LAST UPDATED: 2 December 2022
Looking Ahead to 2022
Our end-of-year episode, looking back at a turbulent 2021 and looking ahead to a -hopefully- much brighter 2022 (with a bit of supply chain mayhem thrown in).
If you’re listening to this episode as it comes out, it’s the middle of the holiday season and, hopefully, you’re recovering from some excessive meal or other - so, Merry Christmas to you!
Today, we have a very special end-of-year episode for you where we’re going to be looking back at a fairly challenging 2021 but also looking ahead to a - hopefully - much brighter, more optimistic 2022. We’re going to be talking about your expectations for the new year, and also touching a bit on the ongoing supply chain issues which we’ll probably continue to face in the new year.
I say “your expectations” because for the making of this episode, I had the pleasure of talking to many many of you. So many thanks to everyone who contributed: Dave Kelly of RunSeries, David Martin-Jewell of FrontRunner Events, Sarah Kozul of the Lakeland Runners Club, Andy Harris of the Columbus Running Company, Robby McClung of the Canaan Valley Running Company, Suzy Shain of the Technology Education Foundation, Briston Rains of Texas Outlaw Running Company, Terry Majamaki of New Global Adventures and Jon Conkling of Tris4Health.
Also many thanks to Matt Mercurio of Stride Awards and Kim Bilancio of Greenlayer for sharing their thoughts on the logistics situation, and also Johanna Goode, Bryan Jenkins and Bob Bickel from GiveSignup|RunSignup for their insights into what’s happening in the market as we head into 2022.
As we round up 2021, I’d like to thank again our friends and sponsors at GiveSignup|RunSignup for their solid support of this podcast, and I’d like to remind all of you listening in to check out all that this amazing technology platform has to offer for your event by visiting runsignup.com. If you are looking to make a fresh start with your event technology partner for 2022, there’s no better place to start than runsignup.com.
So, here we are, at the end of 2021 - another year in the shadow of COVID. Not as bad, thankfully, as 2020 has been, but still very challenging for race directors and the industry. It's been a bit of a weird year, I think, in that, 2020 was quite clearly an unmitigated disaster. So, there's nothing much positive to discuss there. But 2021 was a bit of a mixed bag - and I guess how you viewed the past year might depend a little bit on your expectations going into the year. Lots of people went into 2021 very cautious, expecting little, and probably were positively surprised to see a near-full reopening in many areas in the second half of the year. Others - and I'd probably put myself in that category - probably hoped that with the vaccine rollout at the beginning of the year we'd be getting back to business as usual, pretty much sooner or later. And I think it's fair to say that we fell a little bit short of that in most cases and it seems like we have a bit more to go till we get there. So, how was 2021 for you, dear listener, I wonder? I suspect the answer depends heavily on what part of the world you're in. Fortunes, in 2021, varied quite a bit, depending on what country, state or event county and city you're putting on events in. Here's Dave Kelly of RunSeries and the multi-award winning British Airways RunGatwick on the situation he and his team faced in England in 2021...
Dave Kelly 3:57
2020 was a disaster, as everybody knows, and 2021 was difficult for the first half of the year. But we managed to get one of our flagship events out in September. And then two weeks later, we had a delayed cycle event. So it was back to back big events for us. We were what we said COVID cautious, but we didn't have to put any really strict restrictions in place for the events which was good.
And things weren't much different in neighboring Whales, where David Martin-Jewell is putting on events with his team at FrontRunner Events...
David Martin-Jewell 4:33
It was very strict, it was very strict events, a mass participation was the first to go, it was almost the last comeback. We lost over 90% of our income and turnover when the pandemic initially kicked in. And it remained that way for a very long time. So I did manage to get two races off in October. But they were the most challenging and most difficult I've ever done.
Whereas in the UK demands on event organizers in 2021 were largely uniform across the country, with some small variations across the home nations, in the US, what state you operated in made a big big difference to the restrictions you had to face in 2021. Jon Conkling of Tris4Health on having to work around participation caps in his home state of Michigan...
Jon Conkling 5:28
Going into 2021 was extremely difficult for us because unlike a lot of other events in this area that have two 300, maybe 400 participants, our two flagship events, Grand Rapids, triathlon typically has 1500 to 1900. And our other flagship event Michigan, titanium has upwards of 1000 or more. We were not allowed to gather in groups of more than a couple 100 people outdoor outdoors going into 2021. So we had to think of ways that we could limit our participation caps, and also serve all of the people that we had to defer from the previous year. It meant a lot of meetings with local municipalities, tons and tons and tons of meetings more than I think we've ever had to do a lot of hurdles we had to jump through, we took our flagship event, Grand Rapids try, revamped it from the ground up, we made it a two day event, we were able to kind of work around participation caps that way, by splitting our athletes over multiple days, we moved the venue to a larger area where we could space people out and transition, we really had to take a very established very well run event and really just start from scratch in order to adhere to the very strict COVID guidelines and restrictions that we were operating under here in Michigan, which at the time were very probably one of the worst in the country as far as number of restrictions.
