LAST UPDATED: 29 April 2023
Race Trends 2022
RunSignup's Bob Bickel and Johanna Goode discuss the latest registration stats and event participation trends from the 2022 RaceTrends report.
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, RunSignup’s annual RaceTrends report.
The report leverages RunSignup’s extensive registration data from tens of thousands of events to point to trends in overall event participation, event pricing, participant demographics, registration trends and a myriad other things.
The most recent edition of the report was out a couple of weeks ago, and, despite a weak start to 2022, the data does seem to suggest that the post-pandemic industry recovery is picking up pace with some races recovering better than others and noticeable entry fee increases across the board on all race distances and disciplines.
With me today to discuss the numbers, the trends and their implications for individual events and the industry as a whole, I’m delighted to have RunSignup’s own Bob Bickel and Johanna Goode. Bob and Johanna will be helping me make sense of some of the more interesting data points in the report and offer their own takes on what the numbers might be telling us for where the industry could be heading in 2023 and beyond.
In this episode:
- A few words about the RunSignup Roadshow
- 2022 overall registrations compared to 2021 and 2019
- The outlook for registrations in 2023
- Why registrations growth for larger events underperformed smaller races in 2022
- Event churn (=percentage of races that haven't returned in consecutive years) since 2019 and 2021
- Repeat participation trends, and why they matter
- Virtual race participation stats
- Increasing inclusivity in races and making the most of the post-pandemic running boom
- Age group participation trends and Gen Z runners
- When people register and how it's changed since the pandemic
- Are higher entry fees having an impact on participation numbers?
Thanks to RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 26,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.
Johanna, Bob, welcome back to the podcast!
So how are you guys? How are things in Morristown?
Life is good. Pandemic seems to have waned considerably and race numbers seem to be picking back up. Just did the stats from my January and races that happened in 2022 and 2023. We continue to see recovery there. So, fingers crossed, things are going to be kind of back to 2019 numbers for most races, hopefully, this year.
Wow. Yeah, fingers crossed indeed. We're gonna get into a lot of those numbers from the report in a sec. It's good to know that things seem to stay on track for January. Johanna, are you in Morristown as well?
I'm close. I'm across the river in Philadelphia. So occasionally, I'm in Morristown.
Okay. Cool. So you're not one of those four people that Bob was telling me are in the office in Morristown?
No, I come in about once a month.
It's great that you guys make it work, sort of, like, on a remote basis. It's enviable. Not many companies can do that.
But that once a month - those are my favourite days.
Yes, I can imagine. Now, you guys are based in Morristown, but you have been travelling recently. I was really quite curious to hear how this new thing you guys get going for the roadshow that replaced your Winter Symposium is doing. Is that one of your things? Johanna, again, does the burden of all that fall on your shoulders?
Yes and no. I am the kind of person managing all the pieces of it, but what's nice about it is we have, like you said, a pretty remote company and people, kind of, all over. So we're able to kind of work with the people who are local, have them help out with, places that would work and some of the connections in the neighbourhood. So it actually brings it a little bit into everyone's realm.
And what was the thinking there? I mean, I read the press releases and everything - I think it sort of makes sense - but how does this roadshow differ from someone visiting the symposium? It's obviously shorter in time, but is it more education, more community? I see lots of drinks and canopies going around. So what was the idea there?
I think we just wanted to be able to reach more people. Symposiums are great because they have more time and they have a lot of depth to them, but they require-- even if we keep the cost of the actual symposium very low, they require our customers to travel from wherever they are to us, take several days out of their time, pay for hotels, and that's just a big burden on race organisations that are already kind of stressed from the last couple of years. In addition to that, there are just people who are never going to be able to do that. So, by going out to different areas, we're able to get kind of a broader view of our customers and meet people that we otherwise wouldn't, and hopefully kind of bring them together too.
So is it an event just for customers or kind of, like, prospective RunSignup curious people come and say hi?
I hope so.
Absolutely. Yes, we've had people who are not customers at every location so far as well.
Yeah. So from a business perspective, our costs-- because we underwrote the cost of symposium. We're doing 11 cities and the cost to us is about half of what putting on the Winter Symposium would have been. So that's cost-effective for us. It's better for the environment because there are fewer people travelling on planes and things like that. We do get to take advantage of our remote team. So like, we're going to be out in Seattle because we have an employee in Seattle. We're going to be in Kansas City because we happen to have two employees in Kansas City. We're going to be in Rochester, New York, because we happen to have an employee in Rochester, New York. We're taking advantage of some of our geographic diversity.
But the Summer Symposium is still happening, is it?
No. We're going to continue the roadshows. We're going to touch about twice the number of people that we were able to touch with a symposium. The feedback that we've gotten from a number of customers, actually, is that they liked this format better and, kind of, a side benefit for people that are getting together is that it provides a forum for local people that are into endurance events to get together and talk to each other. So a lot of the benefit might be catching up on what's happening with RunSignup and coming away with a few pearls of wisdom that could improve their endurance event, but just as big a part is just actually getting together with people that are kind of in the same boat as each other.
So RunSignup is the excuse?
RunSignup is just an excuse. And on the prospect side, I think that in every event, we've actually wound up having somebody decide that they are going to use RunSignup. That justifies the cost of the event too. Not to be too much of a business guy here, but we do have to keep the lights on.
No, I know. With all of these things, it's very difficult to put a price tag on awareness and how your customers feel about being there and stuff. I mean, it's difficult to say, "This is the hard return on this thing." And to me, this kind of format, I think, makes a lot of sense. People travelling, the environment, and all that is always a consideration, but the local community and the fact that some events, as you say, just cannot travel to the big conferences, I think, is the biggest thing. And we'll get into some of the numbers of RunSignup's customers also in a sec. You guys have, like, 35%, 40% of the market, so you have lots of all kinds of events, but I feel, like, the platform is particularly friendly to smaller events, or at least as friendly to small events as large events. So lots of those customers-- I guess they just couldn't afford to pay $2,000, $3,000 or whatever to come to a symposium, which, again, was probably well worth it in terms of content, education, and also the networking. But yeah, this kind of, like, cosy, regional thing probably makes more sense, I think.
