Friday, August 16, 2013

Have Endurance Sports Events Gone Retail?

 A long line of porta-potties at a recent large running event in Toronto*

I have written in this space before recently about what's been going on in the endurance sports events business, here, and here. A lot is going on! The growth right now is impressive. If you add up all the running, triathlon, cycling, themed running events, and also the mud/obstacle races and events in North America, you are looking at a impressive double digit growth in participation numbers and an aggressive addition of new events along the way. It's hard to keep up with it all.

With all this growth has come competition - serious competition. So much so that, from what I have seen events have gone retail, where everything about an event starts to matter. Your brand. Your logo. Your date. Your route or course. How hard or easy your event is? Your registration process. How many porta-potties you have*. The enthusiasm of your volunteers. Your charity. Your timing and results company(if needed). It all starts to matter. Even stuff you have no control over, like the weather starts to matter! Get two years of lousy weather for a start-up event, and it might be done right there!

Onsite experiences on race/event day are critical. People will come, and maybe they get spoken to in a wrong tone by a volunteer, there are not enough porta-potties or registration/kit-pick-up takes forever. Just like in retail, they will silently go away, never to return, and even worse, they'll most likely tell more than a few people about it. On average, people tell 4 people about good customer experiences, but tell 13 people about bad customer experiences. And that's what RD's need to do and understand these days, beyond getting the cones in the right places, and the directional arrows on the road right - they are in the business of delivering positive participant experiences.

Even the process of race and event registration, these days almost 100% through online services, can be critical in the whole event experience. Some are complicated and unwieldy - with high abandonment rates. In other words, that person who was going to register for your event, gave-up part way through the actual registration process, for one reason or another. You got them to the door . . . but then lost them! Check out some of your sports online forums, to see what people are saying about your registration provider. You might be surprised.

It's important that events think more like businesses, albeit small ones and even non-profit ones, about their brand, and about their image, because, as noted, it's all starting to matter.

The mud & obstacle events and the themed runs, have really driven this point home. How else to explain, the extraordinary growth? Some of these event series did not even exist two years ago. Some will surpass a one million participants this year! In these situations, branding, and imaging matter greatly. There is a buzz. People want to be going to the cool event that everyone else is doing.

Now you may be thinking, "I run a triathlon or a running race. Why should I be concerned about a mud run or zombie run?" Be concerned - they are competing just like you for mind-share and commitment from reasonably young, and active people. And some of those events now really have some serious momentum, behind them and mega-buzz. You run a cool and great event, but it's just a 5K run. You have to think about everything at your event and every touch point with your event participants. How is it impacting them? Is it a quality and a positive experience, or at least matching up with their expectations?

I know the organizer of one of the largest triathlon series in North America, who stands at the finish-line of all of his events, regardless, of the weather, and personally says, "Thank you", and shakes the hand of every finisher who comes across the finish line at every event. Sounds corny, but that's the kind of thing that people remember - just like in retail they remember the good and the bad, experiences. Events need to do everything they can to make sure that everyone's experience at an event is an outstanding one. If so, just like in retail, they will be back!

Whether you like it or not, events have gone retail. What are you doing to make your event stand out? What are you doing so that each and everyone of  your race/event participants have an extraordinary experience?

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Axel Kussmann said...

Another factor in the race experience... race photography, especially price! I've ranged from really liking a shot but not being able to justify paying for a single digital download to buying the the whole darn bunch. The latter happened at my most recent race - in the series where the race director you allude to did indeed shake my hand as I crossed the finish line.

Still, my worst/most hated race experience is one of the most fast-growing Obstacle Races... in keeping with bad news travelling further, I will name/shame them: Spartan Race.

Steve Fleck said...


Thanks for contributing.

What happened at The Spartan event that you attended?

Bhupendra Singh said...

Thanks for contributing.. such a nice blog. any one looking for current sports events so plz visit it..

Run, Karla, Run! said...

Steve, What you say is true. In the age of social media, word travels fast about every aspect of an event--good and especially bad. Most runners aren't out to win, they're out there to have a great experience. Do I remember my high 5 from Philly mayor Michael Nutter at the finish of the Philadelphia Marathon? You bet I do. Like you said, everything matters these days.

tim watson said...

That's a nice post.

Triman said...

The Mud/color run "races" may over time develop into a serious competition for racing, but for now they are social events, even if you show up alone.

In so much as they are social events, they have to deliver a more retail like experience. Like shopping, brand value is fleeting and can be easily lost. There is always another Marshalls, and if it isn't Marshalls, there's always TK Maxx etc.

I think the problem with especially the triathlon race series we've seen come to the fore in the past 2-3 years is they are too much brand and not enough local. They spent a lot on set dressing and not enough on the race. If they are VC backed, like the WTC, their best interest is in a retail or production line like experience as that lets them control the brand and the expense, but not the experience.

Both these chainstore race events and the themed events ARE competitors to the local small races precisely because they compete for the same dates, locations, city services and community goodwill. A race at a park might be 3-months after the last one, but if the community and city had a bad experience, they are much less likely to "invest" in this race.