Race Trends 2021
When you want to know what’s happening and trending in the endurance events industry by the numbers, where do you turn to? Well, for me and many people I know, the definitive source of event data for the industry is, and has been for some time, GiveSignup|RunSignup’s annual RaceTrends report.
The report leverages GiveSignup|RunSignup’s extensive registration data from almost 60,000 events to point to trends in event participation, event pricing, participant demographics, marketing effectiveness, technology adoption and a myriad other things.
The most recent edition of the report was out just last week, and the data does seem to point to a strong, but partial, recovery from 2020, with some numbers starting to converge to 2019 pre-pandemic levels.
With me today to discuss all the numbers, the trends and their implications for individual events and the industry as a whole I’m delighted to have GiveSignup|RunSignup’s own, Johanna Goode. Johanna is the driving force behind many great things coming out of GiveSignup|RunSignup, including the ever-improving annual RaceTrends report, so she is just the person to walk us through the insights and recommendations coming out of the 2021 numbers.
In this episode:
- A return to normal? What 2021 registration rates are suggesting for market recovery and 2022
- Event attrition/churn through the pandemic
- The impact of event cancellations/postponements on participant loyalty, and ways to mitigate it
- Repeat participation numbers and trends
- Participation by event type
- The rise and fall of virtual races through 2020-2021
- Participant demographics by gender, age, event type
- Solving the lagging Millenial/GenZ participation puzzle
- Registration pattern shifts (are participants registering later than usual?)
- Event pricing trends, and the effect of price increases on registration rates
- Mobile adoption trends
- Facebook, social media and participant acquisition breakdown
To download your free copy of the RaceTrends 2021 report go to:runsignup.com/trends
Thanks to GiveSignup|RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 22,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use GiveSignup|RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about GiveSignup|RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.
Johanna, welcome back to the podcast!
Thanks, Panos. It's great to talk to you again!
The last time we spoke, I think we were discussing the Winter Symposium which, unfortunately, very sadly, you guys decided to cancel. That would have been a great opportunity to catch up with you guys and the rest of the race director community. But it was a wise decision, though. How did you arrive at that?
Yeah. I think we were just watching, like, what race directors had been doing and, kind of, the conditions around the country. We knew we were putting on an indoor event with people flying from all over the place including our own team having to fly there from all over the country. I decided that the timing was about as bad as it could be. I think if it had been a little bit earlier or a little bit later, we might have just missed the biggest wave, but we didn't want to create more problems for hospitals and such. So, I made the decision to call it off this time.
I think it was a responsible thing to do. That must have been pretty stressful, though, over Christmas and stuff - I saw the announcement came out on the 29th - and it couldn't have been easy making that decision. So, it must have been a pretty stressful holiday season for you.
Well, we were, kind of, trying to move forward as though we were going to do it just to make sure we were ready to go. But yeah, at that point, we knew that it was probably best to let people know and let them have some time to cancel flights and stuff.
Well, it's a biannual thing. So hopefully, we'll see you guys in your Summer Symposium proper. I don't expect that gonna be facing any issues, hopefully - fingers crossed - right?
We hope so. We're walking a little bit slower because we don't want to have to cancel another one. So we're, kind of, taking our time in making a final decision, but we are hoping to see everyone soon.
And that's June or July?
In Philadelphia, right?
Okay. Awesome. After canceling the Winter Symposium, you also have the burden of compiling the RaceTrends reports that we'll be talking about today, right?
Yeah. So this is an annual report that we put together. I think we started pulling data from our system seven years ago to, kind of, create a picture of how we think the industry is doing.
Yes. I have to say that I've been following the report, probably - not for the whole seven years - for the past three or four years and it has been getting better and better. It is a very, very valuable report. It just has data that you simply cannot find anywhere else. Like, whenever someone, either in the group or offline, asks me, 'Where can we find stuff on, like, demographics, participants, and prices of events?', it is the only reliable data store that I can direct that person to.
Yeah. I think that was really the impetus behind starting it. There wasn't a single aggregator for data within the industry because there were so many different registration platforms and a lot of different places that hold data. Because of that, it was often really hard to make a real determination of what was going on. We're not going to be a perfect determination because we don't represent every event out there. We've grown a lot. I think we have our market share estimated at around 30% to 40% of US events, which is a pretty good number to draw some conclusions from. There are certain places where we can say, "This number might be slightly impacted by a tool that we have that other platforms don't have. But in general, we have enough volume to really draw some good conclusions."
Right. Okay. I think that's a very important point to make. Basically, the data we'll be looking at here is RunSignup's data, but on account of the fact that RunSignup now has, like, 40% of the market or something, which is as good as being market data with the exception of some subtle points here and there where, because it is RunSignup's data, it may have some slight biases here and there - right? But overall, I think it's as close as we can get to, like, a market-wide data report. So, the 2021 report, which we're also gonna link to in the show notes, is widely available and free to download at RunSignup.com/trends. You can find that the report has pages and pages of great numbers and statistics on the industry. So looking at 2021, how was the overall picture for registrations? Was 2021 more like 2020 or 2019? Also, what does the data tell us about, potentially, how 2022 may look like?
