When events go bad, or not at all: Promoters, promises… and protecting your business

Posted By: Holly Wagner
Post Date: 03/31/2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier in March, it was reported that the State of Tennessee ordered the promoters behind Nashville Bike Week to immediately halt ticket sales, because they had failed to secure a “mass gathering license” to legally hold the promoted event in September. Indeed, this particular event has been at the center of controversy since Loretta Lynn’s Ranch announced a month earlier that it had severed all ties with Nashville Bike Week organizers.



Despite the order from the state, local media affiliate WKRN reported on March 20 that promoters hosted a ticket giveaway on Facebook. Of further concern is that the organizer, whose name is Mike Leffingwell but goes by Mike Axle, “has a lengthy criminal history with convictions for fraud in multiple states, including a federal conviction in Missouri. He also has active arrest warrants in Sumner and Maury counties, as well as in Georgia and Missouri,” the station reported


Dealernews’ Holly Wagner talked with event marketing veterans Joe DiStefano of Pro Riders Marketing and Ken Conte of Rise Above Consulting to assemble a quick checklist Dealers can use when asked to support a local rally or other event.

WHY DO OTHERWISE sensible people abandon their instincts in the face of a tempting offer, even without the proof of reward they know they should get?

We can leave that discussion to psychiatry. Avoiding scams (or incompetence) pretty much boils down to common sense – trusting your gut and doing a little due diligence – according to veteran event promoters and marketers. Their advice is aimed at Dealers and others deciding whether to show or sell at rallies and events; however, the same tips can apply to evaluating most advertising and marketing proposals.

Have your budget ready.
Before even considering showing at an event, know how much you will spend on travel and transport, extra help, food, lodgings, permits and insurance, your absence from the shop and any other expenses. Then consider how much return you expect to get on that investment. Conte and DiStefano say local rallies will bring in about 2,000 attendees. Make sure your expenditures match your expectations.

Meet the promoter face to face.
There is no substitute for looking someone in the eye, especially when it comes to a new, untested contact or event. If you can’t meet face to face, ask for a Facetime or other type of video chat, or a GoTo Meeting online presentation.

The vendor manual for Sturgis provides an example of what you should expect from a rally promoter.

Check their credentials.
Get the tax ID number for the promoter. Ask for copies of event permits and verify them with the permitting agencies. Determine whether you will need individual permits and what those will cost. Ask for proof of insurance for the promoter and the event, and then verify that insurance.

Secure contract terms.
Ask for a schedule of events and a sample contract. Make sure you understand the expectations from both sides. A contract should include your obligations for fees, a payment schedule, load in/out times, duration, location within the event, permits, structures, setup/cleanup responsibilities and anything else the promoter requires from you. Obtain a floorplan, and get written confirmation of your booth location as well as who will be occupying nearby booths. The contract should also spell out what services the promoter will provide for exhibitors, including insurance; permits; your recourse in case of non-performance, rainout or other “acts of god”; and fee, cancellation and refund deadlines. (Pictured: This year’s Sturgis vendor guide is an example of what to expect from a large rally. View the Guide HERE)

Confirm the marketing plan.
Know how, and in what venues, the event will be promoted, and what type of audience the event is trying to attract. Make sure crowd estimates are realistic, and get the event’s formal marketing plan. Be especially wary of over-promising. Find out whether the event has restrictions, such as age, club colors or pets, that might limit attendance.

Verify references.
Let’s face it: It’s easy to dummy up business cards and stationery. Check the references the promoter provides. One way to verify that a reference is real, not invented, is to find the reference’s contact information separately, from a phone number on their website or a directory listing. Then, call the company and ask for the reference by name (let’s say, “Joe”). If Joe doesn’t work there, that’s a problem. Also, check with distributor reps in the event area and see if they plan to have a presence, and find out who the anchor sponsors are, and contact them.

Get legal advice.
If you’re making a significant investment in a specific event, it makes sense to spend a few bucks to have your lawyer review the contract to make sure you are protected before you sign anything or spend any money.

ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!  The following warning signs should prompt you to back away:

  • Unrealistic crowd estimates
  • Reluctance by the promoter or agent to share a list of other exhibitors
  • Lack of local participation or advertising
  • Minimal or scattershot social media presence
  • Asking for money too far in advance of the event (more than six months, Conte and DiStefano say), or for all of the money far in advance
  • Ticket sales too far in advance

Dealernews thanks Ken Conte of Rise Above Consulting ( and Joe DiStefano of Pro Riders Marketing ( for their assistance in the creation of this checklist. Readers: Do you have additional tips? Send them to and we may add them to this checklist.


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