Yeah, we are reaching some smaller customers. But it's kind of interesting that the couple that I've been to - I went to Houston and Boston - we've gotten some really large customers to come there as well - customers that have many events, timers that might have a couple of hundred events that they work with. It is interesting because we do get some smaller events. Like, in Boston, there was a small 400-person race that came up from Connecticut and they told us how meaningful it was and it was for a nonprofit that had some sadness behind it. The founders of the event had lost somebody in their family. It was just really heartwarming to hear that type of story and how our technology helped them and it was a nice mix between somebody that had a couple of hundred of events and somebody that had a 400-person race that raised $50,000.
That's awesome. So right now, the calendar, from what I saw online, stops back in Morristown, does it? Or are there more events announced because you said you want to be doing this, sort of, like, all year round?
Yeah. That's where we're at currently. Currently settled options. I think we expect to continue to find some more locations throughout the rest of the year, but maybe not quite the same pace we've done for this two month kind of trial period. I think we expect to continue to be out on the road a little bit more throughout the year.
Yeah, the goal is three to six per quarter.
Okay, great. Is there, like, a short URL that people can hit up and see where upcoming roadshow events may be?
So if you go to runsignup.com now, there's a link under Knowledge Base for Webinars and Events - they'll all be listed under there.
Okay, so runsignup.com. Top right, you get, like-- I remember that there's, like, knowledge, and then you're saying that all the webinars are up there.
Webinars and events. They'll all be listed under there. They can filter by live events if they just want to see the upcoming roadshows.
And congratulations on the new site, by the way. That said, not a bad idea to have a runsignup.com/roadshow or something, is it?
We can figure that up.
Awesome. So today, we're gonna be going through one of my favourite pieces of research - your race Trends report. I've been following this - I think, it should be, like, my fifth year - and it's grown a lot. The stats in it have been getting richer and richer. We did a full episode on this last year and I think it's a great tradition that we're, sort of, getting together every February to just review what happened in the year before - trends and stuff like that. I would like one of you guys, or both of you guys, to just describe to our listeners what the RaceTrends report is, where the data that goes in it come from, and also what the motivation from your point of view has been in putting this stuff out.
I guess I'll take the first shot at that. So we started this a number of years ago because, kind of, one of our founding principles is that we're a very open type of a company. If we share our data, it just makes everybody kind of better. We had gotten to the critical mass where we had enough data that it was statistically relevant. So we started putting this together maybe six or seven years ago.
I think 16 was the first year.
Yeah, pretty long ago. And what's happened is, since that time, we continue to aggregate market share. So there's more and more data. So this comes from literally tens of thousands of races and millions of people signing up. So when we look across that, we run a bunch of reports that take a long time to run because they're very tough on the database - it's a huge database - and we try to just get that data out. And that's a combination of our software development team that does the reporting, and Lewis Jones and Johanna Goode who actually collate it, analyse it, and put thought and meaning behind all of it. We just think that it's great for our customers to see this. It also just helps raise the visibility of the company so that people know who we are, and that we're here to help and try to make the industry better and grow.
Yeah, I mean, it's definitely, I guess, as you say, in lieu of, like, a more centralised data-collating kind of agency that the industry lacks, it is the closest thing we have, I guess, to race stats, events stats, and participation stats for the US. So it's a great service that I know people use quite a lot. Now, you mentioned at the top of the episode that 2023 is looking quite strong. What's the bird's eye view on 2022 compared also to the year before?
Better. So we saw that 16% improvement from 2021 to 2022. That was pretty much across the board. There are some weird quirks with Ultra reporting. But virtually, every distance showed that it improved pretty considerably compared to 2021. We also saw that get a little bit better throughout the year. That's 2019 numbers.
And compared to 2019, which I guess was, like, the last normal year before the pandemic, how did we do in 2022? Are we catching up?
Better, but not as good as we optimistically hoped we would be, I think, early in the year. It took, I think, a bit of time throughout the year to see some improvement. On average, for the year, it's still down about 10% across the board. That did get better through the end of the year with the exception of September, which we think was kind of impacted by a big hurricane on the East Coast that hit a lot of races. But August through November, essentially, missed 4% to 6% down. So we did see a little bit of growth towards the end of the year.
Am I sensing also from Bob's comment on January 23 that things are accelerating in a good way? Because I remember we came into 2022 and everyone was thinking, "Oh, the recovery year is gonna be amazing." And early in the year, it didn't seem to be pointing in the right direction and then, suddenly, in the last few months of 2022, everyone's been a lot more buoyant and bullish about, like, empirical stuff, how it feels on the ground with stuff like that.
I would be cautious about becoming over-enthusiastic. I think we are feeling very positive if we're starting to get back to 2019 numbers. I think the industry will be a lot better off if the 1,000-person race that happened in 2019 returns to be about 1,000 people again in 2023. In 2022 and at the beginning of the year, it was more like a 750 or 800 person race. Towards the end of the year, it was more like a 950-person race. If we can get it back up to 1,000, I think that is going to be quite healthy for everybody. I think it's even tougher to get to 1,100. And so don't paint us too enthusiastic.
Okay. It also pays in this particular regard because you also mentioned the 1,000-person event as the yardstick here to look a little bit at the two extremes of larger and smaller events. From what I gathered from the report, they fared quite differently in 2022. Some of the larger events - interestingly enough, I would have thought the opposite actually - were underperforming some of the smaller events.