Yeah, I think we saw 2021 as, kind of, being split in the middle between a normal year in 2019 and what it was in 2020. There was about 21.6% growth in events from 2020 to 2021. And the way we calculate that is by looking only at events that were on our platform on both of those years - because we want to be able to compare, "Did actual races grow?" and not, "Did our platform grow?" So we definitely did see a lot of recoveries compared to 2020. At the same time, normally, we would just look from one year to the next for that type of information. This year, we actually rolled back and did a slightly different report - I won't go into the nitty-gritty of why the numbers are slightly different - by looking at 2019 events and events that were on our platform in 2019 and 2021. And from those, we actually did see about a 23% decline from 2019 to 2021. So races definitely still saw an impact from the pandemic. In the 2019 to 2021 report, we were able to look at it month-by-month, so you can see the gradual improvement through the year. If you look back in January of 2021, it was a 42% decline, so there was a huge impact on participation. October, which was the best month, saw an 11.9% decline. So, you will be seeing much better growth by then. November got hit a little bit harder. Things were really definitely getting better throughout the year. And if you want to look at 2022, we expect to see some continued improvement like that.
Okay, so do you-- I mean, it's a difficult question and it's quite early in 2022, but is 2022 looking like it's gonna be even closer to a normal year?
Yeah. I don't have all of the numbers on the early part of the year, specifically, but based on what we have looked at, there's definitely a little bit of an impact from Omicron, so January numbers don't look super great, but they do look better than January of 2021. We think the spring numbers will be much closer, especially because a lot of spring events in 2021 were moved to the fall. We don't expect to see that same wave of events shifting around dates quite as much.
Okay, that's great. Okay, so 2021 is, sort of, like, halfway through 2019 and 2020 - between, like, a normal year and a disaster year. So, that's good. Things are pointing up. As you said, this report - as we are still in the pandemic - is a little bit special. It has data that you may not have found in previous reports. In that report, I found some statistics around events that occurred in 2019, but have not been taking place since 2020 or 2021. So, what percentage is that and what is it telling us in terms of the effect that the pandemic had in the last couple of years in the industry?
Yeah. So that report is our churn report. We actually only looked at the last six months of the year. Again, I won't go into why we picked those months. Again, we would normally look at events in 2020 and how many of them didn't happen again in 2021. This year, we thought it was important to go back a little bit. So a total of 18% percent of events in 2020 or 2019 did not recur in 2021. A caveat to that is it only represents races with 500 participants or larger. It's a manual report, so that does not include all event types. From that, we could also say 10.7% of events in 2019 didn't happen in 2020 or 2021. The other 7.3% that didn't happen in 2021 had taken place in 2020. That leaves a lot of open questions about whether those events are permanently canceled or whether they had two years off and are planning to come back. But we do expect that, at least, some percentage of those races that haven't happened for the last two years will just decide that the race is over.
Actually, that's a good point. Do you feel that the 20% that, sort of, took a two-year sabbatical-- is there still some hope that some of those events might be coming back?
I do think so. There are definitely events that did not feel like they were a good fit for virtual, so they chose to just, kind of, take the year off rather than going that route. They weren't ready to do an in-person event yet. But when they want to come back and have an event again, it's going to be a little bit challenging to reach participants after two years away. But I do think there are events that will give it a shot and may get people really excited to come back again.
And in terms of, sort of, the other side of things - green shoots - do we have any sense of what percentage of that may have been filled by new events coming onto the market, new events taking the place of older events?
I definitely think there's some of that, but it's a little bit harder to quantify. We can say that we are getting new events. It's hard to gauge, at this point, how many of those are new events in the market and how many of them are events that are coming to us. There's definitely a percentage of events-- we'll talk a little bit later about virtual and how that works, but there's a percentage of unique event types and events that do not look like traditional events that have stepped in as well, and some of those may take the place of some older traditional events. I also think that there definitely have been people in the market who have worked really hard and good race management companies who've taken some of the opportunities to step in where there are gaps, and that may continue as well, I think, especially this year, as events were more widely open. If it's clear that events aren't coming back, I do expect to see ambitious race directors step in and start growing the business.
Besides the outright cancellations, there was a comment in the report about postponements - particularly, the erratic postponement, moving events, canceling events, then deciding, "Oh, there's a window of opportunity. Let me put on my event on a different month." - has been having some impact on participant loyalty. What's happening there?
Yeah. Well, I can say that 10.6% of the events in 2019 that did happen again in 2021 moved to a new month. So, there was a lot of shifting around. That's definitely gonna change traditions - I think we talk about running as traditions a lot and part of that is born out from how much people come back to an event year after year after year. One of the things that we look at is what we call 'repeat participation' - so, how many people who participated in the 10K race in 2019 came back in the 10K race in 2020 - and that's definitely been impacted by the pandemic, I think. In pre-pandemic years, we saw that around 17% to 18% of participants steadily came back year after year - that means they came back to the exact same event. So how many came back to the race and maybe switched between the 5K and 10K is probably a little bit higher than that. That was a pretty steady number. In 2020, there were only 10% who had returned from 2019. In 2021, we just saw about 12%, who returned from 2020. Maybe, people are coming back but they switched to virtual in 2020 and came back to in-person in 2021. Some of that will definitely be whoever your 2019 runners who were interested in your virtual option in 2020. So you filled that in with some new runners who weren't your previous runners, but the sense of loyalty and it being, kind of, the same cohort of runners has definitely been impacted.
