The 2015 triathlon season has officially begun, which means that many average competitors (like me) have recently started to train for their competitive races in a few months.

According to USA Triathlon, that field of competitors has grown steadily over the past 20 years – membership in the organization has risen from 127,824 in 1999 to more than 550,000 today. Those athletes can choose from over 4,300 sanctioned events each year.

The race directors overseeing these thousands of events are faced with an enormous challenge: delivering an outstanding event each year to ensure high levels of athlete participation. This is important, because even though triathlons registration is at an all-time high, most people in the “average competitor” category will only compete in one or two races every year. Given this intense competition for registrants, what is drawing the average competitor to the races they ultimately choose?

1. Relationship management with past competitors. As it is true with most sports and entertainment related products and events, you must engage your customers all year long, not just during the season. This will increase your renewal rates and help with referrals. Even a simple email once a month reminds participants of their past experience with your event, and will keep them engaged (and keep YOU front of mind when race season planning starts).

2. Communication – Nothing is worse than a race director who can’t communicate well. Triathletes’ stress levels are very high on race day (partly because there is so much prep involved in getting your gear ready, in the right location, etc.). Thus, it is vital that every important race-related message is clearly communicated both leading up to and at the event, and everything is highly organized.

3. Event Day Activities for Spectators – It’s critical that athletes’ families have something fun to do while they are spectating, showing their support, and waiting for their athletes to cross the finish line. Whether it is live entertainment or vendor tables with free samples, this is critical, as most athletes want their friends and families to have a great time during a (typically) long day of “athletic supporting”.

4. Giveaways – It’s always really cool to receive a plush towel, waterproof bag, or long sleeve t-shirt after finishing a race. If your giveaway is sub-par compared those offered at similar races around you, this could sway people from choosing your race.

5. Post-race messaging – All triathletes want to see their results posted online in a timely manner, and most appreciate a congratulatory email from the race director post-event. This simple act is key to retention – it demonstrates appreciation, and strengthens athletes’ connection to your brand/event.

You may have noticed that I did not include price of registration as a key factor. This is because the average triathlete is only participating in one or two events per year. For this reason, price is generally a non-factor. In fact, I think people would pay more for a particular race if they knew the experience would be better than other races.

Having a background in event management, I have the utmost respect for race directors. I also realize that many run more than one race per year, and rely on these events to support their families. The amount of planning, organization, and detail that goes into the best races is phenomenal and should not be taken lightly.

That said, the best events are laser-focused on customer appreciation and clear communication. Races that excel in these areas capture more than their fair share of people like me who train 4 months a year and want a great experience for their one or two races during the summer.