Yeah. So I think, what we saw races over 5,000 - kind of what you alluded to - were down about 18.5% whereas if you get down to races under 500 kind of smaller races, they were actually up about 3%. In between there, you see kind of an even breakdown as it gets worse the larger the race gets. I mean, I think there are a lot of hypotheses on that. Travel was unpredictable and hard. Large races tend to rely on stuff like that more. They tend to be traditions that people have planned for a long time in advance and that may not have happened over the last couple of years. Those events need to draw so many people and they need to draw people from outside their regional area. I think that kind of participation was really hard and unpredictable this year whereas, in your small community races down the street from you, you may be more likely to show back up for that.
I think that there's kind of an energy factor as well. So if you think about it, a small race is typically put on by a core set of volunteers - people that have passion around a particular project or endeavour or something like that, like that 400-person race I was mentioning in Boston. For larger events to become large, they require a lot of marketing as well as energy - just plain energy. I think the pandemic caused financial constraints that kind of decreased marketing budgets. I also feel like it also impacted the personnels that were part of larger organisations. Maybe some people had to be laid off and the people that were kind of coming back might not have had kind of the same amount of energy as they had.
Well, it's interesting because I would have thought that, going out of the pandemic, everyone would be going through their bucket list and, basically, it would be all, like, Boston, New York, Chicago, and all of the big event. But some of those points actually make sense. I wonder whether-- and we're going to touch on this a little bit later in the episode in greater detail, but I wonder where the cost may have been a consideration for some of those larger events as well because the entry fees are substantially higher for some of those events and disposable income is under pressure because of inflation and other stuff. So, do you guys think that maybe cost may have been, like, an aggravating factor dragging down the performance of those larger events?
Personally, I don't think so much - that being an impact. You look at a lot of different surveys, and they talk about the average compensation or household income of people that are participating in endurance events and how it's higher than most and things like that. Personal spending has kind of continued to be pretty hot in the US during the pandemic because of all the incentive programmes that have happened. I'm not so sure of that. I think it's the other side. I think it's the cost side. So if you put on a big race, all your costs have risen and it may take away the "energy" like marketing programmes. So you may not have as much money to spend on marketing programmes. And marketing programmes that races have traditionally relied upon like Facebook ads are decreasingly productive. I'd say the cost of it is expensive and they don't have the budget to spend on it that they once did. So I think it's more on the cost side for races than it is on, like, the individual participants deciding not to sign up. With the cost side on the participant side, I think the cost factor would be on the travel. So people did not want to travel because airline costs were too expensive, hotel rooms are expensive, and it was a pain to get through airports, etc. So it was really the travel component, not necessarily the cost of the $100 marathon that prohibited people from attending.
Yeah, interesting point. And just to summarise that, we said that events of 5,000 participants and more were down almost 20% and then the smaller events, which is 500 participants or less, were actually up 3%. So that's quite a spread there between the two. Another number that I noticed in the report that surprises me every single year is that more than 95% of events do have fewer participants than 500 people. I talk to people in the industry on the vendor side and on the race director side, and I think very few people in the industry have an understanding of this very wide fragmentation of our industry and, like, how many small events are out there. Like, I speak to some vendors and they'll tell me, "Oh, I'm going after, like, 2000-participant minimum or 5000 participants," and I'm like, "Okay, according to your report, actually, only 1.6% of races have more than 1,000 people and only 0.1% have more than 5000." I think that's gonna make a lot of race directors with, like, a few hundred particpants events very happy to know that they're in the huge majority.
Here's the other interesting stat, and this is from pre-pandemic. If you accumulate the top 100 races, all the people that participated in those, it's only 6% of people that participate in races. So, we have somewhere around 22, 23, 24 of the top 100 that use our platform, but they actually represent a very small percentage of our revenue and the amount of money that we can utilise to pay software developers to keep making it better. It's actually this long tail of 500-person events that really contributes to us being a successful business because we've developed the technology to be very efficient and self-serve so that we can handle that volume of customers and still run a decent business.
Do we actually know, I wonder - because that wasn't in the report - what the actual median size for races is or it was for 2022? I think the average with such a large skew may not be particularly relevant but the median would be quite helpful for people - that would be sort of, like, the midpoint between all races. Let's say, you put them on a scale or something and the race sits in the middle in terms of participants - do we know where that is, roughly?
No. We could theoretically do that very manually, but from the data that we pull automatically, we do not.
Okay. I mean, that's more like an academic--
Yeah. Like, the average number is somewhere in the 350-400 people range. So you can lay it all the people above that, of all the races above that, and all the races below that, and that's your average size. The number of races would be, if you take the number of race median, it would be lower than that just because you have to have 10 races at 100 to make a large race at 10,000. So it's amazingly small, and that's the great thing about this marketplace. It's one of the reasons why I started this company. There are so many people with passion that care about what they're doing in the event that they're putting on. And if we can build a technology platform that can make that 100-person event have the same set of features New York City Marathon has in terms of runner tracking, text notification, ease of sign up, free photos, and all of that, then we've created something that's useful and has an impact - the customers that use our technology have an impact on people's health and wellness, as well as raising money and stuff. That's what kind of turns us on.
Yeah, indeed. And as you say, the platform is the same whether you're a huge event or a small event - they all get the same starting point to work on. Now, one of the things that is also part of the stats that you track is churn. I'm not sure whether people would sort of, like, understand the term as such, but it's basically how many races don't make it from one year to the next. I guess it's more of, kind of, like, a tech term there. It's basically what percentage of races happened in the previous year and didn't happen this year. And of course, again, because we've been through a lot, and not all years have been the same recently, you're providing two numbers for churn. One is 2021 to 2022 - what you've historically been using for churn - and then you're also tracking churn from 2019 to 2022.
