Head Start

Market Update: Are We There Yet?

May 16, 2022 Bob Bickel, Chris Robb Episode 31
Head Start
Market Update: Are We There Yet?
Show Notes Transcript
It is May 2022 and whatever hopes and expectations we’ve all had of 2022 at the end of last year have started to materialize - or have they? It’s difficult to say how strongly our industry’s recovery towards pre-pandemic levels has fared so far this year, particularly when we all individually get to see only parts of the bigger picture.

Well, today I’m delighted to be joined by two industry insiders who get to see as much of the bigger picture as any in our industry - Bob Bickel, Founder of US registrations market-leader RunSignup and Chris Robb, CEO of Mass Participation World and a passionate advocate for the endurance events industry.

Chris and Bob come armed with data and a deep understanding of our industry and where it’s currently at, and they’ll be discussing with me the latest data on event numbers and registration trends, as well as more profound questions, like “Is it time for race directors to be raising prices?” - a question I’m sure many of you are asking yourselves.

In this episode:

  • Market recovery continues, but lagging prior expectations for 2022
  • The effect of Omicron and erosion of trust on race participation
  • Have people fallen out of love with racing?
  • The knock-on effect of losing early sign-ups on overall registrations
  • Race director sentiment: from optimism to survival mode
  • The risk of operational know-how loss for the industry
  • Why are runners not getting back to start lines? 
  • Update on participant no-show rates
  • The effect of local authority staff turnover on race permitting and event support provision
  • Is local business and local community support for races waning?
  • Industry lobbying efforts throughout the pandemic
  • Non-returning race rates before and during the pandemic
  • Financial stresses for mid-tier organizers and the tough 6 months ahead
  • Is it time for race directors to raise prices?
  • Bridging the disconnect between events and participants through year-round participant engagement
  • Sponsor sentiment and the shift towards performance-based sponsorships
  • Market forecasts for the next two years
Many thanks to our podcast sponsors, RunSignup and Racecheck, for supporting our efforts to provide great, free content to the race director community:

RunSignup are the leading all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events. 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. Find out more at https://runsignup.com/.

Racecheck can help you collect and showcase your participant reviews on your race website, helping you more easily convert website visitors into paying participants, with the help of their Racecheck Review Box. Download yours for free today at https://organisers.racecheck.com/.

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 marketing or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Panos:

Hi! Welcome to Head Start, the podcast race directors and the business of putting on races. It is May 2022 and whatever hopes and expectations we've all had or 2022 at the end of last year have started to materialize - or have they? It's difficult to say how strongly our industry's recovery towards pre-pandemic levels has fared so far this year, particularly when we all individually get to see only parts of the bigger picture. Well, today, I'm delighted to be joined by two industry insiders who get to see as much of the bigger picture as any in our industry - Bob Bickel, Founder of US registrations market-leader RunSignup and Chris Robb, CEO of Mass Participation World and a passionate advocate for the endurance events industry. Chris and Bob come armed with data and a deep understanding of our industry and where it's currently at, and they'll be discussing with me the latest data on event numbers and registration trends, as well as more profound questions, like "Is it time for race directors to be raising prices?" - a question I'm sure many of you are asking yourselves. Before we go into all that, though, a quick reminder of how today's podcast was made possible - and that's through the support of our amazing sponsors. So many things to RunSignup, race directors' favorite all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events, now powering more than 26,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events. And many thanks to Racecheck, whose free Racecheck Review Box Widget can help you collect and showcase your participant feedback on your own website, helping you more easily convert website visitors into paying participants. We'll be hearing a bit more from these two great companies a bit later in the podcast. But, now, let's dive into our market update with Chris Robb and Bob Bickel. Chris, Bob, welcome to the podcast!

Bob:

Thank you.

Chris:

Thanks, Panos. It's great to see you.

Panos:

Well, thank you very much to you both for taking the time to come on the podcast. So, it seems that we're struggling with a few time zones today. Chris, you're in Singapore - is that right?

Chris:

I'm in Bali, actually

Panos:

You're in Bali? Okay, great. Even more exotic. Bob, what exotic destination are you calling from?

Bob:

I'm in southern New Jersey.

Panos:

Awesome! That's great. You're both in Bali and New Jersey. Can I get you guys, first off, to just introduce yourselves for me? You're both very well known in the industry, but maybe not everyone on the podcast would know about you. So, let's take it in turn. Chris, you want to say a couple of things about you, your background, and what you do in the industry?

