The Ard Rock Enduro Festival seems to be getting more popular by the year, as demonstrated last week: tickets went live, and in less than a minute had sold out completely. Not everyone who wanted a ticket was able to get one, and while some people were of course disappointed, many of the comments were still about how much people were looking forward to it or have enjoyed it in the past.
The Ard Rock claims to draw 15,000 visitors in total, with 4,000 of them competing in the various races. Running events, especially large ones, can be a dark art and filled with details that are invisible from the outside. We caught up with main organiser Joe Rafferty to ask a little about it.
ST: Question from Chipps, who is not a morning person: “Why 06:30?”
Joe: “Hah! Sorry Chipps. It’s probably early for some, but we simply wanted to find a time when the majority of people would have the chance to enter the event. If we open entries at 0900, people are likely at work or commuting; if you do it at 19:00, it’s dinner time and there are dozens of other commitments and jobs. Like it or not, there’s some peace and quiet for most at 0630, it’s one of the few times most people can (in theory) be online. It’s the lesser of two evils, or the best of a bad bunch. It seems to be working and keeping the majority happy. That’s the feedback we get anyway. We get loads of messages like ‘Cheers, I’m still in bed and just got a ticket on my phone’.”
ST: Do ticket sales always go this quickly?
Joe: “Tickets have been selling out very quickly for the past few years now. We’re stoked to see that the races always end up at full capacity. It’s a nerve wracking time for us though. Unless you’re at (or near) capacity, it’s very difficult deliver the experience people sign up for and deserve.
“Unfortunately, we always get a few emails from people complaining about not getting an entry. But, it’s as fair and square as we can make it for everyone. Be ready at 0630 and good luck is all we can really do. We save a few tickets for people who have been a marshal at Ard Rock in the previous year. The marshal team are a key part of the event and we think they deserve it.”
ST: Do you have to do much community management?
Joe: “Well, we spend a lot of time answering questions,” [sorry – ST] “but that’s part of managing an event!
“When it comes to entries, we’re never going to please everyone. That’s painful, and we know how it feels to be on the receiving end too. We definitely try to make sure all of our followers and supporters are updated with the key information in good time and social media has really helped us continually connect throughout the year. If people have genuine feedback and want to be listened to, they generally send an email or personal message. The few people that get upset about entries and want to vent it publically sometimes do so through social media. But, we’re confident that we’re providing a good service and the general feedback speaks for itself. We actually feel pretty lucky to have a community to speak to on a daily basis. So a little bit of community management is essential.”
ST: Could you see the Ard Rock getting bigger?
Joe: “The main aim is to deliver the best possible experience to every competitor and visitor, and we’re always looking into ways to improve that experience. There’s scope for growth, for sure. There’s space available and the number of people who want to come is definitely increasing; but the individual experience is key. We’ve been taking a cautious and progressive approach. We try out something new each year, and we’ve added a new race to the lineup every year so far. This year it’s the marathon. It’s a little more XC focused than the Enduro so should cater for riders who want to pedal a little more.
“Ultimately, there’s no point growing if it doesn’t improve the feel and vibe of the festival. Ard Rock needs to return better each year. To do that, it has to constantly improve – I guess that’s the business side of it. But at the end of the day, it’s about people enjoying bikes.”
ST: Are there any other factors that stop you from scaling it up quickly?
Joe: “The key is for people to enjoy themselves and want to come back next year. If we scaled the event up too much, then participants could be negatively impacted. That’s the last thing we want.
“Each year the event has carefully grown in size. It’s a relationship between creating a positive festival vibe, balanced with keeping the trails and riding experience flowing smoothly.
“There’s dozens of logistical factors too. We manage a massive team of marshals, event staff, medical teams and more. Everyone communicates throughout the event to ensure the safety of the riders and the success of the weekend. That’s a priority. And we don’t want growth to hinder that. People and bikes first.”
Thanks Joe. ST Out.