So actually, it's all 2019 to 2022, but what it looks at is there are two sets of that. One of them happened in 2019 and 2021. We don't actually know if that set happened in 2020. What happened in 2019 and 2021, and then didn't happen in 2022, or happened in 2019 but didn't happen in 2021 or 2022.
Okay. And the number of events that haven't happened since 2019, you're saying, is around 14%?
So is that safe to say, by now, given we're heading into 2023 and the last event for those races in 2019 - that percentage of events, 14% - is gone? It's never coming back?
Much of them. I think there's a small percentage that may still come back, but the majority of those are probably races that have decided that they are done.
It's actually a pretty good number. We started tracking this in 2017. In 2019, churn was around 5% or 6%. That means that in the month of March of 2018, about 5% or 6% of those races did not happen in March of 2019. We only track races that are greater than 500 participants, so we don't track races that are less than that. But the thing about that status is that we treat the 500-person race the same as a 1,500-person race. And what would you look at when you look at the raw data itself, it's typically the 500-person or 700-person race that's not happening again because it just didn't get critical mass to pay for itself if it was commercially oriented, or some race director decided to age out and nobody else took over the event, or something like that. So if you look at that 2019 to 2022 number, I view it as relatively healthy. It's kind of in that 5% - 14% divided by three years. It's kind of in that range. So I feel like a lot of events have come back now that would have come back during that time, which is good news,
Indeed. And from the events that happened in 2019 and then in 2021 again, but not 2022, that's back to sort of around the historical average of around 6% - right?
Yeah, that's kind of right on track with what we saw pre-pandemic. So I think we may have lost slightly more than normal in 2020 and 2021, but we've kind of settled back into a regular level of churn.
Just to clarify, if people look at the data, there's kind of natural churn - like, the race doesn't exist anymore - and then their competitor churn. We typically will lose like 1% or something like that of races to competitors. So we factor that in as well and kind of treat them kind of separately because those races still exist.
So the 6%-- does it include the competitor churn?
No. That's excluding competitor churn.
Okay, cool. Understood. Now, one thing that doesn't seem to have gone back to 2019 is repeat participation - right? So that is lagging significantly, it seems - that 2019 numbers. I mean, the obvious question is why? Do we have any theories around that? But before we get into that, I want to just remind ourselves of why repeat participation is so important, that it sort of merits a separate treatment in your report, and why people want to focus and be looking at repeat participation more closely than other types of participation.
I think the big thing is that races' biggest marketing opportunity is through participants who get their friends to come with them the next year - that kind of word of mouth from people who've done the event. So if those people aren't excited and aren't coming back, then they also aren't bringing anyone new and you're having to continue to spend marketing money, time, and effort to go find new people. Whereas if you can get those same people to come back again, they're much more likely to actually bring someone else with them and do some marketing for you.
So they're just better margin participants, I guess, because they know you and they've been with your event. You don't need to market to them kind of thing. They're just coming back for another year.
Yes, it's money saved if they can come back from an email instead of needing you to advertise to them.
And how is repeat participation trending from 2019 up until last year?
In 2019, we saw about 18%, 19% of participants coming back to the same event in the following year. I will say that I think that's a little bit deceptively low in that it looks at the same event distance versus the same event distance. So if I did the 10K in one year and the 5K the next year, it may lose me. However, it is still noticeable. We've gone from about 18%, 19% down to about 14% in 2022. That is the lowest we've seen, excluding 2021 and 2020, but those numbers were really bad. We saw about 10% in 2020. So I think we are starting to get back up. I think we'd like to see that and continue to move back toward pre-pandemic numbers.
Now, this is interesting to me because, to me, repeat participation-- I would think that it probably comes more from, like, local participants, meaning I do my local race, then I show up year after year. And we said earlier that there was a bit of a headwind against people travelling to other events, hence why smaller events performed better, and I would somehow have expected that repeat participation would reflect that - that it would be stronger and basically reflect the fact that local people are showing up for local races - but that doesn't seem to be the case.
I mean, a lot of that is just, there was so much chaos in the types of events offered over the last couple of years. People had traditions that they've always gone to this event, then it was virtual, then it wasn't, and they don't know what's going on and they forgot to sign up because they've changed their whole routine. So I think some of that is just a reflection of events being really inconsistent over the last couple of years. Is the race in March or October now? Like, needing to, kind of, get things back settled, before you can really rebuild full traditions like that.
Yeah, there was a lot of shifting months around - that's also in that report. I think your monthly numbers are all over the place because, like, so many events move back and forth during the pandemic, so it's difficult to compare those - I agree. Now, virtual events still make up 10.5% of all events on the platform, which I find interesting. That's not quite the peak that we had, obviously, during the pandemic, but we don't seem to be trending downwards to the pre-pandemic 1%. So these kinds of events seem to have some staying power. They'll probably remain part of the industry. What I wonder about these events is that - from the 10.5% that you include in that report - are we talking about, sort of, a virtual 10K that an in-person marathon may offer - like, that virtual option? Or are we talking about an entirely standalone virtual race type?
I think that there is some continuity of the in-person having a virtual subset. But I think that that's kind of on the decline and probably in the neighbourhood of a few percentage points. Like, if your race has 1,000 people, you'll get another 50, maybe, who sign up virtually for the race, obviously, depending on the energy the race puts into it. We happen to have a couple of large companies that put on virtual races on our platform, so some of their numbers will bias it somewhat. Gourdy's Pumpkin Run has about 5 or 10 in-person events and they also have a virtual, but they put a great deal of energy into the virtual, so they'll get tens of thousands of people that sign up for the virtual version of that event still. And we have other ones. Like, there's this interesting company that partners and offers marketing services, Run365, and they've got, like, a Snoopy's virtual event and things like that. So they partner with Snoopy.
