I’m thrilled to bring this comprehensive article about running a great event to you! Although there are several topics detailed, it was hard to fully convey the extent of my experience since there are so many variables to consider. I have included several valuable resources and quick links to help you along the way!
If you are interested in learning more, please feel free to contact me for more information.
My experience in skydiving has evolved from manifestor, to AFF instructor, to load organizer, event coordinator, to former co-DZO to marketing. Under my belt, the events I’ve helped create and/or host are: the beginnings of Summerfest at Skydive Chicago [2001-2006], organized 4 USPA nationals (2 at Skydive Chicago [2002 & 2007] and 2 at Skydive Arizona [2015 & 2016]), I’ve hosted the International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame [their biggest event in 2016], several Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas boogies, created new events such as the Wingsuit Rally at Skydive AZ in 2016, assisted as the sponsor liaison for the Mondial World Meet at Skydive Chicago , as well as attended hundreds of different types of events around the world.
My experience has taught me that kick ass events aren’t cheap, and are a lot of hard work that require a lot of preparation. And that NO MATTER WHAT – the goal should be to have a safe, well-run event that people want to come back to. Word of mouth is still the most effective form of advertising – so it’s worth making sure you run a kick ass event!
First year events may not see ROI straight away. Look at this long term, running a great event is about showcasing your DZ to create more potential customers that want to return. You can take that first year, learn from it, then make it better.
The classic: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How are the questions to begin with when composing and outlining the details your event. As you go through the questions, be sure to make notes!
Who is this event for? Since there are SO many disciplines, and such a diverse age group and demographic in skydiving, it is ESSENTIAL to narrow down WHO the event is for. This will help you define your demographic and the rest of the event details.
What is this event about?
- Is it a skills camp?
- A boogie?
- A workshop?
- A combo?
- Is it solely to showcase your DZ? An open house?
- A grand opening?
What will draw participants to the event?
- The discipline(s)?
- The load organizers?
- The location?
- The type of planes?
- The theme / party?
- The value of the event for the cost?
What will be the theme?
That’s right! Themed events that surround the concept of the event have proven incredibly successful. For example: Chick’s Rock has hosted the event for over a decade and each year there is a different theme that is established in all the advertising to look inviting. Today’s challenge is to keep it unique!
Where will you hold the event?
- DZ’s may be able to send their planes to destination locations (which is an article all in of itself and not part of this article)
- Will it be at a remote airport not at normal DZ operations (back in the day, The World Skydiving Convention, once ran by my dad, secured a large airport to handle an incredible volume of jumpers – who’s to say that can’t happen again?!)
- Will it be at your DZ or if you’re an event organizer, what region will best suit the type of event?
When will you hold the event?
- When is the best weather?
- Will it conflict with larger events?
- If holding at the DZ, be sure to get the DZ’s calendar of local events
I’d think that scheduling is KEY to a successful event. If you want to hold a wingsuit event, make sure it’s not during the Wingsuit World Record! Also – it’s wise to get a calendar of when the USPA Skydiving AND Parachuting Nationals, Indoor Skydiving Championships, classic big boogies such as Chick’s Rock, Carolina Fest, Summerfest, Lost Prairie and big holiday boogies so not to overlap (*always exceptions for choosing to overlap a big event).
Once you’ve established the concept of your event, established a theme, and set the date, then it’s time to hone in on finer details.
How many people can you handle for your event? Consider the amount of aircraft and facilities available. I like how some events like Carolina Fest cap the number of attendees for their event.
This is beneficial on several levels:
* Pre-registration helps with capital for event expenses
* Helps you plan – how many t-shirts & what sizes? How many to expect for catered meals; how many load organizers to hire, planes to hire, etc.
* Helps minimize wait times for jumping
Yes to pre-registration! Even if you don’t cap your event and you allow people to pay and register up to the day of, you can still plan more effectively, such as having a back up plane if needed.
There are several platforms such as PayPal, Square Up, or Quickbooks Go Payment to accept registration payments. Ask your accountant which would be the best platform for your DZ and your webmaster to add to your website event page.