And I guess, like, with other numbers that we'll be talking about, the expectation is that as we go through-- basically, as we start converging to more normality in terms of what 2019 may have looked like, those 'repeat participation' numbers are expected to recover as well?
We think so. Yeah, I certainly hope so. But I think we saw a little bit of a movement back towards that this year. I think we will likely see more improvement on that in 2022 - and that, kind of, goes across a lot of the numbers - there's a lot of places where we saw shifting in the direction of 2019. We weren't quite there yet, but it's looking more and more like pre-pandemic numbers a little bit faster, I think, than I would have guessed.
Okay, great. So in terms of the statistics on individual event types - I was going through the date on the report - it seems that most types of events have the same percentage of participation across the spectrum. So, they're not gaining or losing too much. By the way, I should explain, for people who look at the report, that Ultras is a particular bucket you have there for Ultra distances that includes all kinds of stuff and can be a little bit murky in terms of the conclusions you'd draw. But one bucket that should be pretty straightforward and saw a pretty massive growth between 2020 and 2021 is triathlons. So basically, you measured that triathlons have grown in participation - something like 170% - between 2020 and 2021. Do we know if there's a particular reason behind that?
I think there are a couple of things. One, there are fewer triathlons than other event types. Therefore, there's more volatility. If we have large events that were canceled in 2020 that came back in 2021, that's gonna make a much larger impact on the data. If you go back and look at the report from a year ago, triathlons had the largest decline during the pandemic. I think it's hard to know that as well because it's a smaller sample size industry-wide. It's also an event type that we saw a little bit more hesitant and slower to come back because there are touchpoints in triathlons. It could just be a harder type of event to get approval for and to get moving again. So, I do think that it will be a little bit of a slower return for them, which then made a better 2021 for them.
And I guess, now that you mentioned that, another factor may be that - in 2020, when there was basically a big pickup on virtual races - triathlons are probably the least likely event to be able to put on a virtual when other events were switching to virtual. Doing a virtual triathlon may not have been as straightforward of an option for most people.
Yeah. There were a handful, but yeah, we saw far fewer virtual triathlons than a regular triathlon.
Well, speaking of virtual versus in-person races, I mean, the whole virtual explosion of events almost feels like centuries ago now - there was a time during the pandemic when almost every race switched to a virtual race - is this trend, sort of, like, declining? What does the data tell us, generally, regarding the future of the virtual race format as we, sort of, start to approach normality again?
Yeah, I mean, I think it is clear that people are super excited to come back to in-person events. Throughout the year, we saw - like, until the very end of the year, we got some Omicron impacts - a steady increase in the percentage of participants who are choosing to go to in-person events. That being said, I don't think we'll see a complete reversion back to 2019. Based on pre-pandemic numbers, about 1% of our registrations were for virtual events. This year, I think our overall numbers were 15.9% for regular virtual events and another 4.5% for virtual challenges. So, more than 20% of participants were opting for virtual. That did decrease by the end of the year, I think. In our most in-person month, we saw about 92% of people for in-person events. And I think that's probably more representative of what we'll see. There will be more than 1% that wants to continue to do virtual and is looking for that kind of option, but in-person will be your dominant choice.
Beyond the data, which is very interesting, you guys also spoke to race directors and got all kinds of feedback and, sort of, like, the sentiment of what's happening on the ground. I know, from our group, that there's a particular cohort of race directors - as a participant, I can't fault them too much - who are a little bit sick of virtual races and they can't wait to go back to, like, traditional straight out in-person formats. Having had virtual races behind them, seeing the benefits, seeing like the incremental revenue and all that, are they convinced that the virtual option is something they need to have in the mix, going forward?
I think a lot of them are. I think it's going to look different for different events. We saw that the people who chose to do virtual events are often different from the ones who chose to do in-person events. And you don't want to alienate a new group of runners, particularly ones who just started joining your events in the last couple of years. That being said, there's always going to be a mathematical calculation of how much worth you can get out of your time from doing an extra event versus the extra participants who will come as virtual participant. It is important if you're going to do a virtual event. I think people are no longer interested in just, "Oh, I signed up for this and I got a medal." And that's it. They do want some more features in their virtual event now. So, I think we've seen it work in a couple of different ways with some of our events - they always have a built-in virtual option. They know it's going to be a little bit smaller than their in-person option, but they have the resources to put on a good virtual option for people. We've seen other race directors take the tactic of not doing the virtual option for the regular events, but they'll do one really good virtual race during the year as a way to keep those people who want to do virtual engaged in something. So there are different ways that you can approach it. I think not everyone will do virtual all of the time, but thinking about how you keep those participants who came to you as virtual participants happy can make sure that-- you maintain that for the future.
So speaking of those participants, from what I could tell from the report, there's some nice data on the gender breakdown in terms of people who participate in in-person and virtual races and there is a clear bias there for virtual events in favor of female participants. So generally, female participants are the majority of participants in all kinds of events, but that's exacerbated even further in virtual events. I think, something like 70% of virtual participants were female participants. Beyond that, do we know anything else about, like, the virtual runner, because you said it's not the same person who would participate in an in-person event? How is the virtual runner profile different than the in-person runner profile?