Yeah, I think there are kind of two buckets. There's the race that offers it as an option, and I think Bob's numbers are probably about right that they might pick up an extra 2% of registrants, just kind of in the margins or little option for people who can't come. Or there are races that are virtual only who are very good marketers, have really fun creative ideas, and can really do a very well-done virtual event. I think what we're losing is the in-between of, like, people just doing a random one-off virtual or, like, really investing in their virtual with their in-person.
But one of the many interesting stats in the report - at least, it was surprising to me - was the makeup of the people participating in virtual races, which is the 10.5% of events that are still virtual. I was really surprised to see that the predominance of people participating in virtual events was over 50 years old. Now, when I see virtual races pop up on Facebook, or something, I see strong branding, colourful stuff, got-to-own-it kind of medals, like huge blink, and that kind of thing, and I wouldn't have thought that. So I had sort of, like, associated in my mind that virtual races might probably be more for younger people. While only 24% of over-50s participated in in-person events, 34% of virtual races were made up of over 50. So is that as surprising to you as it has been for me?
I think that's actually what we saw throughout the pandemic. Young people hated virtual and did not want to do it. I think we said there's just a lot of largely 40-50-plus women - that seem to be the market for a lot of the events.
Speaking for older people, we like colour too. Okay, Panos?
Now that you mentioned it, now that you're sort of the ambassador for all the runners, at least, in this podcast, do you see what the motivation is for an over-50-year-old to enter a virtual race? Like, I just wonder why. It cannot be the blink, I hope, right? I can't see, like, a 55 or 60 year old going around with, like, a huge medal or something,
I think it could partly be the bling. It's the feeling of achievement without necessarily having to go and embarrass yourself in front of other people. As you get older, like, your body is not as attractive as it used to be. My body's just not as nicely formed as it used to be. So maybe there are some people that just like to get out and do it on their own and want to set a goal of doing a 5K or a 10K, or something like that. This is a way of kind of achieving that goal. I do see the attraction of it from an older person type of perspective.
I mean, it's interesting though because, essentially, like, on a slightly, I guess, serious take on all this, what you're saying seems to suggest to me that virtual races are a solution to an inclusivity problem - right? Some people may not feel comfortable showing up and running an in-person event.
Running is intimidating if you do not consider yourself a runner. So it's a way for you to kind of participate without being there and having crowds of people around you.
Yeah, it's a big problem. It's something that has been showing partly in this other trend that we see, which the report also highlighted, which is that although, for instance, shoe sales are up, meaning that more runners are going out there running, it's been a struggle for the industry to convert some of those runners into regular racers or even just to kind of to put them through the funnel of getting them into a race, getting them to experience the event, and then hopefully making them into more of a kind of, like, a habit racer. Do you guys see any kind of way of improving that? Because again, it comes back to inclusivity, right? All those beginners and non-racers - how do we get them to feel more comfortable and get them to feel that they belong in races and that they can show up for an event and don't have to like, run remotely somewhere?
Well, I think that there are a number of races that are out there that have been doing it for a number of years. So you take somebody like myself that has been helping to organise the Scott Coffee Run for a number of years. We kind of have our own set-in-our-ways type of approach and so forth that has proven to be successful, so we continue along that path. I'm not sure if you've had Kathy Dalby from Pacers Running on your podcast or not, but they have running stores in the Washington DC area as well as they put on events. They've done a number of really interesting things to reach out to a younger demographic, be more inclusive, combine runs that are get-together-for-fun, have goal races, and things like that. While there are examples where a number of races have been down, their races have done pretty well because of some of the effort that they put into trying to make that connection between these new runners. The new runners are just not going to come just because you put up a Facebook ad, and that has kind of been the habit that I feel like a lot of races have gotten into. So to reach new demographics, you have to try new things and it's hard.
Yeah. I mean, I haven't had Kathy on the podcast yet, but Ryan Callahan, who's the marketing director for Pacers Running.
Yeah, Ryan's great.
Yeah, he was on and we spoke at length. I think that episode came out in December or late November. We spoke at length about the success they've had with DC Half - everything that went into that the branding and everything. I guess their angle very specifically was more around attracting younger participants, which they did extremely well at. They had, like, over 40% of the participants be under the age of 30, which is huge compared to the industry average, which is, like, 18 or something like that. And then also, I did a very interesting episode with Brian Mister who does this Around The Crown 10K down in North Carolina and he was telling me about all of their grassroots initiatives. They have a First Timers Club, which I think is awesome. They do training runs to also, I guess, take the cost out of the equation. They also have a pay-what-you-want kind of programme that people can contribute to. If you sign up, you can pay some money for someone that may not be able to afford it kind of thing. And he was telling me that with all of these things - which is the positive in all this - they do end up moving the needle. So I agree with the sentiment that these are fixable problems. The question is, is the majority of race directors embracing these kinds of small innovations - I mean, it's not rocket science - to get more people to take an interest in participating in races? And it seems to me that, unfortunately, the majority of races out there-- for many reasons, it could be resources, staffing, or whatever, they're not actually moving fast enough or firmly enough in the right direction to get that inclusivity question addressed. Now, since we're on the inclusivity question - some relatively good news in the age participation stats - 2022 was the first year in a while, probably since 2010 - that was the peak - or 2011, where we saw the participation in the 18-to-29-year-old group grow from the year before, not hugely, not super dramatically, but there was an uptick there, and there was a bit of a downtick - more pronounced downtick - in the 40-to-59 age bracket in terms of the makeup of its age group in overall participation. Do we think that's a fluke? Or is that something that race directors sort of learned their lessons or, like, they're doing stuff that are making races more attractive to younger people?