California was perhaps one of the strictest states to operate in 2021. For most of the year, that meant no mass-participation events at all. Terry Majamaki of New Global Adventures...
It hit us pretty hard, we were shut down from March of 2020, until June of 2021. So we could not permit get any permits to do any events at all. So we cancelled, we postponed and kept on be very hopeful and optimistic and planning and trying to figure out, you know, project as to when we would be able to potentially do this. And this is, you know, obviously going in line with what the state and the city and counties are doing. But we ended up postponing our races 17 Different times across the year. So at that time, we had seven races scheduled for 2020. We hosted the first one in February. And then our March race that we were supposed to host got cancelled. And then from there on out, it wasn't till Memorial Day weekend, actually, where we hosted a race on private property. So what didn't require a permit. And that was our first race back in 2021. After June 15, the state, you know, allowed activities to start happening. And so that's when our first permitted events started happening. And that's also when this restrictions kind of loosened up a little bit. And so from there, our requirements became recommendations as far as testing or being vaccinated, and then just kind of a general masking and distancing policy at the race. And that worked it for the most part, once you're at the race, it didn't, it was very loose, we didn't like police it very heavily. And of all the races that we hosted, we'd never had any issues or never had any reports after the race of anybody getting sick or anything like that.
In Wisconsin, Suzie Shain is the race director for the Berbee Derby - Madison's original Thanksgiving day run...
We reside in the Dane County in Wisconsin and Dane County has been under a mask mandate, pretty much the entire 2021 and all of 2020. We have indoor dining now, which is great. But I would say we're the most restrictive county within the state of Wisconsin. So what that's done is, you know, put some limitations in terms of how we put together our race. Fortunately, we were able to have the race. Basic things like masking when coming into headquarters packet pickup day of race warming tent, all was in place for the entire race cycle.
Like the situation in California, Ohio was shut down for large races for most of the first half of the year. Which meant event companies having to continue to find whatever means they could to make it through the closures...
We really had 2021 split into two very different halves of the year. The first half was pretty much under the 2020 protocol, which was no live events with very few exceptions. We are based in the capital city of Ohio, which had a more developed or more restrictive regime, there were no in person events allowed over a certain size, which almost all road races had to operate under if they were to go on. So we were fully virtual shop, we did put on two or three events, you know, out in the country on private property, but it was mostly virtual the first half of the year. And then on June 2, the state of Ohio, removed all of their COVID regulations and restrictions, which caused all of the municipalities that we work with very quickly scrambled to determine what they wanted to do, which was essentially very little to no restrictions in terms of COVID. You know, we basically went back to work on the third weekend of June and did events almost every Saturday and Sunday from June until about a week and a half ago.
Andy Harris there, Director of Operations at Columbus Running Company. What came across from both Andy's and Suzy's experiences in Ohio and Wisconsin, respectively, was that, in many cases, the county in which you operated, as well as the state, mattered a lot for 2021 - sometimes the two of them giving out contradictory or mixed signals.
The state would do one thing, but then the county would do a different thing. So like Los Angeles County, five of our races are in Los Angeles County. And so they would do they're a different thing that superseded whatever the state was doing. And so because of that county was doing their thing, when we went to go get permits for it, say in Santa Clarita, they said, Well, we know the state's done this, but the city hasn't said anything yet where we can't do anything until the city says, yes, they're going to do this. And so that kind of put another hamper on us or delayed because one of our races that could have happened right after June 15. That was perfectly fine. If we had lined everything up and the city had lined everything up, could have been done. But they said no, because it's the county hasn't done anything yet. And so we weren't gonna move. And so that was frustrating, you know, so there's a lot of that where it's just you getting different input from different sources, rather than everybody being unified, unified with their messaging across the state.
Terry Majamaki on his frustrations trying to figure out the rules in Los Angeles County, California. In other parts of the US, things were a lot simpler - and friendlier for event organizers. Sarah Kozul of the Lakeland Runners Club...
We're in Florida, 98% of our participants are Floridians. So we had the fewest restrictions of anywhere about the places I was following. We were really fortunate. So we just kept our 2020 protocols in place. But no one was really monitoring us. And so the last change that we brought back that we had taken away in 2020, was on site award ceremonies.