Yeah. Like you said, there are definitely more women. We also saw that it tends to be older runners - I think 31% or 32% of all virtual participants are over the age of 50 compared to 23% to 24% for in-person events - which tells us that people are looking for a little bit more flexibility. We saw that often newer runners - people who have not come to your events before - have lesser repeat participation. It's people who are maybe not ready to go to a real event or don't want to for whatever reason. They want to participate in something but they don't have any interest in showing up. So you're looking at older, mostly, female runners who may not be interested in an in-person event.
I mean, that's quite interesting because I wouldn't have thought-- for some reason, when I think virtual - maybe, because it's a novelty thing - I would have thought that it would appeal more to the younger, non-traditional type of runners, right? Not like the 65-year-old who overtakes me in marathons all the time - like, they're really quite fit regular runners.
Anecdotally, I think it's a lot of mothers and grandmothers who like being active. They go out to walk or run with their friends but never thought of going to a race. They aren't competitive. They don't care to be competitive. It's just something that they do for fun. And they pick a virtual option as something to motivate them to be active, something that they can do, kind of, with their friends outside of traditional hours instead of being in a big race event.
Do you have any feeling whether a cause or a charity behind the virtual event is also, like, a big driver for people taking part? I mean, the race experience isn't there - right? So, there must be other stuff behind it.
Yeah. I think the big drivers are either going to be a really cool swag, having something really fun to give people, a really cool theme, or the charity that they're fundraising for. Charities, if done right, can be a huge motivator. Either way, it does depend on the base behind that cause. Actually, we see reports that-- not from us - but generally, I've seen a lot of reports about how millennials and Gen Z are much more motivated to do things when there's a good cause behind it. And so, that can be a good way to get people engaged - by saying, "You're doing this walk for this reason," and really put the focus on the cause.
And what about virtual challenges? This is something that you guys have invested quite a lot in terms of technology to support people who wanted to put on virtual challenges. And actually, in the report, you actually broke out the numbers for virtual races versus virtual challenges. Is there a significant difference in terms of the people who run virtual challenges to the people who run virtual races in terms of motivation or format? To me, virtual challenges just almost seem, like, multi-day longer types of virtual races. Is there, like, a fundamental difference between the two?
There's not a huge difference, at least, this year - there's actually more of a difference last year. Both ended up having more female and more older runners. Motivationally, there would seem to be a difference because a virtual challenge is going to be something you're doing for several weeks or months, but I don't see a huge demographic difference between them - they're much more similar to in-person.
Do you see virtual challenges continuing to have a meaningful presence, going forward, like virtual races might?
We do. I mean, again, it's not going to be 20% of runners, but I think virtual challenges have a really compelling argument to stick around because they're different. They're something that we see a lot of events do. It's like a training program to get ready for an event. It's motivation to stick to someone's goals. It's a fun way to, kind of, get yourself active. And so, I think there's a little bit more incentive there that's built into a virtual challenge. I think you actually have to work a little bit harder with a virtual race to make your case for why someone would want to do your event, whereas the virtual challenge, if you do it well, there's a lot of rewards built into doing something for a long period of time.
The next part of the report, which I think is one of people's favorites, is participant demographics. That's the section where you actually break down participation in races by age groups and other kinds of dimensions. An interesting thing I find there is that-- we mentioned already that female participants are more than male participants, something like a 55-45 split for in-person races, which then gets exacerbated even more in favor of female participants for virtual races. So the interesting thing I find there, in conjunction with another part of the report further down on swag, is that although female participants are the majority of participants, still, only 3.1% of events offer a female-specific shirt option, and that's actually down from 2017. That 3.1% used to be, like, 10% back in 2017, but it's trending downwards. I mean, that's a bit of a puzzle, isn't it?
Yeah. There's probably a slight undercount because of people using their own terminology to put in giveaways, but it is pretty clear that most people are still choosing unisex shirt sizes. So when female shirt sizes were offered, almost 30% of people had chosen a small or an extra small size. Typically, those do not have a comparable size, if you go with unisex shirt option. So I think it's pretty noticeable that people are often providing swag, which is a great provider or great driver of registrations that are not actually, functionally, usable for a large portion of their participants. I know a lot of that, this year, may have been driven by supply chain issues, financial questions with the pandemic, and not wanting to have too many options, but it really can be a great way to reach a large portion of excited participants to have swag that they are excited about and they feel like it's made for them.
I was so surprised by that. I sort of dug up some posts in the group about people wondering whether they need to offer female-specific shirt sizes, and it is indeed one of the points coming up. The inventory management side of things, of course, gets more complicated when you have another type of shirt because you need to, like, split your inventory across more non-fungible kind of stuff - some people get male, some people get female, and stuff. Although it might be a hassle, I feel, like, that more events need to be offering that option. There were lots of disgruntled people - that's race directors in the group - making those comments that it's just not good enough to be giving out unisex T-shirts for races anymore, right?
And it's a selling point for your event. You can label them in different ways. If you don't want to say it's a female or male shirt, you can say it's a slim cut, a larger cut, a relaxed fit, or however you want to phrase it for your event. But the more options you give, use that as a selling point and say, "We have this really cool shirt that you're going to love and is going to fit you. There's something for everyone here." And people know they're actually walking away with something rather than just signing up with, like, "Well, I'll probably have another T-shirt to throw away."