Unfortunately, I think that's a pandemic fluke because I think we saw in 2020, as we were talking about virtual races, they appealed a lot more to older participants. And so I think what that really is, is just an evening back somewhat, and 18-to-29 is still down from 2019. So I think that there is some resurgence and kind of evening out as more in-person events have come back. I don't think that we have figured out the problem with attracting youth runners yet. That's been the biggest conversation, I think, at most of the roadshows - what are we doing and how do we fix this problem and actually reach some of these younger runners?
Well, it's interesting that you mentioned the road show because my impression is that it's probably not particularly high on race directors raider - this trend. I know that we talk about it a lot. Like, other kinds of like bodies in the industry talk about it a lot but are race directors coming forward and, sort of, being curious about or wanting to find solutions to this? Is it something that is concerning people on the ground?
Yes. I would say 40% of the people specifically brought up to me, "What do we do about younger runners?" So I do think that people are starting to realise it's a problem. They just don't know how to solve it yet.
Because one of the things that actually came up in the group when we were discussing this-- actually, it may have been around the time when we published this episode with Ryan on Gen Z runners and stuff, and one of the questions that someone asked there, which I found reasonable is, "What should we expect that percentage of 18-to-29-year-olds to be?" Basically, like, what's the steady state? What's the healthy state? Like, what are we aiming towards? Is there a benchmark here? Because we know that that number hit its peak around 2010-2011, which is probably around the time when the whole industry hit its peak, but that person was saying, "It's 18% today. Like, what's the issue? Why should we want it? What should we expect it rather to be - 20% or 30%?
I think, literally, it's been falling since we started doing this every year. It's gotten lower and lower. So, that suggests that it's going to be very hard to get that 30-40-year-old runner to come to join events if they never did when they were 21, 22, or 23. So I don't know what the exact benchmark is. I don't have the numbers from 16 in front of me. 18 was around 18% and we're now at, like, 14%. And so, I do think improvement would be good to see - if we can continue to get to kind of pre-pandemic numbers and hopefully even beyond that because it was a cause for a little bit of concern, even before the pandemic, and then I think that really saw the numbers tank, mostly because young people are way too cool for virtual events.
So it's simply because, basically, I guess, it's where the growth is coming from - right? I mean, we wouldn't have a particular issue with the sports getting, on average, older, if it weren't for the fact that, if it continues that way, participation overall is not going to be growing if younger people are not coming through.
Yeah, it's pretty much harder to reach a 40-year-old runner who's never come to an event than one who's done, like, events throughout their life.
Interesting. One of the other trends that, through the pandemic, has been sort of, like, going back and forth quite significantly over a couple of years was when people register. So that's part of your registration stats that are always very interesting because we all have our own feelings and anecdotal data. Lots of people thought, during the pandemic, that people were holding off and they were registering a lot later. Basically, what seems to be happening in 2022 is that the percentage of participants that are registering early went up, and the percentage of participants registering late was down. Now, to me, I would have thought that when there is a big influx of people going back into races, it would be a natural shift to get more people to sign up early. It's just like a usual bullish thing that more people want to go in and they sign up early. Is there anything else to read into that stat other than the fact, generally, registration would shift earlier?
I think that's probably pretty close. So the actual event week registrations have been extremely steady. Every year, it's like 24% to 26% and that remains pretty true. But you're right that the, like, 1-4 weeks out is where you really saw the drop. So it seemed like people had either decided early or very late. They weren't waiting. And some of that could have just been the difference in how people make decisions this year. They were really excited to get back to running and so they registered right away. And if they hadn't done that, then it just kind of fell off their radar in a way that-- it used to be they always knew they were gonna do that event.
Johanna, I just thought of something. It may have been caused somewhat by deferrals.
Like, people that signed up for a race for 2020 had been on deferral. So the race just kept them on deferral. And then, as soon as they opened, they moved those deferrals into the race. So, like, 100 people might have signed up for the race in 2020, they got deferred for a couple of years, and then when the race opened, the software basically allows a race director to easily put those deferrals into this year's race. So it may be somewhat of a statistical misdirection there.
Yeah, that would make sense. Since we're on the topic of when people register, another piece of information I found quite interesting - actually, I don't think it was there in the 2021 report, but I didn't check - was this graph you guys have of the three registration peaks. So, basically, you see the distribution of registrations throughout the registration cycle and you see three kinds of peaks there. You see, obviously, the people who register very late like the month of race and week of race crowd. Then, you see the people that register very early. And then, you see also a bump in the middle. And you see actually that bump in the middle obviously moves around, depending on the distance that we're talking about. So that marathon's bump is earlier than, let's say, 10Ks, and that bump comes in the 30-to-60 days out territory. It feels to me that there are 3 different types of participants out there like the early birds, the really kind of, like, last-minute folks, and the bulk of people in the middle who register regularly around price increases and stuff like that. Do you think that's a fair characterization? Do we feel like we know anything more about what motivates each group of people producing those three peaks in registration?
I think you're pretty close. Yeah. I think a lot of the middle is probably pricing. The very early birds and the very late people just kind of are who they are and are not motivated by outside things. But I think the timing of that middle group really is just pricing.
You also have something there in the notes in the report - that is something I wasn't actually aware of - where you say, give people the option to sign up now and pick up their distance later kind of thing in order to encourage people to sign up earlier. How does it work? Someone would come on to an event that has, say, a marathon, half marathon, and a 10K and they'll just sign up without picking a distance?
No, they would pick a distance, but if you have flexible options for transferring events, then you can say, "Sign up for the marathon now. If your training doesn't go well, you can always change it to the half marathon later." And that just gives them some flexibility for making sure that they can participate at all.