And it wasn't much different in Texas. Briston Reins of the Texas Outlaw Running Company...
At the beginning of 2021, there were some restrictions that were within Texas, I mean, they were pretty laid back. But you know, we were wearing masks, we were, you know, trying to afford social distancing, things like that, but us 2021 continued into the summer, and Casey started to lower Texas, they laid back all the restrictions and then racing in 2021 during the summer and since the summer has pretty much been normal. At the beginning of 2021 we did only have a certain amount because we were putting on a race and the city said to only have so many people but after the winter, all the restrictions just rolled away.
And, of course, what type of race you put on, also mattered. Road races, which generally attract larger numbers of participants in urban areas, were affected a lot more than trail runs or other races outside populated areas. And that played into the mixed picture race directors faced in 2021.
I've been extremely lucky because we're, I'm in a very rural location. So I'm not I'm not restricted by the same time constraints that a lot of race directors in cities would be, and, you know, a space constraints either. So the guidelines loosened up a week before my April race. I still did social distancing waves. But the mask mandate indoors literally lifted the week before my race, but um, you know, I'm in a fairly conservative state, but a fairly progressive area. So it was mixed, but I wouldn't say it was. It was too harsh. I definitely, you know, had a lot of constraints and other people but I, I think because of how rural I was, I had lacks timelines for my races, so I could stretch things out over longer periods of time.
Robby McClung of the Canaan Valley Running Company sharing his experiences from rural West Virginia. Now, unlike 2020, where events were almost universally canceled, in 2021 - even early 2021 - races were starting to come back, albeit under a number of different mandates and restrictions. That meant a lot of operational changes on the ground for race directors, from testing participants to food packaging. Suzy Shain again of the Technology Education Foundation...
Because we were under a mass mandate for so long those things that you know, we're indoors for packet pickup for the warming tent, people expected it and I think they probably liked it because they're so used to it here. That added a comfort level for them. I think one of the more challenging things for me was trying to figure out food typically, you know, we have a big tent, people roll through their five large lines, they grab they go, which means you know, you could be touching someone else's sweet roll, as they're going down the line. Well, this year we couldn't do that. So everything we did was pre packaged. We had bananas, we had chocolate milk, and then we had pre packaged sweets that we're putting Ziploc bags so no one was touching someone else's post race snack, and that was probably the most challenging and obviously there was a cost component to that.
In the UK, encouraging participants to test themselves for COVID-19 before races, meant additional burdens on organisers, such as the need to communicate measures to everyone showing up for the race and spot checks on race day. David Martin-Jewell...
David Martin-Jewell 16:04
Whilst we were excluded from the COVID path, we then had to get the attendees to produce lateral flow results. And then there's ambiguity around that. So even though we suggested strongly that people use them, that language isn't you must, so it was just learning curves, I guess I'd say. We had some guides produced, lots of literature created, that were designed to inform the participants to take a lateral flow test. So I went on all our socials in all the columns pre race. And we had to strongly suggest lateral flow testing, and then we would select random people throughout the morning and just check that they've done their lateral flow test. Thankfully, everybody we checked, had done one.
For multisport events, where there are so many different types of interactions between participants and so many different types of racing to worry about, COVID protocols brought on a lot of head scratching.
Jon Conkling 17:06
We had to worry about so many different pieces of the event from like you said, from swimming, how do we mask athletes going down to the water? How do we space them out? We used to do a mass swim start where we'd have 100 go at a time. Can't do that anymore. We can't have that giant swim corral. So we went to a time trial starts we had a revamp that we had trash receptacles where they were masked up right up to the swim star and then they tossed their mass we had to look at aid stations. We couldn't really have volunteers doing a lot of the athlete transfer of cups and nutrition and different things. So it changed how we operate with our volunteers. It changed how we got athletes their aid station supply stuff, it changed how many racks we could do for our bikes and how many people on those racks how spaced out they were. It changed how we interact at the finish line with the runners coming in you know, we can't put needles around their neck down so it literally touched every single aspect of our multi sport event there really wasn't I can't think of any part of our event that wasn't affected in some way by these COVID guidelines.
Jon Conkling of Tris4Health on the operational challenges he faced as a multisport race director. And what about the participants in all this? How are they feeling coming out to race again in 2021? Jon Conkling again...
Jon Conkling 18:36
The one thing that we took away from this whole event season was people here want to race. There's evidence that being outside when it's warm and just being in the fresh air, you're not getting those transmission problems with COVID up to this point anyway, it's just not happening. So a lot of people felt comfortable. We did have masking, not everybody participated. If you were vaccinated at that point, our recommendation was that based on working with our medical provider that if you're vaccinated you at that time did not have the mask up. So it was a good mix of people. But everybody felt safe. And we had great events, it was just great to get back. And people were very excited, I think, to get registration open for next year.