Yeah, I mean, that's the other thing, right? I mean, people, genuinely have so many T-shirts that in the end-- one of the reasons, maybe, why they don't complain enough is because people don't end up using many of those T-shirts anyway. I mean, you're going to be producing that and it's going to go to waste. Personal opinion here - I think people need to start thinking harder about offering options for female runners that they can actually use. Another statistics in the participant demographic stuff that is, of course, very persistent and very worrying - I think, in the industry long-term - is the trend with younger runners, particularly, millennials and Gen Z's. Tell us a little bit about the numbers. Just tell people - who don't have the report in front of them - what's happening in terms of the age group breakdown for participation.
Yeah. The biggest group that's a little bit concerning has been the 18 to 29 year old runners. Obviously, you want people to start building their traditions with your event as young adults and really get into the racing scene. Pre-pandemic, we already saw that it was around 18% in 2017, and went down to about 16% in 2019. It continued to go down. It dropped last year, and then actually dropped further this year to just a shy of 13% of all total runners. It's concerning because those are future runners as well. We saw a little bit of a drop as well with the 30 to 39 year olds, and even the 40s, but our biggest change was with that 18 to 29 year old group.
Yeah, I mean, to be honest, the 18 to 29 was always a bucket that didn't look very good for the industry, but it's very worrying to even see those trends now creeping into the 30 to 39 year olds - right? I mean, that's not your 18-year-old runner, right? I mean, that used to be almost like the age group where most people were coming into running, but that's declining now.
Yeah. That actually did fall even from last year. We hope that some of that is just because of the uncertainty of this year and some of those people are going to be more inclined to come back. I think one thing that is a little bit concerning is, typically, throughout COVID, people who had the least reason and need to be as concerned about health have that as a reason not to go to events, whereas younger people still showing up at a lower and slower rate would be a little bit of a problem.
And actually, maybe, because you also broke down in the report, age group statistics between in-person and virtual races. As we mentioned earlier, younger runners who were showing in virtual races may point to one of the reasons why the industry fails to attract more younger people, which is the race experience of which you have very little in a virtual race. So, there's even lesser reason for younger participants to go into a virtual race.
Yeah. When we talk about events for younger runners, it really needs to be something that is fun and exciting. Competition is a little bit less important. The races that we think do really well with that are events that do things like having good team programs where people can join and come together, having a fun contest with that, and making something that people can do together. I know it's been really hard over the last year to have much of a post-race experience. But as that's able to happen again, those kinds of things can be a good attraction for younger runners as well as keeping the focus on what are the causes for the event and where their money is going beyond just, like, the thing that they're doing. They're gonna be a lot more interested in doing events that way.
I mean, I used to think that when you handle those novel formats of, like, the Color Run, Bubble Run, Chocolate Run, night run, and whatever-- I was actually speaking to someone the other day, and he was telling me night runs are a very, very strong thing with younger runners. Does the industry have to, like, completely reinvent race formats all the time just to get people out to try something once and then move on to something else?
Yeah. I think that's a challenge. Like you said, I think those types of events are really good at getting people to come out, occasionally. Turning those into regular race participants is what we have failed to do as an industry. So, I think part of it is just getting people out once. But then, also, once they're there, finding lower-key ways to make things fun and exciting, spectator engagement, and making sure that there's a lot of people along the course. That kind of experiential thing can help convince people that a regular 5K can also be fun, but you have to get in there once.
Yeah. I mean, on every episode we do on trends and stuff, this thing comes up. It doesn't look like it's going to be fixing itself anytime soon. I really don't know what the answer to this might be, but it's definitely something that individual race directors and other bodies in the industry need to start thinking about because being in an ageing industry is not particularly optimistic.
On an individual race basis, this is not going to fix it for the industry. We need to do things like working with your high school cross country club and getting them out to regular races so that it would be something that they've seen before they get into their 20s, or working with college clubs to try and get them to come out and do things, and trying to expose rich people to events when they're young so that it's something that they're familiar with and ready for when they can actually pay for them.
Moving on to events statistics, I think many people will be surprised to hear - I think that's an awesome statistic - that 96% of in person-events, at least for 2021, had fewer than 500 participants. So basically, if your event had 500 participants in 2021, you were on the top fourth percentile of races.
Yeah. That's actually not unusual. That is similar to what we saw pre-pandemic years. And I think we like to include that because, a lot of the time, the press, the news, and what gets talked about in the industry would be your Boston Marathons, New York Marathons, and your huge events that attract 20,000 - 40,000 people, but that's not the experience of most events. So, look for resources that are going to be a lot more appropriate for your type of event. You don't need the same things that an event like that does. You want to find race directors who are like you, who put on small local events and pull resources from there.
Yeah. But actually, I think many people, race directors, and vendors in the industry don't realize how fragmented the industry is. I had people discussing something and picking, like, a theoretical race to work on. Let's say it's a small 1,000-person race. A 1000-person race, by statistical standards, in terms of the industry, is a very large race.
I think events are much smaller than people realize.
That's true. So in terms of registration trends and when participants register, that used to be a very big debating point. During the pandemic, lots of people reported that, "Oh, I see participants registering later and later for my event." Actually, in this year's edition of the RaceTrends report, there's some really, really great and clear data in terms of when they registered during 2021 and what that equivalent pattern has been for 2019. So, what does the data tell us on that?