Chris:

Yeah. Thanks, Panos. I'm Chris Robb, the CEO and founder of Mass Participation World. I've been in the industry now, I guess, for 35 years with some gaps in between. I'm not 35 years old anymore, unfortunately. I started off in Zimbabwe. I was born on a farm in Zimbabwe. I organized my first event when I was 16. My first event was to raise money to resurface our cinder athletics track. Hopefully, there are a few people on the call that remember the days of cinder athletic tracks. I think, Bob, you're a similar vintage to me, so you probably do.

Bob:

That's all I raced on, Chris.

Chris:

Yeah, me too. So, I organized the fun run for that and it stuck. I went to University in South Africa, did a bit of travel, and ultimately ended up in Australia. I've had an incredible journey. I'm very fortunate to be the road event supervisor at the Sydney Olympics, which was an amazing opportunity. Then, JP Morgan came along as a client and organized the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge in Australia and they wanted to take that to Asia - I had this wonderful opportunity to help them launch that in Singapore. 17 years later, I'm still in Asia. I got married and have a little 7-year-old son who I said 'Good night' to before we started. I had the privilege of organizing the Singapore Marathon - which was a 60,000-participants event, at its peak. I created an event called Cycles Singapore, which came from an idea to 11,500 cyclists in Singapore and across the region. Then, I sold that business to Ironman and founded Mass Participation Asia - as a conference to, kind of, bring the industry together - that has now evolved into Mass Participation World for obvious reasons. We haven't had any in-person conferences in Singapore but, hopefully, that's going to be back soon - engaging the industry globally in terms of education, advocacy, research, and consulting. I'm lucky to be involved in a job that's my passion. I love supporting and engaging with the industry globally.

Panos:

Absolutely. And you have your own podcasts, I should say, Aid Station and Global Updates.

Chris:

That's right. Aid stations started during the pandemic - I think we're on edition 121. I think we've had guests from about 54 countries in that. Then, a few weeks ago, I started coming off with this week's edition of Global Updates. So I do that twice a month - the first and fourth Tuesday of the month - and literally just reach out to the network. So far, we've been having a theme every week. So, today was staff challenges and solutions. That's obviously topical and we might get into that later. I would be live on Facebook and LinkedIn for 15-20 minutes, and then have it transferred into a podcast for people to listen to.

Panos:

Yeah, absolutely. We're gonna be touching on some of those later on today. Bob, do you want to say a couple of things about yourself?

Bob:

Well, I ran on cinder tracks. in high school and college. Quite honestly, running was a very foundational element in my life and is really important to me, although I stopped competing after college. I got into software technology and hopped on the internet train in the 90s. I've been part of a number of somewhat successful, kind of, internet startup companies - mostly in the Java infrastructure area. Then, when 2010 started, RunSignup was really a little side project. I got lucky and met this wonderful young man, Steven Sigurd. He's the real reason why RunSignup is successful - he's just a genius and the best software developer I've ever worked with. We just started building stuff, and people liked it and used it. By 2019, things had gone pretty well for us. I think we had somewhere around 20,000 events across the US used us to sign up, like 6-7 million people, and it's been a great ride. The past couple of years have been very, very strange and, I guess, we'll get into that as we as we go along here.

Panos:

Yeah, absolutely. You also sponsor this podcast for which we and our listeners are very thankful for supporting the work we do here.

Bob:

Well, just a comment on that. I really feel that there are certain people in this endurance community who have really good hearts and souls and tried to help others. Panos, I think that you're, kind of, one of those people. The support is really just out of admiration of trying to get good information out to people who are trying to put on races.

Panos:

Well, you're very kind. Thank you very much for that. I really appreciate the kind words. We all do our bit to support this great and very niche industry that we're all in. So, today, we're going to have another market update episode. I say another one because we seem to be having more and more of those. I thought, like, the end of last year would be the end of it and there would be very little to update people on. But, apparently, it seems that we may not be quite there yet, so it's important to do this update because lots of people - particularly on our race directors' group on Facebook, Race Directors Hub - have continued to ask questions about registrations and participation. They don't feel, like, things are fully recovered although, perhaps, they think they should have. Quite interestingly, both of you, over the last couple of weeks, posted a couple of very interesting pieces respectively - on the RunSignup blog for Bob and on the Mass Participation World blog for Chris - on some issues that seem to be lingering in the market, even after we've, sort of, officially called the close on the whole pandemic thing - things around the loss of know-how, people moving on, and a bit of, like, muscle atrophy in the industry - that we're going to get into. I think that's very interesting for people to, to catch up on and, also, for people to also feel like they're not alone because I suspect, from reading things in the group, that lots of race organizers are facing issues with local authorities, with permits, with other things. and they may suspect that they may be particularly unlucky. Maybe, we would end up seeing that some of these things have become a little bit more ingrained in the period we find ourselves in. But before we go into all those specifics, let's start with a quick market update. I guess Bob is probably the best placed, at least, to offer a perspective on what's happening in the US. I guess, 2019 was the year we all look back on as the last best year out there. How close are we to getting to those numbers 2019 numbers in terms of registrations and market recovery?