Dave Kelly 19:21
It was all smiles. I mean, every race director knows the smile when people cross the finish line, and they get their metal bus. These were extra smart this year, because it was really, really obvious that people wanted to get out. They wanted to be normal. They wanted to run, they wanted to earn their metal, they wanted to raise money for charities, and all the things but this year more than ever, and we've been doing this for coming up for 10 years now, this was the strongest community event that we've ever put on definitely.
Oh, I think people were just begging to go back to racing and riding him. They love that energy and the vibe and the atmosphere and just being a part of something like that, again, it's so everybody was hungry for it. And that was the feeling we got, yeah, a few races, people were very cautious. You know, they were very, very protective, lots of masks or just, you know, just being very, very distance and stuff. And that's fine. And we respected that, and others just didn't care at all. And others were just kind of, you know, being in the middle. But overall, the energy was very positive for those that did actually come and participate in the race.
Just being able to have the race in person was a silver lining for us. You know, we have a large percentage of people that come back every single year, and to see those same people return, I think was great for them and their families, because a very family focused event. And then it was great for us to see that some people were comfortable enough to return again. And then the other thing I would say that I thought was kind of an interesting surprise is we actually had a 3% increase in new brand new year one participants, which I wasn't expecting. And so there was something about this year, and this race that made them feel like they could show up at the starting line.
So if there's one universal truth to come out of 2021, regardless of how gloomy it may have been for some, is this: people want to race. Participants are adapting, they're eager to get back to crossing finish lines, and race directors couldn't be happier for it. Now as this was all happening in 2021, with all the ups and downs race directors had to go through, a different kind of storm was gathering on the logistics front. Robby McClung of the Canaan Valley Running Company in Davis, West Virginia...
Yes, there are supply chain issues, I don't really think they're going to go away. I think it's kind of here to stay like you're in your Europe. I'm in the United States, like there's more people in the world in there that want stuff. And it's going to be harder to get.
Well, it has been harder to get stuff to races around the world - things like medals and shirts and all kinds of other stuff races need. And things don't look like easing up any time soon. So what's been causing all this, and how did we get here? Here's Matt Mercurio of metals manufacturer Stride Awards to explain...
Matt Mercurio 22:12
This all started with COVID, obviously. Since the pandemic has really taken its toll on, you know, the international and global economies, it's been very difficult at first to get product. Now getting product isn't the issue, it's actually moving the product. Right. So there's, you know, bottlenecks, both internationally and domestically at ports, there's limited airspace for the amount of cargo that's trying to get moved on a daily basis. So, the carriers, the big time players that move product, on a daily basis are really bogged down. There's labor shortages across the board, so it's hard for them to kind of get caught back up. And I think that's the main reason why we're seeing this extended, you know, this far down the road from when, you know, this all originated almost two years ago now, is that, they're just still fighting and trying to find a way to get caught back up. And it's really just been, you know, a battle for them. And for everybody else that's trying to you know, import products. It's really just coming down to now trying to find solutions, as to you know, how to be most efficient and kind of, you know, get a leg up in getting product here, you know, in a timely fashion.
And, of course, where there's supply chain issues, price hikes will quickly follow. With freight supply scarce, ocean freight rates, as well as air freight rates, in many cases, have been climbing steeply over the past few months. Kim Bilancio, owner of apparel manufacturer Greenlayer...
You know, just as an example of a container pre pandemic might have cost ballpark about $3,000, let's say, to ship something in that same container is running closer to $24,000 right now. So it's not just that it's a doubling of the cost. If you're looking at air freight, you know, if it was sitting around $8 a kilo, it depends on the carrier it fluctuates a little bit, but you're sitting at 13 $14 a kilo for air freight. So if you were looking at a shirt for an example, like a simple t shirt, in this particular case, I'll use as an example, maybe it's $1 or $1.22, air freight, something in it would be getting close to doubling it at least. And then the, I would say on the ocean freight side of things, it really depends on what you're doing. So if you can stack a container with your product, you know, you might be looking at an extra 50 cents. It's ranging one depending on how you're shipping. Probably it could be anywhere between 50 cents and $1 depending on what you're doing, and the type of vessel that you're booking. It's fairly substantial.
So, although it's the more expensive shipping option, air frieght has been fairing a bit better through the pandemic and is much more likely to get your stuff to your on time. Matt from Stride Awards again...