So I think the super procrastination theory does not hold true. We had about 25% of participants register on race week, which is very consistent across the years - I think it had been between 24% and 26% every year since 2017. Where we did see a little bit of a shift is really on the 60 to 15 days before the event - an increase in runners, kind of, one to two months out before the event. We did not see as many participants signing up three and four months out. I think that's probably a combination of two things. One being that, events were much later to open registration, they were slower to commit, they were, kind of, watching what was going on with the world, not wanting to have to cancel and that kind of thing. Also, participants were watching what the status was and wanting to make sure they feel a little bit more comfortable that the event would move forward. So it didn't seem to push people all the way to the end to make a decision, but we did see a little bit of a shift later than normal.
Okay. So basically, you're saying that the really, really early registration, essentially, moved a little bit closer, sort of - like, the people who used to register three to four months out have, maybe, moved to one or two months out. And part of that, as you said, may be a little bit artificially inflated by the fact that registration windows weren't the same in 2021 - they may have been a little bit shorter. But essentially, what people have been reporting of, like, noticeable changes in terms of race week registrations and stuff just doesn't hold true in terms of historical data.
As an overall aggregate, no. I mean, there's obviously going to be specifics at any area in any individual race, so I cannot tell a race director that did not see that, but as an overall aggregate, it's been pretty normal.
And there's also some interesting data there regarding price increases. How many price increases that events choose to deploy over the registration lifecycle? Can you tell us a little bit about the statistics of, basically, how many price increases do events choose to have during the registration lifecycle and how that affects registrations?
Yeah. There were actually fewer price increases than I would have guessed, because I normally see events with price increases. For shorter distances, we've typically seen 1 to 1.5, on average - obviously, no event is really doing a half of the price increase per race - and it's closer to two price increases for larger and longer distances. Normally, they have longer registration periods, so that's part of that. That did drop way back in 2020. I think everyone in 2020 was hesitant to do things like price increases and kept things a little bit simpler. We saw some shift back this year, although we're still seeing more like 1 to 1.5 price increases across most distances rather than up to the 2 and 2.5. We measure how many registrations come in within three days from a price increase or registration closing - which is how many of your registrations are coming in during this very narrow window - right around a big call-to-action. In 2021, we had about 20% of participants registered within that window. Prior to the pandemic, we had about 27% - it was pretty consistent there. So, that difference was probably because there have been fewer price increases, so there would just be fewer people within those windows. But I do tend to think, from what we can see, price increases are a really good motivator to get people who may have been looking at your event, but are on the fence to actually follow through, make the purchase, and commit to the event. So, using that kind of thing as events schedule stabilized - getting them back into your calendar early so that people have some incentive - you have a reason to email them and say it's time to register.
Yeah, I actually thought that was a very, very interesting statistic - the fact that you have, on average, two price increases per registration cycle. You're saying that around a quarter of participants register within three days of each of those price increases. So basically, within six days, let's say on average, if you have two price increases, before the pandemic, you'd get 25% or 27% of your total registration count, which sounds crazy. I mean, it's a huge proportion of your total registration. The question that I have is, "Would having more price increases help even more?"
There's obviously a limit. I think, again, it depends on how long your race is open. We do see a large marathon that's open for six months that have six different price increases because they have such a large window to open it out with. If you're always only open for two months, that's going to be overkill, and no one's gonna care. But I do think using that to, kind of, find where the sweet spots are - where people are looking for registrations - and figuring out if it's worth adding an extra one for a little extra incentive. The other thing that we see was people being worried about the race day registrations. You won't be able to stop all of them, but you can price those at a premium to encourage people to really get in a little bit earlier, and then, for those who don't, you can get yourself a little bit of extra income.
I guess it's very difficult to say how similar events, one with price increases and one without would, sort of, perform relatively in terms of registrations.
Yeah, I don't think there's a functional way for us to pull that.
Okay. That statistic around how many people register around three days from its price increase-- it sounds like there are people there who want to register and somehow the price increase makes them wait for that moment and just register at the last minute. And you need to wonder what would those people have done if there weren't any price increases. I guess they would just register, would they?
Hopefully, some of them probably wouldn't, some of them may actually just have kept saying, "Well, I'll look at it later," and then not had a motivation to do it. So it's a good way to make sure people don't wait so long that they just don't register.
Yeah. Okay, great. Another very interesting area of the report - I know, race directors always look at that quite closely - is pricing trends. So, what's been happening with average entry fee prices across the different events and across the last couple of years?
Yeah. I mean, we had seen a, kind of, very gradual increase in prices before the pandemic which, I think, is to be expected. Prices crashed and dropped significantly in 2020. One thing that's hard is we can't actually split out pricing for virtual and in-person. A lot of that pricing is driven by the fact that virtual events tend to have low overhead. If you have a longer distance event, an in-person marathon is gonna cost a lot more than 5K in-person because you have a lot more overhead there. For virtual, they're about the same. Longer distances really saw prices fall as you build in a lot more virtuals. In 2021, prices did go back up pretty significantly. We're not quite where we were in 2019, particularly in the longer events. I think, again, driven by virtual, we saw a lot more movement towards normal which I think does tend to tell us that if we took those virtuals out, the prices will either come back to normal or up a little bit. I think 5K's were only down from 2019 by, like, 3% or 4%, and that's including a number of virtual events. So, I would expect that real prices are a little bit higher than what you see on the paper.
