So You Want to Be a Sim Racing League Owner: Things to keep in mind when starting a league

Updated: Feb 15

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Maybe you want to be the next Gary Hoffman, Bernie Ecclestone, or Rodger Goodell and you want to be at the forefront of sim racing leagues. Maybe you’re just looking to structure your Thursday night pub league and turn some laps with your friends. Regardless of your ambitions, there are a multitude of ways to run your league but there are a few staples that you need to live by and establish if you want your league to stand a chance. Ultimately there is no "right way" to be a league chairman (the fans and the drivers will tell you that) but there certainly wrong ways to run a league. Hopefully, this piece will help you avoid burning your league (and reputation) to the ground.

Without sounding too dodgy, treat your league like a business regardless if it's a paid or a free league. Structure and operate it as if your pocket and your reputation were at stake because, in a small but growing community such as sim racing, it very may well be. Ultimately, launching a successful sim racing endeavor all boils down to 3 distinct elements:

  1. The Competitors (your drivers)

  2. The League (your product)

  3. The Chairman (that’s you)

The Competitors

The most crucial aspect of your league is understanding and accepting that your competitors are more important than the league itself. There are few leagues in the world that understand this, but for those that do, the competition benefits immensely. (Just ask the NBA). Adversely there are some leagues that just don’t understand this and constantly find themselves in the news for the wrong reasons. The participants in your league are the lifeblood of your existance and will dictate the culture and chemistry in your league. If you fail to moderate the individuals that you let in it could tank the league quickly, but at the same time, you need to let the personalities of your league flourish. Luckily for you, provides you with the interested drivers but it is up to you to vet them before you allow them into your circle. Think about adding probation/trial races once a month as a test for new racers. Skill level is not important during these events. The mission here is for you to find out if your new candidates race clean and fair, once you have determined that they do then you can worry about how fast they are. If you want to take it a step further, chat with the drivers during the race, get to know them and why they want to race in your league but keep it casual, no need to make it seem like an interrogation.

Appreciating that your competitors are joining your league for more than just racing is an important characteristic of a good chairman. In addition to racing, your competitors are looking for something to be a part of. I don’t care if your league requires a pro-license, no one and I means absolutely no one wants to be a part of something that feels dead. Provide your drivers an avenue to enjoy each other’s company and get to know each other outside of the regular race schedule, this can be fun figure 8 races or even demolition derbies on Wreckfest. What’s important is that you are providing a full circle environment for your drivers even if it's as simple as having an active multichannel Discord.

The last thing you need to keep in mind is that your competitors are there to improve and if you don’t provide them opportunities to do so they are going to leave. Tier your leagues, unless you are hosting a high skill level league consider having multiple skill level schedules. Put the rookies with the rookies and the pros with the pros, mixing the two doesn’t help anyone as the pros will get bored and the rookies will get frustrated and no one gets to improve their craft.

The League

First things first, before you even start taking applications or sending out invitations, you to need to establish a clear value structure. Outline your league sportsmanship guidelines and expectations and make sure that they are documented and published for EVERYONE to see. Publishing these in plain sight on your discord or on your Grid Finder page lets everyone know what you’re about. Not only does it set the standard early for potential applicants, but it also builds your legitimacy and reputation.

Make sure that your drivers know how to win, that’s what they are here for after all. Establish your rules and points system and provide an avenue for questions, build a FAQ section on your website or discord, host driver meetings prior to every race where you discuss the previous race issues and address any that may have risen since. DO NOT WAIVER MID SEASON, rule changes and competition adjustments can wait until next season (unless something like a pandemic hits). If you have a group of drivers that are frustrated about something mid-season or you have a cool idea on how to spice up races for the broadcast, put it in your pocket and introduce it next season. Changing the foundation of your league in the middle of a season is a great way to frustrate drivers and damage your reputation. It’s easier to explain to your drivers that mid-season changes could result in unintended consequences than it is to make an excuse for those consequences after they have happened.

Just running the league isn’t enough, promote resources for your drivers like where they can get a competitive setup or where they can get some coaching. This doesn’t always mean that you have to promote some outside business that isn’t going to give you a cut. If your league has more than 10 members, chances are there is someone that is willing to lend a hand so provide them a place to do so. Set up communication channels for drivers to chat based on specific topics, those that want to share their talents or offerings will do so without you even having to ask.

The Chairman

Be your league, nothing is easier to spot than someone that isn’t invested in their own product. This doesn’t mean you have to race in your league or even be a good racer. What it means is that you run your league according to your values and that you are wholeheartedly involved, jump in and host a track day, join the broadcasting booth for a few races and chat with the broadcasters.

Listen to your drivers by reaching out to them individually and ask how they are, create a relationship with them so they know that they are a part of something that’s bigger than themselves. Promote your league to the right audiences both commercially and within the community, nothing is worse than a chairman that only does things that promote their own self-interests with no benefit to the league.

Align yourself with the goals of your league, if your league is a fun Tuesday night league that no one takes too seriously, run it as such. If your league is a serious league for racers with big ambitions then you need to create an environment that caters to that. Your job as a chairman is to regulate and promote the culture and ethos that you and your league claim to possess. In a way you are an extension of your league and if you dilly dally and waiver from the main purpose of your league you will lose credibility and may find yourself being the chairman of absolutely nothing.

There are a lot of factors to consider when starting and running a league and these are just a few (albeit important ones). What it really comes down to is your commitment to running the league. Be prepared to make hard decisions and to catch some heat from unhappy drivers from time to time. Running a league is not easy, but if you listen to your racers, remember why you started it, and fully commit, it can be incredibly rewarding.

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