Matt Mercurio 24:58
So it used to be, you know, the express services used to be like two to three days. And now it's five to six days. But you're getting your product, you know, within five or six days, it's not like ocean where the thing about ocean freight is these ships are coming in, but they don't have dock space. So then if they don't have dock space at the port, they are hovering outside, you know, just anchored until they get dock space, then they get dock space, and then it's, you know, you're waiting on the terminal to unload the containers, and then they go into closed areas, because there's so many other containers they have to get through. And then, you know, some are faster than others. So there really isn't like, a trend that you can kind of say, Okay, I think we're getting over it now, like some might come in, get off the bow and unloaded quick. And then your next one might come in and it could be you know, like a three week ordeal.
Of course, the additional costs of our freight don't work for everyone - and shipping large quantities by air is not practical in many cases. Where that option is not available or doesn't make sense, ordering early - and managing participant expectations - may help alleviate some of the issues caused by unreliable supply chains. Andy Harris of the Columbus Running Company...
We've had a few things in the past year where we got to the ordering point and it was the color we thought we were going to order is now going to have to pivot to a different color of a T shirt, sweatshirt, whatever that is, we're aware from all of our vendors that we utilize from a printing standpoint that this is going to become more of a problem. And so what we're doing internally is we're taking our typical timelines, we're moving them up. So instead of having artwork finalized, 30 days out, and then ordering shirts for a lot of these smaller events, 15 days out from the event, we're going to double, triple quadruple those timeframes to come out and give us more flexibility. And also being a little more vague on the what we promise and not in terms of like if we say you're going to get a t shirt, you're still going to get a t shirt, but where it may have been in 2019, here's the t shirt you're going to get here's the color, here's the mock up of the print. We may not do that, because we don't want I abhor the idea of having to tell someone something and then go back on that word, even if it's just a color, maybe that was someone's favorite color of a T shirt. And they were really looking forward to it. And then you said well, it's no longer going to be blue, it's going to be gray. I've got a whole drawer full of gray T shirts. So really, it's just going to be taking those timelines and bumping things out quite a bit further.
And how early exactly is ordering early? Well, if you have space to store stuff, like Terry Majamaki from New Global Adventures, there's no such thing as too early!
For 2022, we took roll the dice and said, You know what, let's just get the entire year out in one shot. It's a gamble, though. It's a gamble because what is the hardest part is the productions. Right? So you gotta you have to project some numbers. So that's it. That's a big challenge. So we have to look at what was our normal average and then what's kind of the what do we expect based off of what's happening this last year? And going into this next year. So we've decided to go a little on the low end of some of it because we can DHL some stuff last minute. And the DHL in a couple of boxes isn't so bad. DHL a, you know, 10 boxes is or 20 boxes is terrible 1000s of dollars, but if it's just a few boxes here and there, that's manageable. So we decided to just go a little conservative based off of you know, what's happening and what we've been noticed in 2021 kind of go in between that and what we were pre pandemic, and that's what we're shooting for. And then if we need to adjust, you know, a month or two out before the race day, we'll do that call at that time and say, Okay, we need to get up to 100 more of these or 100 more of these, And then we'll go from there, and just get a DHL.
This approach of combining an early bulk order through ocean freight with a smaller top-up order using air freight closer to race day is something that vendors like, Stride Awards, seem to recommend as well...
Matt Mercurio 28:57
Some things that we can do for larger events is, you know, they can order the bulk of their order far out in advance because they know they're going to need that many numbers at at least units of product. So we can send those ocean and then they can tack on later on and send you know another second order air to kind of catch up that initial base order if they need more. So that's definitely an option and just trying to do things like that. And it's really been helping people get that number down to where they're not have ordering way too many or they're not ordering enough and not getting stuff in time. So it's really men just trying to find that happy medium.
Another thing to maybe think about, given the disruptions we're experiencing on the supply chain front, is making smarter choices on swag and going for options that are much more likely to be kept in stock by vendors. Kim Bilancio of Greenlayer apparel explains...
I think choosing in stock product where you can go with a manufacturer, too, who might be able to reserve the unit for you allow you to change them closer to the race, I think there's value there, if they're looking to avoid some risk. I would say if they're choosing a color choose, and they want to be choosing something from inventory, choose a primary color, something that maybe multiple vendors have. Or even if they had to mix a brand for whatever reason, then it makes it easy. So for an example, most suppliers have a navy blue, versus doing something that's maybe a little bit more out there, I think that would give them more flexibility. Because I think even on the blank side of things, one of the things that's been happening is even if let's say somebody buys Bella Canvas, you know, sometimes these units are coming in, and then larger entities are coming in and just literally buying all the stock. So then nothing is suddenly it comes in, but then it's gone. And so I think they have a hard time sometimes grabbing inventory because something could be there one day and then the next week it's gone. So if they can work with somebody who can actually reserve the units for them, then I think there's value there.