What is Your Budget / Cost of Registration?
A budget will depend on how much you want to invest in the event. A lot of the costs will be upfront, but can be offset by registration. Here are a few expenses considering your budget (this will be unique per type of event and host DZ):
- Cost of Load Organizers (airfare, accommodations, food, per diem)
- Cost of Advertising
- Cost of Graphic Designer to create ad and resize for posters, digital marketing placements and design t-shirts
- Ad in Parachutist Rates
- Facebook Ads is flexible price, but for a higher reach I’d suggest approximately $500 over 6 months
- Cost of Printed Flyers for Around DZ
- I’d also suggest to place an ad on com, Blue Skies or Skydive Mag online
- Cost of DZ Amenities (extra restrooms, extra toilet paper, raffle tickets, office supplies, wear-n-tear of facilities, etc.)
- Cost of Decorations, party favors, boogie bags, t-shirts
- Cost of Party (depending on how long the event is, there may be more than 1 party)
- Brining in an additional plane? (Ferry fees, fuel, pilot, pilot accommodations)
- Entertainment (DJ? Band? Flame thrower? Be creative!)
- Additional staff
- Ground Crew (spot loads, pick up off jumpers, follow cutaways, empty trash, check on bathrooms, etc.)
- Air Boss (to manage the multiple planes in the air)
[Downloadable Form] Event Budget Expense Sheet Template
Take the total amount of estimated costs, divide that total among the number of planned registrants. That should estimate the cost of registration per person.
As a participant, I want to know the value I’m getting for the cost of registration. Things I would consider:
- How long is the event and how many days can I attend?
- Does it include a t-shirt?
- Are the organizers awesome?
- What planes will be there and will there be wait times?
- Is there a cool party planned?
- How much are jump tickets?
From here you need to consider the following:
- What if I get less than planned participants due to a bad weather forecast?
- What if I can offset costs (see creative pre-planning below)?
- There are ALWAYS unexpected costs associated with running an event, can I still afford it on my end if I charge X amount?
- Is the value I’m offering worth that cost, and would I pay that to attend an event?
Running a kick ass event is going to cost you money. Meaning – don’t get the cheap stuff! Think of all the little details. Don’t get crappy t-shirts, and a crappy band that doesn’t fit the demographic of your event. You know the old saying: you get what you pay for!
Creative Pre-Planning to Offset Event Expenses
- Contact local businesses to support a level of sponsorship and get advertising value in return
- Accommodations for load organizers, additional staff such as pilots aren’t cheap!
- Work with local hotels for room discounts in exchange for advertising
- Ask local jumpers to “Air-B-N-B” their rooms in the surrounding area to the DZ in trade for jumps
- Merch! Merchandise the event! It’s classy to include a nice boogie t-shirt, but sometimes it’s nice to have a more expensive one like an event jersey or hoodie available for sale – especially if it gets cold at night. Shot glasses or etched glass (depending on the event of course!) and YOGA pants! Everyone has jersey’s, but the ladies LOVE to jump in yoga pants – a great way to brand your event and make sales!
- Staff your event with volunteers!
- This is a great way to get AFF students involved!
- Some jumpers have family members and friends that don’t jump, but love the culture. This is a great way to get them involved, too!
- Of course, adding in a meal, boogie bag, an event t-shirt or throwing in free event registration is also an affordable way to say thank you as well!
- Be efficient with advertising dollars (explained in Part II: Marketing)
Notice that I did not note ‘charge vendors for booth space.’ That is because our industry is so uniquely different and boogies are different than trade shows. Vendors in our field that support an event come at great costs, and just by them being there adds value to your event. Generally, vendors who commit, I will ask for a product donation, certificate, or shwag for a raffle and goodie bag.
Also note that I didn’t say, ‘negotiate a cheaper per diem for the Load Organizer.’ Load Organizing events is HARD work – especially for summer events that have 12+ hour jumping days; especially if you’d organizers to make a showing to the big party and be there multiple days!