.

A finish line that doubles as a celebration point with room for not only medal presentation, but also sponsors’ booths, music, food and drink vendors, first aid, and meet-ups with family goes a long way to make the experience memorable for everyone. Setting up similar points along the course can help prevent congestion and give families an opportunity to provide much-needed encouragement along the way.

Be sure to consider:

  • Plentiful and efficient parking
  • Sufficient number of porta-potties
  • Access to sponsor and course information, maps, and runner results

Spectator Behavior

Most spectators are there to have fun and can be relied upon not to endanger your participants. However, runners have reportedly been impacted by those on the sidelines in a variety of ways, including intentionally forced cigar smoke inhalation, dog attacks, unwelcome running advice, and being physically accosted by non-runners breaking into the course.1

The accepted best practices for deterring garden-variety misbehavior are:

  • Sufficient security presence
  • Barricades
  • Diligent course monitors

Getting participants to follow directions will always be a challenge, whether you’re talking about waste management, controlling their children, or staying out of off-limits areas. Signage can help, but don’t depend on it to always work.

Spectator Communication

Today, everyone is accustomed to streamlining their experiences through their third arm…i.e. their smartphone. In a crowded, congested, race day setting, loyalty to your event is practically a no-brainer if you give them the opportunity to:

  • Monitor the progress of their runner
  • Get course information at their fingertips
  • Find specific sponsors and interact with sponsors’ offers
  • Access live results
  • Watch the leaderboard
  • View and contribute to donation goal progress
  • Share results immediately to social media

…all on their mobile devices.

How can you do this? Our Event app 2.0 is the answer.

The Event app isn’t just a win for spectators. Not only does it do all the above, it also allows directors to:

  • Have one branded app for all their events and series
  • Provide sponsored live results, increasing value for sponsors
  • Push donation notifications at specific times (such as when their runner crosses the halfway point), increasing donations
  • Promote sponsors and community locales throughout the course
  • Promote safety best practices

Spectator Safety

After the bombing at the Boston Marathon, many races are stepping up security, including promoting ideas from the “If You See Something, Say Something” initiative (sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security) which encourages spectators and participants to report any suspicious activity.

Event safety is such a critical topic that we suggest directors of all events – no matter the size – take a page from the playbook of Dr. Stuart Weiss, CEO of MedPrep Consulting Group2 and medical director for the New York City Marathon. Get serious about setting up a Command Center and educating yourself on:

  • Crowd dynamics/management
  • Emergency action planning
  • Customized risk and threat assessment
  • Staff training
  • Technology use/information management
  • Medical preparedness plans/teams

Take a minute to re-focus on your spectators. Without them, you wouldn’t have much of a race, so let’s take care of them!


1NYTimes: When Race Spectators are not so Well-Behaved

2MedPrep Consulting Group