Whatever you choose to do when ordering supplies from overseas, there's one thing for certain: prices are going up. Now, that is a particularly tough challenge for race directors, given the battering finances have phased in 2021, and many race directors are left with a very tough choice going into 2022: to hike registration fees or not to hike? That is a question.
We don't like increasing fees because people do not want to pay, you know, they don't want to be punished any more than they have been. So I think very, very moderate fee increases are okay. But very small. And I'm talking like a pound or two in the UK or maybe $1 or two in the US market for races. So we will do a combination of absorbing some of that cost, and not passing it on. But like over time, all races will go up a little bit over time. So we'll stick with our policy. But we'll we won't directly pass them on to runners, we will absorb some of that cost as we have to, it's not fair to just have to pass it on.
That was Dave Keller there of RunSeries in the UK. Texas Outlaw Running Company's Briston Rains has also had to pass some of the cost increases along to participants.
So as the cost inflation goes, I have slightly increased my race prices just a little bit, I think, nothing crazy. But just everything's costing a lot more. And in order to keep the business up and running, you have to have a certain profit and so we did slightly increase it but it wasn't anything users, you know, 510 $15 per race century.
But, whatever the budget pressures in the near term, nonprofit organizers, like Sarah Kozul's Lakeland Runners Club in Florida, are still resisting increases in registration fees.
Almost every single line item on our budget is going up. And we are not raising our prices, because we want to be price sensitive. What the true economy is for the each individual is very confusing to me right now. It doesn't seem like individuals are particularly some individuals, the ones with discretionary income are being price sensitive. But we want to because it's our mission to bring running to the community, we want to make it be as affordable as possible. So as many people as possible can participate. So we're not in this to try and raise as much money as possible, we just want to cover our cost.
However race directors may decide to deal with the worsening supply chain situation and the cost increases that have resulted from it, the prospect of 2022 and another year of fast reactions and tough decisions. is keeping race directors on their toes - race directors like Robby McClung in West Virginia who, after the roller coaster of 2021 and the mid-year Delta Variant resurgence, remains cautious.
I did let my guard down for my August race. Like I was so prepared for my April race with COVID and strict, you know, and waves. And then by June in the United States, most everybody was vaccinated and it was like everything opened up. So I let my guard down for my August race and then we had another surge and the Delta variant and that was the beginning of August and that took me off guard, you know, luckily I'd been through it but I was not prepared for plan B plan C I ultimately did achieve those plans. And I let a lot of people defer it the last moment. I guess my concern for 2022 would be to not let my guard down be prepared that omachron is going to surge it's going to be bad and plan for more for the worst case scenario up until race week.
Crucially, however, whatever the hardships of the past couple of years, whatever the significant uncertainties about the future, a rare commodity is making a comeback in the race director community for 2022: optimism! VP of Sales at event technology platform GiveSignup|RunSignup, Bryan Jenkins...
Many race directors and event directors are cautiously optimistic about the spring in that we are hopeful as a community that the boosters and COVID treatments will kind of knock this community spread down in January, which is typically a slower time of the year and give us all the opportunity to get back to events in a somewhat normal fashion in the spring.The fall in particular Turkey trots showed great signs of life in that the community at large is very interested in getting involved with their favorite running, cycling and triathlon events again, and supporting many of the nonprofit's that they love to actively support.
And that optimism seems to be rooted in a near-universal expectation on the part of race directors that wide-sweeping lockdowns are a thing of the past now. Andy Harris...
I don't see government officials sticking their neck out to make those wide sweeping changes of you can't do this whole subset of activities, and we're shutting down restaurants, we're setting down events, I don't see them doing that. I think, for better or worse, it's going to be we're going to do what we feel we can without having people breaking down our doors. And we're going to let the chips fall where they may.
This, of course, does not mean that 2022 is going to be a breeze - far from it. Even if things were to magically return to normal - which most people will tell you they don't expect will happen - the hangover of two years of hardship, stress and disappointment still lingers. To say nothing of a considerable burden of deferred entries that have been carried forward and are coming due in 2022.
Dave Kelly 36:47
If you think about it over the last few years, we've had very little income, because we've had to cancel all our events, then suddenly, we need to put on a delayed event that maybe half the runners are already signed up for and paid for. And in our case sponsor sponsorships have already been paid. And we've used that money a long time ago to just survive. So we're having to put on events in 2022 were like, really, really restricted budgets. And I don't know what it's like for other race organizers, particularly in the US, but I suspect they're the same as us here in the in the UK, that this is the challenge that we all have, we're all having to go into 2022 Putting on sort of delayed and carried over events with different runners and so forth on different sponsors, which makes it really challenging when you when it's tight. So again, that's something that's just going to take a couple more years to sort of like are in itself.