I mean, obviously, as you say, the ebbing and flowing of virtual events have been the determining factor for most event types in terms of average prices. Of course, it's clear to everyone that we're operating. Lots of people have commented on this inflationary environment. You would have guessed that what's happening with in-person races is that in-person fees should be going up.
Yeah. We can't state that definitively because we can't see it split that way. But based on how they've increased compared to last year - while seeing fewer virtual but still a good number of virtual - I think it's likely that actual prices for in-person events have gone up.
I wonder, actually, whether triathlon might shed some light on this because triathlons, as we mentioned, didn't have that many virtual events because the format is a little bit difficult for some people to put up virtual events around that. Actually, the average prices of triathlons are up by 7.3% in 2021 compared to 2019. It's the only event type that actually went up over 2019, right?
Yeah, yes. And also, 1-miler - but I think that would be too small of a sample to really matter. That's a good point. I think that triathlons are probably the least impacted by virtual and you can tell because their pricing in 2020 was also the closest to 2019. So they've been pretty steady from 2017 to 2020, and they did go up by a significant amount this year.
So in the rest of the report, there's some great stuff on fundraising and other stuff that, unfortunately, we probably don't have the time to delve into in super great detail. But there are some very interesting trends in terms of the technologies that people use to register and the channels that they use to discover races and register for them, and one of them is around the trends of mobile adoption. So, how many people come through, register, or visit your race through a desktop device versus a mobile device? I know that's not, like, in the forefront of everyone's minds - like, worrying about these kinds of trends - but they are significant and they have been building over time. So what are those trends for mobile adoption? And what kind of conclusions or recommendations should people be taking away in terms of their future approach to marketing their events?
Yeah. I mean, we've been focusing on this for several years now. The rate at which people are using phones for looking at and registering for events continues to go up. It's actually the first time we've seen it stayed, sort of, steady, specifically people who are looking at races on their phone. So, we can measure how many people are looking at your race websites from a phone and that's it. Like, 70% of all views, most people are seeing your race website from a mobile phone. The percentage that actually completes the registration on a mobile phone is smaller than page views but that, again, has continued to increase back in 2017. Like, 33% of participants were registering on phones and that's now up to about 57%. What that says is it's really important that your website is mobile-friendly. Literally, it's more important that it's mobile-friendly than it is computer friendly. Everyone still does things on a laptop and then takes it to a phone. So make sure you're always testing that your website is mobile-friendly. And then, take that over into things like registration and not ask more questions than you need. Obviously, there's value to having data, but if you have a registration that is five pages long, that's really frustrating for people on a phone. Make sure that you always think about the experience on a phone so that you don't lose people in that process.
Yeah. And I think that's important for RunSignup's customers in particular because you guys offer so many different choices and options that people can use to, basically, structure their registration flow. I spent some time at a few RunSignup's registration pages and thought that some people really need to think a little bit harder - and I guess that extends to other platforms as well - when they have all those many options and all the data they can collect. I think they need to balance between the benefits of collecting that additional data and maybe losing some people during checkout when someone has to tick 50 boxes just to get to the checkout page.
Yeah. Obviously, we can't say what any individual race needs to know, but be intentional about what you're asking and if you don't need that information, don't ask.
And I guess the transition to mobile is also important for younger audiences, right? I mean, I guess more younger audiences use mobile over desktop. I mean, lots of the business that most 18-year-olds do is exclusively over a mobile phone, so paying attention to that is probably also important to that aspect of registrations.
Yeah. I would say the second concern we always hear when people talk about registering on their phones - we do a lot of recommending races and letting people register on their phones - a lot of pushback is from older runners who don't know how to do that. The fact that these percentages keep increasing tells us that - older runners are running because 57% or 58% of our runners aren't under 30 - they are also registering on their phone, so someone else is learning too.
One of the comments I had, actually, from someone who was into event marketing is that the fact that people can register more easily on phones has also given rise to things like Instagram marketing for races - I think it might have been Thomas Neuberger who made this comment in an earlier podcast. The fact that Instagram is becoming more and more relevant in terms of traffic and acquisition for races is very much supported by the fact that the technology on mobile registrations is getting better and better. So they can get people from Instagram onto the registration page directly. And speaking of Instagram, Facebook, and all of those social media sites, what's the picture in terms of acquisition and where people are discovering races from in terms of the social media?
Yeah. We look at that in a couple of different ways, but I think I'll just focus on-- we pull data from RaceInsights, which is our own tracking system that can say how many registrations were referred by a specific other website. In 2020, that was really high. We saw about 12% of registrations directly from Facebook and, in 2021, that went to down to about 6%. That being said, I don't think that social media is done and we don't need to use social media anymore. There are a couple of different factors that go into that. One is that the pandemic just drastically increased the amount of time that people were spending on their phones and on social media. We saw huge spikes in social media impacts across the board last year. And that 6% of registrations that we saw this year is actually higher than the number of registrations from social media in 2019, which was about 4.6%, so it's still a big driver. We also know there is likely some impact from some of the changes Facebook has made to advertising over the last year. We have heard from some of our larger clients who do a lot of social media advertising that had an impact and how well they're able to drive registrations from Facebook. So some of it could be that as well. I think the amount of time and attention that most events put into Facebook advertising wouldn't have had that huge of an impact - it's a smaller part of their splay, anyways. I think what we see from Facebook is organic growth in terms of people registering for your event, either because you have a good referral program or just because they're excited and sharing on Facebook that they and other people are registering. That probably accounts for most of our social media registrations than actual advertising does.
