Velo Birmingham had a disastrous first day as the website crashed and massive backlash from cyclists on the excessive prices
Crash, Bang, Wallop
Velo Birmingham had a day to forget. Their marketing campaign teased us for weeks, the launch at the Birmingham NEC Cycle Show last week was slick and supported by industry heavyweights but it all went horribly wrong earlier today when they tried to launch the event.
Tickets were meant to be available from 8:00am this morning but almost as soon as the starting pistol had been fired, the website crashed into an almighty heap.
Initially, the page was simply slow to load but then it quickly became clear that the servers couldn’t cope with the demand and visitors received 502 Bad Gateway Error messages. This is where one server receives an invalid response from another server.
So the marketing professionals were pretty upset with the IT professionals, who in turn were p***ed at the company who were providing the server support and no one wanted to tell the Boss.
This is when the marketing team came up with the idea of putting the spin on the disaster … “Due to overwhelming demand we have had to temporarily close sales.” That’s good PR but let’s just hold judgement for a moment.
During last week’s official launch, the same PR spin informed us that they had received tens of thousands of pre-registrations (thought to be over 30,000). So why was it such a surprise that on the day of tickets going on-sale, they had such big demand?
Best practice in these circumstances, especially armed with this data, is to load-test the servers in advance of the launch. Did this happen?
Instead of going for the big bang approach, they could have spread the entries over a few days and selected successful entrants at random, raffle ticket style.
Down and Out in Birmingham
Faced with uncertainty of when the website would be up-and-running, people turned to social media to vent their frustration on both the shambles of a crashed website and the ticket prices.
Wow! £80 and I have to travel to Birmingham from Sheffield the day before to register. No ta Jose – Jim Wilkinson on Facebook
What should have been a huge success, given the large number that had pre-registered, was now a PR disaster.
Whilst the first official notification acknowledging the problems was sent quite soon after the expected launch, at around 8:43am, there was no further communication from the Velo Birmingham organisers until late afternoon (4:17pm).
This however, did not alleviate people’s concerns. The message read, “Great news – entries will be re-opening at 6pm tonight”. It went on to inform that a new link to a different entry page will be sent. Despite the renewed efforts of the organisers to recover the lost goodwill, the aforementioned email for the 6:00pm re-launch, did not reach many people until much later.
Proverbial salt was being rubbed into the wounds of inability to buy tickets once prices became known.
Not a chance at that price – Neil Sharp on Facebook
This was a closely guarded secret and the Velo Birmingham organisers had clearly used the pre-registration numbers as a guide to set the entry price. What they failed to understand is the basic economic rules of supply and demand.
Initial demand (pre-registration) was set based on the desire to cycle 100 miles on closed roads. Cyclists at this stage did not know the price and as such, had pre-registered based on the features of the sportive, and not based on the full facts.
Those of us that regularly enter sportives, are used to prices of around £20 to £30. There is of course the premium to be added for the privilege of being able to cycle 100-miles on closed roads, so lets be generous and double the prices of other sportives. This would take it to £40 to £60, which is close to the £60 entry fee of Ride London.
The price of the General Entry ticket is £75 and the Fast Track Entry is a whopping £115. Whilst £75 is more expensive than Ride London, it isn’t that far away.
However, General Entry requires participants to collect their Rider Pack in-person, the day before the event. For cyclists living outside of Birmingham, this means traveling into Birmingham City Centre on the Saturday before the event, simply to collect a few bits of paper. For many, this will result in an overnight stay and the inevitable on-cost of a hotel, car parks and restaurants.
The Fast Track Entry costs an additional £40 over the cost of the General Entry, resulting in a massive £115 entry fee. So what do you get for this extra money.
First, the Rider Pack will be sent out in advance, allowing cyclists to arrive on the day, rather than having to register in-person the day before the event. There is also guaranteed parking close to the starting position. Finally, riders will be allocated starting positions in the first three waves to depart. Is this worth an additional 40 quid, only you know!
I’m so cross I have no words for the shambles!! – Will Ford on Facebook
Let’s see what the organisers say about this after today. Ultimately, despite the website crashing and the complaints on prices, the true test is how many enter, and whether Velo Birmingham meets it’s hype of 15,000 cyclists.
Whatever your view on the entry prices, you cannot dispute that the first Velo Birmingham event is a success. Tickets sold out within just four days of going on-sale. Yes it’s expensive but 15,000 cyclists have decided that it’s a price worth paying to cycle on 100 miles of closed roads. Bravo Velo Birmingham, bravo!