Dave Kelly there in the UK describing a situation felt by many in the community, including Terry Majamaki in California...
It's something that is with our next race, our Valencia troll race. So that one's been postponed two years. So it's two years since we last posted it coming up in March. And so that one is the biggest hurt for us, because it's one of our biggest races. And basically, everybody that registered for it back in for 2020 originally is still carried over, except for those that did switch to virtuals. And were mailed the items. So you know, we're honoring that it's obviously we can't wait to get past that and allow for fresh registrations for the following year. Because that obviously helps our business and helps us sustain ourselves.
So what will 2022 look like? And what can race directors expect as we enter into the third year of this global pandemic?
David Martin-Jewell 38:34
I think 22 isn't going to be the year we all go, yes, we're back. I think it's going to be 23. I think 22 is still going to have a bit of a hangover, because the start of the year, I think will be a little bit challenge. And then as it develops, I believe we will, we will see things reopening. But I just think the timing of where we are now panels having this conversation in the winter with flu, colds. COVID I just think it's difficult to see beyond this period right now. But I do think that I am optimistic that 22 will become better for 23.
David Martin-Jewell of FrontRunner Events on things getting better slowly - a sentiment Terry Majamaki seems to agree with.
I think in time it will get better, but I think it's definitely gonna be a slow build back up to before we see pre pandemic levels, maybe in 2023, maybe 2024. We're hopeful that we believe in our business, we believe in our customers and our runners in our audience. Our community is fantastic. And so we we definitely know that they want to be a part of it and we see it when people come to races they love it. They just love that energy and being part of it and having a great time. And the community energy is fantastic. It's something that we believe in, I think it'll go up in time. It's just the confidence factor that needs to continue to grow
And registrations? What are early registration numbers telling us about where 2022 is heading? I asked Johanna Goode from GiveSignup|RunSignup for her take, looking at early registration data for the following year...
It's still a little bit early for us to be able to really gauge how registrations are going for actual 2022 events, especially cuz there's a little bit of a winter low at the start of the year and not a lot of events to begin with. But I do think that Turkey trots really gave us the best prediction of the future that we've sort of seen yet. There was still a little bit of hesitancy. We saw the average size of an individual turkey trot fall, about 6%. There's really a lot of excitement to get back to racing. It was really clear 28% of all Turkey trots exceeded 1000 participants. I think that shows that people are ready to get back out and running. In 2021. We saw in person events, you know, retake their position as the preferred event, with about 80% of registrations coming for in person events. We do expect to see that percentage continuing to climb into 2022. However, I'm not sure that we expect to see it get all the way back to where it was in 2019 when a full 99% of participants were in person
One thing's for sure: 2022 is going to be another year to remember. It will very likely going to be an improvement on 2021, but perhaps not quite a return to 2019 levels - not just yet. So let's keep putting on amazing races for people, be upbeat - the worst is probably behind us - and remember one more thing: with great turmoil often comes great opportunity. And what we've been living through is no exception. As a last snippet from my race director chats, I wanted to have a bit from my discussion with Jon Conkling from Michigan's Tris4Health. As you listen to this, keep in mind that Jon and his partner, John Mosey, bought their race management business in 2019. Has it been rough? Sure it has. Are they giving up? Hell, no, they aren't!
Jon Conkling 41:49
COVID is going to be part of our lives. I think no matter what, for the foreseeable future, we could very easily circle the wagons like a lot of other companies and just try to keep doing what we're doing. And that's good enough. But that's not what we're about. That's not our outlook. That's not our plan. So while we have to do things a little bit differently, we're actually seeing 2022 as being our biggest year ever. We really feel like sky's the limit now that that we've gotten just about through 2021. And like I said, we're picking up races like crazy. Now, I mean, the opportunities out there for race directors that are looking to expand and grow smartly. They're there. You just need to kind of, I think, take that leap and keep applying these processes that you have in place that are working apply these to these other events, whether they're single sport or multi sport and just just keep going.
And that is exactly how we want you going into 2022. Chin up, putting on the awesome events we all love. Now, before I go and wish you all the most amazing festive season you can possibly have, one last thing. Our very good friends at GiveSignup|RunSignup have been supporting this podcast since its launch a few months back - the podcast you're listening to now - and they've been very kind in sharing data with us and with you on what's happening in the market - we're likely going to be having an episode in the new year going over their annual RaceTrends reports - and one thing I wanted, since I think GiveSignup|RunSignup have rightfully earned a very special place in our community, I wanted to hear a couple of things about what they have in store and how they'll be spending their time in 2022, helping you the race directors. So, here's the long and short of it from GiveSignup|RunSignup Founder, Bob Bickel...