Okay, interesting. So basically, you're saying, as an event, if you don't have any cost, any transfer costs, or any barriers like that, you can tell people, "Listen, give us your money. We're really flexible." Mostly, I guess, downgrading from events - right? You tell them, "If you find the marathon is-- you bid off a little bit too much, we can put you down to the half marathon kind of thing." Right?
Yeah, we have this one customer vacation race and they have extraordinarily flexible refund and deferral policies that are just very, very consumer-friendly, and I feel like they're the model that every race should model themselves after. I think so many races are so determined to keep that $50 because somebody wants a refund because they got injured or something like that, and they wind up not creating a raving fan. For Scott Coffee, if people send an email in saying, "Hey, I got or whatever. Can I get my $35 back?" I refunded because I don't want the bad karma, and they always are like, "Oh, thank you so much. I'll definitely be back next year." I think people just don't offer flexible enough options.
Yeah. I think there's a reasonable degree of flexibility and I would consider shifting someone 30 days out between the marathon and the half marathon. I would consider that being reasonably flexible. And then, I guess, there is the 2-days out sprained ankle, dog-ate-my-homework, whatever, and I've incurred all the costs, and then I guess, as a race director, I'll have to understand people, like, thinking a bit harder about that even if it means disappointing someone - right?
And vacation races kind of accommodate that sort of thing where they've got a sliding scale for the amount of refund that they give based upon a time before, right? So if you cancel-- I forget the days but if he cancelled 90 days before, you get a full refund. If you cancel 15 days before, you only get a 50% refund. Yeah, there are costs, but you also have to consider, like, how many people are actually sending you an email asking for a refund. In the case of the little Scott Coffee Race here with 1000 people, I'll get like two a year. And does it really matter if we're out the 60 bucks that I refunded? And oh, by the way, we've got a couple of raving fans now and we don't have somebody that's, like, sulking and ticked off and saying mean things about us.
Yeah, I think the important thing with all of these things is more around being clear and transparent, rather than the policy itself because what you're describing there with vacation races makes a lot of sense to even put into paper and have as a policy. I think people would appreciate being told that, if you cancel 90 days out, you get a full refund, and if you get cancelled, like, a week out, you get less of a refund.
Yeah. That's kind of a personal topic but, at RunSignup, our contract is non-exclusive. So customers can leave us at any point in time with no penalty involved. A number of other vendors insist upon a multi-year contract and stuff like that, and you look at our churn numbers and they're, like, very, very close to zero. Having the ability for customers to leave us if they're unhappy with us, well, they should have that right. Like, what right do we have of taking money from them? Yeah, I get the fact that you've paid for porta potties and you've allocated the percentage of the porta potty across each individual, where you might have bought one too many T-shirts or medals, but I just think people are watching their pennies and the dollars are flying over their heads.
I agree. You need to be reasonable with that and I think different events are at different ends of it. I know lots of, like, really gruelling ultra marathons that have, like, 50 participants and though those guys get injured-- I mean, lots of people would like to have cancelled because, through training, all kinds of stuff happens and the tickets are big. Anyway, I think we labelled this enough. I completely agree that you want to have people happy and you definitely don't want to be creating barriers - because they never work - when people want to leave, whether it's your race or your - I see this quite a lot with race directors now on a more relevant point - with mailing lists. I mean, they go and hide the unsubscribe thing and, like, make it the same text as the background and stuff like that. I'm like, "Listen, why would you want to be sending emails to someone that doesn't want to be part of the mailing list?" Right? I mean, what do you hope to achieve there? I mean, just let them go. Put the unsubscribe as prominently as you can there. Anyway, let's move on to pricing trends, which is one of my favourite areas. Very interestingly, seeing what we've been through with inflation and cost increases, there was a steep increase in entry fee prices from 2021. Marathons are up 16%, half marathons are up almost 12%, 10Ks are more than 10%. Do we have any evidence to suggest how participation and demand responded to those price increases because we had a bit of a chat last year with you, Bob, Chris, Rob, and Johanna, I think, on a different podcast about people's reluctance to put prices up. There were concerns that people are not going to be signing up. Did it put a dent? Did it even make any kind of difference?
I mean, I think it's kind of hard to tell because there were so many factors. My personal opinion would be no. Like Bob said earlier, I don't think that was what caused participation to still be a little bit low this year, especially because people saw prices go up across the board on everything. So I think people kind of knew this was coming.
Yeah. And I feel that there is some price elasticity on race pricing and certainly on processing fees. Like, our customers can increase the processing fee and keep the difference, and we've seen a number of customers starting to do that. But I don't think it's a bad thing to charge more as long as you put the energy into it and make what you're offering valuable.
Well, in terms of the environment we've been through-- I mean, forget about being a bad thing. It was an unnecessary thing, wasn't it? Because just margins were thin even before what's been happening with inflation. They've been under heavy pressure with what's been happening with the costs and with all of the supply chain issues - right? So people had to do that to survive in many cases.
Yeah. And I guess the other point I'll take this opportunity to make here is that I think there's a difference between a no-frills type of race and a high-frills type of race. I think most races are organised around high frills and I would advocate, as a way of getting people back and involved and so forth, to go more towards the no-frills type of side of things. I.e. no medals, no shirts, no timing. Like, real cheap. We do our Morristown Turkey Trot that way, and it's $10 and we are very profitable with it being a $10 fee because we don't have any costs.
Yeah, absolutely. And actually, I recorded an episode on race budgets that is still to go out with Sean Ryan. He was telling me that an important thing to understand in circumstances where margins are under pressure is to be really aware of the things that participants are aware around the race and try not to cut those things that will actually affect the race experience, and try to basically focus on things that are, sort of, not that visible to people and may not affect the race experience like what you do with your office or other stuff, and you want to try and be more aggressive with that side of costs rather than starting to go down the spiral of, like, "Oh, I'll do a cheaper medal, and cheaper these and the cheaper that." Because as you say, there are two types of races out there and it's good to know what type of race your race is. If your race is a kind of, like, premium high-frills race, you should not try to go down the making-it-a-budget thing just to improve your economics because it alters the character of the race and that's not really the right way to go about it.