Yeah, I guess the drop in Facebook traffic conversion from 2020 to 2021 - from 12% to 6%, which is a very significant drop, given that the traffic itself from Facebook seems to have been held during that period - may have something to do with all of that, kind of, like, iOS restrictions that Apple put through for people to choose whether they want to be tracked or not. And now, if you're doing Facebook ads, you see all these messages that - maybe for iPhone users using, I think, like, iOS 14 onwards - makes it much more difficult to track conversions and, maybe, that's part of the impact there.
Yeah. I mean, we can't see that specifically but, anecdotally, we've definitely heard that from some of the events that heavily use Facebook.
And of course, one other very, very interesting statistic on the side of participant acquisition is the fact that 8% of registrations, according to data, came from peer-to-peer referrals. Do we have any sense whether that's down for the specific tools that RunSignup offers - being particularly strong in that area - or whether it's like a general trend? And how do people use peer-to-peer referrals effectively to grow the registrations?
Yeah. I think that one is probably impacted by the platform to some degree. We have a really good referral tool that makes it really easy for participants to get their referral code to share and for a race to automatically offer a refund - they don't have to do it manually. So it's a tool that's going to be used a lot more on our platform because it's, kind of, automated. That being said, there's a huge range in how people would use it and its effectiveness. The main thing that we, kind of, focus on is putting on a program that makes sense. So if you're giving someone a dollar off for referring someone, that's not a really big motivator for referring to them, and they're probably not really going to do it. Even if you end up giving $1 back several times, no one's gonna be super motivated to continue to bring people in. Where we tend to see the sweet spot is something like three to five referrals for a $15 to $25 refund - so, enough money for people to think "I'm going to go out and I'm going to share. I might as well see if this works." But it's also a high enough threshold that most of those people may refer one or two people, but they're not actually going to get to the threshold to get a refund. And if they do, they've brought you enough people for it to be worthwhile for you, financially, anyways. On top of that, really, really successful programs will add a second or third layer where, maybe, if you refer 10 or 15 people, you'll get a really premium jacket, an expensive item, something that you can only get that way. You'll only have a handful of people who will ever achieve that, but those people are going to be bringing you a large population of people and really helping to grow your event.
Right. So just to break this down for people just a little bit, what we're saying here is that there are tools where, basically, you allow participants to refer other people. They use some kind of unique code that they can send to their friends and family, and when they register, they get either a kickback or, like, a nice piece of swag or something like that. And that keeps them sufficiently motivated to, then, contribute an extra 8% on total registrations - just from that channel.
Yeah, yeah. And I think it's really important that if you want people to promote your event for you, you have to communicate with them about why and how. And so, in every email that you send or things that you publish on your website, you have to highlight the things that they're going to get when they refer people because you really have to make that message clear and loud if you want people to, then, actually, go out and, kind of, promote your event for you.
So lastly, seeing all of this very rich and deep data from 2021, how is what you're seeing, if at all, informing, updating, or changing your plan at RunSignup, going forward? What kinds of things are you going to be focusing on for 2022?
I think we'll focus on tools to make things easier and cheaper for race directors. We've been doing a lot of development on websites, free email, and ways that our race directors can have technology that doesn't cost them anything so that they can focus that money on recouping participants from 2019. Definitely, we'll focus on race day and tools to help make races more efficient and more fun so that you're able to get participants back feeling excited, having a good experience, and wanting to come back. We'll work a lot with timers on getting them up to speed on tools so that they can really provide a better experience for runners. I think that's going to, kind of, continue to be where our focuses are in 2022 - it is on technology, both on the pre-race and race day side.
I saw quite a few things on your email marketing revamp. People seem to be - Bob included - very excited about that. You're saying there's going to be one for race websites as well?
Yeah. So I will say that people have been asking us and complaining about our templates. As long as I have worked at RunSignup, we have new templates and we are very excited about that. For websites, it's already actually on our ticketing platform that will get moved over to registration this year. We have a new website builder that's just going to be a little bit more intuitive and easier to use to move things around, build different blocks, and kind of customize your website to look the way that you want.
Great! 2022 is looking just a little bit brighter for everyone, I guess, right?
Yeah, we're excited. I think it's gonna be a good year for events. Keep moving back up!
Awesome. Well, Johanna, it's been a pleasure. Again, I'm very, very grateful that you came here first to share some of this data with our listeners. We should say, again, that people can download the report from the RunSignup website at runsignup.com/trends. You can also find, there, of course, all kinds of information on RunSignup - the platform itself - and all the kinds of stuff you can achieve with the tools on RunSignup. Hopefully, we're going to have an update on this probably, like, mid-year. We did that last year. It was quite effective doing, like, mini RaceTrends report. And I want to wish you guys, RunSignup, and of course the rest of the industry a super great uptake in 2022. Thanks again for coming on, Johanna!
Thanks to everyone listening in and we'll see you all on our next episode!
I hope you enjoyed this episode on race trends with my guest, GiveSignup|RunSignup's Johanna Goode.
You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com. You can also share your questions about the numbers in today's podcast, registration trends or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.
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