One of the Washington Region’s Oldest and Largest Non-Profit Events Succeeds in Spite of Extraordinary Challenges

How a staff of four, a multi-million dollar budget and 275 volunteers operate an event that attracts up to 65,000 attendees

WARRENTON, Va., July 15, 2019—It sounds like a complicated eighth grade math problem—how does one of the region’s oldest and largest, outdoor, nonprofit events succeed with just four full-time employees and attract up to 65,000 attendees?

The Virginia Gold Cup, having just completed its 94th year, provides an amazing case study in event management.  The organization, a 501(c)4, has a year-round staff of four employees, with the recent addition of the fourth. For an event the size and scope of the Virginia Gold Cup, this is a phenomenal achievement.

Not only does the staff of four oversee parking spaces, tent spaces, rail spots and ticket sales, they also have logistics that would make many professional event planner’s head spin. From officials, patrol judges, timers, veterinarians, blacksmiths, stall builders and stable directors to car parkers, caterers, tent installers, program sales and program ad sales, ticket sales and all of the infrastructure required for pari-mutuel wagering—the event is a true testament to highly efficient team work and office coordination.

Probably even more surprising is the fact that the event is accomplished on a very tight (and small) budget. “As a non-profit, there is no profit,” stated Dr. William Allison, president of the Virginia Gold Cup Association. “While millions of dollars come in, millions also go out to pay for this high-caliber event.”  Because the event is so large and so well run, many outsiders think it is a big money maker. When ticket prices and structure went up recently for the first time in 7 years, some attendees balked at the cost. “Having not raised ticket prices for years as our expenses have gone up, we had no choice,” Allison explained.

The highly complicated infrastructure that includes tents and stalls for horses as well as those for the party goers, on-site emergency equipment and security, catering, tents, tables and chairs, golf carts, walkie-talkies, outdoor speakers, indoor televisions for the tents and a full broadcast system including jumbotrons, signage, teller locations with electricity, wi-fi installations, and a host of other components too extensive to list, makes this a very costly event. There are also the purses that are provided for the race winners that are a significant financial cost but necessary to attract the owners, trainers, jockeys and horses.

More than 275 volunteers participate in each Virginia Gold Cup. Each has an advance assignment and briefing and plays an integral part in pulling off the event.

“In addition to public attendance, we have owners, trainers, grooms and jockeys in attendance,” said Allison. That means handling horse entries for the more than 90 horses, horse van arrival and parking and all other stabling logistics. “Because this event has sanctioned, pari-mutuel wagering, we have to have special security for jockeys, grooms and horses,” Allison continued.

While the event itself is not a money-maker for the Virginia Gold Cup Association, it is a large benefit for the community. The event pays a fee to Great Meadow and uses a number of community vendors including local caterers. It also provides funding to area non-profits who bring members to come and volunteer at the event parking cars, selling programs, checking and selling tickets, etc. Organizations such as the Fauquier High School Boosters, Liberty High School ROTC, the Kettle Run High School Music Department, the Warrenton/Fauquier Lyons Club, Orlean Volunteer Fire Department and more, receive more than $17,000 for providing volunteers.

“Our attendees have a substantial economic impact on the county too,” stated Allison. “By conservative estimates, these attendees bring in more than $1.25 million to the area.” The figure is based on a conservative estimate of 50,000 attendees with each spending an average of $25 in the region, outside of the Gold Cup. This does not include purchases made within the event at vendor tents, food trucks, etc.  The Virginia Tourism Corporation uses $91.61 per person per day to determine economic impact of visitors.

“We put on this event because we love it,” Allison explained. “We love supporting the community and the Virginia horse industry.”  Allison, who himself has contributed thousands of volunteer hours to the event, has now turned his attention to the 82nd running of the International Gold Cup that takes place on Saturday, October 26. Meanwhile, the mighty team of four are splitting their time working on the International Gold Cup as well as the 95th annual Virginia Gold Cup taking place on Saturday, May 3 in 2020. Work is already underway producing programs and designing tickets; selling tickets; tents and rail spots; ordering tents, golf carts, walkie-talkies, fencing, tables and chairs, horse stalls and porto-johns; hiring security, working with caterers on menus, putting together course maps and looking for corporate sponsors who want great visibility at a high-caliber event with a large, captive audience and streamlined precision behind the scenes.

For more information, visit www.vagoldcup.com.