Price increases over the registration cycle seem to be coming down on average. So basically, people use fewer price increases. Do we have an idea why that is?
I think that's leftover from the pandemic during, kind of, the uncertainty of races and whether they were happening. A lot of virtual races didn't have price increases and people just kind of removed that out of their regular schedule. This is when we opened registration. This is when our price increases, etc. So I think that will kind of normalise back over the next couple of years.
Okay. Now, I want to wrap up with a quick look at promotions - the stats that came out of the report around promotions. There were some stats there around people using coupons, which is a feature that you guys offer on the platform, which is essentially discount codes basically. Do we know how people use those? Are they mostly in a kind of, like, time-limited thing? Basically, it's like Valentine's Day or Christmas or whatever, and they just put out a discount code targeting that specific holiday. Or do they have discount codes that, let's say, offer 10% and they use them throughout the year throughout the registration cycle?
I don't think we know which one they're doing, but they should definitely be doing them time limited because they don't work as a good motivator unless you say it has to be done on this date.
Okay, fair enough. Now, the other thing that seems to particularly work on the platform and people take advantage of is your referral rewards feature. Do you want to, like, briefly explain to people how that works?
So referral reward is a great feature on our platform. What happens is the race director sets up a set of parameters and a typical one would be, if you refer five friends, you get $20 back or even your full race fee back. And what happens is that a special code gets created for sharing. So that runner that just signed up is now sharing with their friends. Our platform keeps track of how many of their friends sign up. As soon as it hits five, we issue the refund automatically. So the race director doesn't have to do any work. What we see is ROIs are 1000%, 2000%, and 3,000%. Race directors that really do a good job of this and set up a drip campaign using our free email tool will set up emails to remind people to invite their friends and the rewards that come along with that. And then, we've got this kind of second layer that people can utilise to track swag rewards. So if people get 10 people, maybe they get a free hat or something like that or hoodie when they hit 20. So you find out that races will typically have a few mavens that may attract quite a few people and are motivated by the swag and motivated by the money. But what you also find out is that a lot of people only will get two or three friends and you won't have to issue refunds. It's just an amazing tool that I forget what the average is - it's, like, 6% or 7% by just turning it on. The races that use it aggressively will hit, like, 20% plus of their participants through a referral, which kind of makes a lot of sense.
So is it just toggling something and it will just work out of the box?
You just toggle it on. Our default is five friends $20 and all you have to do is toggle. If you don't like that, you can set it to be $30. Our suggestion is not to make it too small. Make it a meaningful amount. The numbers tell the truth. Like, the ROI is just tremendous. For every dollar you spend, you get, like, $80 or $100 back in return of other people signing up. The numbers are incredible. People don't believe it.
When they put their race on RunSignup, are you guys sort of, like, pushing that to help people realise how valuable it is and turn it on?
We did. We used to have it in the wizard. We took it out during the pandemic. Now, we're going to be doing a refresh on the wizard in the next few months and we're going to be putting it back in. But yeah, it's easy to find. If you just type referral in the little menu search, you'll see it and it's really super easy to turn on.
Well, absolutely because if it gives you, like, a 6% or 7% boost just by toggling something, I'd be toggling all day. We've talked at length about the stats in the report. This is just a brief highlight of some of the things that I found the most interesting in the report. Where can people download the latest copy of that? We should say, if it's not obvious, most things on RunSignup is absolutely free. So where can people get a copy of this?
Runsignup.com/trends. Or as noted on the new website, if you just go to Knowledge Base, there's an Industry Reports section that has this and all the reporting we do throughout the year on numbers.
Awesome. Are hard copies on offer?
At the roadshows. We do have some hard copies at the roadshows.
Come see us on the road.
Okay, great. Last question. What is this info subdomain you guys have? Because when I go to that, it seems to me like it's still the RunSignup website. Is that a placeholder for something? Is it supposed to evolve into something?
So runsignup.com is our system. So it's several million lines of code and 2,000-plus database tables and stuff like that, and it has to be PCI compliant. So if Johanna wanted to make a change on the website, it actually has to go through our code review process. Even if she wants to add a comma, it adds, like, probably, 3 hours of developer time to get that comma added. And so what we did is we created a separate WordPress website, info.runsignup.com, and that allows our marketing team to have full control over all of the content on that. And then, what we did is we basically mirrored the page on runsignup.com. So when you click a menu item that's content-oriented or knowledge-base-oriented or something like that, you go to info. The other thing to note is that our old blog is not getting new blogs - runsignup.blog. So all new blogs are being done on info.runsignup, and we've taken all that relevant blogs off of the old blog and put them on the info.runsignup, but because there's so much SEO search on the old one, we just left that there in static.
Okay, really complete answer there. Where can people reach you if they want to have a chat about any of the stuff today or any RunSignup related stuff?
You can always email me - it's email@example.com. It's also on the actual report - my email is listed. So you can always reach me for that.
I'm firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can feel free to contact me.
Awesome, guys. Thank you very much for today for the time that you took to come and share this with us and explain some of the stats in the report. Thank you very much for the report itself and everything you guys do in putting out data for the industry. We all really appreciate it. Hopefully, lots of our listeners are going to be shaking hands with you in one of your upcoming road shows. And thanks again for everything you do.
And thanks to everyone listening in and we'll see you all on our next podcast!
I hope you enjoyed this episode on race trends with my guests, RunSignup’s Johanna Goode and Bob Bickel.
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.
If you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe or leave a review on your favourite player and, also, check out the podcast back-catalogue for more great content like this.
Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.