We're focused on kind of the two ends of a race in terms of what we're building this year. The first side is really on the marketing side. And it's how a race presents themselves to their customers. And so what we're in the process of doing is doubling down on what our website capabilities are. And our email capabilities are that we give to our customers, so they can present themselves to their supporters in the best light. On the other end, we're really focusing quite heavily on the race day experience. We've made a huge investment over the past couple of years in real estate scoring, so that timers can score productively with modern technology. And then our other technology investments like the check it app, race day photos, race, joy, bibs corrals, that all is going to continue to get focus and improvements over 2022 We think that by focusing on these two areas, we can help customers the most.
Ok, thank you, Bob!
And to every single one of you, guys, I want to wish you a very merry christmas, a happy holiday season, whatever you do have fun, relax, be with your family - you know, putting on races is amazing, we all love it, it makes people happy, it changes their lives, but there are more important things in life, so take care of yourself first (because you matter to a lot of people), take care of the people around you, have a drink, share jokes, and have an awesome awesome time.
And on that note, I am going to leave you now with festive wishes from all your fellow race director colleagues who took part in this episode.
Happy holidays, guys, take care, stay healthy and I’ll see you all in the new year!
I'm Suzy Shain. I'm with the Technology Education Foundation. And I hope all of you have a wonderful and happy and merry Christmas. And may your races be as good as they can be in 2022!
Hey, everybody! Robby McClung here from the Canaan Valley Running Company in Davis, West Virginia. I would like to wish the best to all my fellow race directors worldwide. Let's keep pushing ourselves. I think we have an amazing industry. We just come through a struggle in time, but that can drive innovation and keep inspiring me to do better, because so many of you are just doing such a great job out there - there's too many to name that inspire me to do better. So, keep doing what you're doing. I wish everyone amazing success in 2022.
My name is Andy Harris. I'm with the Columbus Running Company, I lead our event management team. My Christmas wishes for event directors are a smooth and seamless planning process for a race day that happens exactly as you have dreamed it, 1000 times, over the week leading into your events. My Christmas wishes for all participants are PRs at every turn and health and happiness for everyone.
Hello, it's Johanna Goode from GiveSignup|RunSignup. On behalf of all of us, I'd love to wish all of the race directors, timers, and runners out there a happy holiday and a very, very merry 2022.
David Martin-Jewell 47:04
This is David Martin-Jewell of FrontRunner Events. And I like to wish you all a very safe Merry Christmas.
Hey, everyone! This is Briston Rains of Texas Outlaw Running Company. I just wish you all a good, healthy, and fun running season, and I pray that the COVID cases just kind of stay where they are, lower, decrease and, hopefully, fall, so that we can get out of this and get back to some type of normalcy.
Hi, it's Sarah with Lakeland Running Club in Lakeland, Florida. And my Christmas wish for all my fellow race directors and runners everywhere is that you have much health, much happiness, and much success in 2022.
My name is Terry Majamaki and I'm one of the cofounders of New Global Adventures, California - which create a lot of amazing races. And we wish everybody to have a wonderful holiday season and a very safe and healthy holiday season in the great year of 2022. Thank you.
Jon Conkling 48:00
This is Jon Conkling. I am one of the co-owners and co-race directors for Tris4Health - an endurance sports company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I'd like to wish all my fellow race directors a very happy 2021 holiday and, also, good wishes for the coming year. I know we will all have challenges ahead of us, whether they be more COVID restrictions, hurdles, or whatever else we've got to deal with, but I think if we all keep trying to put the athletes and participants first by providing safe and successful events, I feel like our industry is going to continue on and continue to grow in a very positive manner. But it's going to take all of us to do that. So I'd like to thank everybody locally - our network of race directors as well. It's been great to lean on each other and I hope that other race directors also have a supportive network like that as well.
This is Bob Bickel from GiveSignup|RunSignup. We'd like to wish everyone a happy holiday, and a happy and healthy new year.
My name is Dave Kelly. Our company's called RunSeries. I'm wishing all my fellow race directors from all around the world a big, big Happy Christmas. Listen, let's be positive! It can only get better. To all my colleagues around the world, I wish you a Merry Christmas from the southeast of the UK. From myself Dave Kelly and my team, have a great one, guys! Let's be optimistic about running and events that we're moving forward.