Bob:

There are two ways to answer that. One is that if you look at the events that happen in 2019 and in 2022 so far, we're looking at down, like, 15 to 20%. So, if an event survived, that event is typically down 15% to 20%. There are exceptions on the high end. We also have seen probably about 20% plus of the events that happen in 2019. We track events that are over 500 participants, so they have at least some critical mass. About 20% plus of those events have, kind of, disappeared over those three years - that's kind of the number we're seeing. It was, kind of, hidden from us because we were tracking our top-level registrations, revenues, transaction volume, and stuff like that. We had grown, I think-- our Q1 report was 22% or 23% in terms of the number of events on our platform. The number of events and the number of registrations tracked perfectly parallel - they were both like 22, or 23%. So we thought, "Well, geez. The average size of an event is still the same." We dug into it recently and put out that new blog with that new data, and that really resonated with a lot of people. Like, I can't believe how many calls and emails I got as a result of that blog. People were like, "You're exactly right! You hit the nail on the head! There's a lack of energy. Things are down. It's tough for the individual race."

Panos:

So, races that were around in 2019 are 20% down in registrations. Then, I also read in one of your pieces that - you tracked and looked at data entries of Running in the USA - actual event numbers are also down, sort of, by another 20%.

Bob:

Yeah, I think so. I think what we saw in terms of just the atrophy in races above 500 was typical of what happened. I think that there are relatively few green shoots. This is probably skipping ahead on your questions, but I think what's going to happen is, because there's fewer events out there, it presents an opportunity for new events to be created and new energy to, kind of, come into the community.

Panos:

Absolutely. Chris, what's your take from what you're seeing across the rest of the world?

Chris:

I guess the answer is, there's quite a vast discrepancy from market to market. As a generalization, I got some numbers from Pierre Dullevroy from njuko, who I'm sure Bob would know. He's reporting a 20% to 30% drop across Europe - I'm hearing bigger numbers in some of the other markets - and as much as a 40% drop in some markets. In the eastern hemispheres, things are really just on the comeback in some markets. China has gone backward again. We've now got this phenomenon in many parts of Asia where we've just come out of Ramadan, so a lot of the Muslim countries have, kind of, closed down and had a bit of a pause. Also, we're going into the monsoons and the hot parts of the year. So, the Bangalore 10K is happening in India this week, but it's a kind of an outlier. There are a few events starting to trickle back in other parts. They just had the Ironman Vietnam at the weekend and that was a little down, but it was a successful event. Numbers in Australia seem to start returning. The number that I got for New Zealand is a lot of events are only at 65% of 2019 levels. They had a bizarre season where they literally had a month of events. So, those got crammed and things are starting to come back now. I got some stuff out of Ethiopia from Dagmawit Amare at the Great Ethiopia Run. They are controlling and clawing back the numbers because of COVID. You might have seen some of the stuff on Comrades and Two Oceans. Comrades is way behind, but it's got some way to go. They had a successful Two Oceans - I think it's 20% to 30% off, if I'm right, which is a great signal to the industry. There is positivity in the numbers out of Latin America, but the numbers are still, sort of, 20% or 30% down from what they were in 2019. So, I think that's where it's lagging behind the US, but it's starting to get some nice momentum.

Panos:

If we try - to look back and rate our own biases and expectations on what 2022 should have looked like - to look forward from 2021, lots of people in the fall of 2021 were predicting that, maybe, by this time, we would have been a lot closer to a full recovery. How well do you think we did back then? Are we where we thought we would be? Are we ahead or are we behind?

Bob:

I think we're definitely behind where we thought we would be. We did our 2022 budget in October and November. Omicron was not big yet in the US, so the numbers that we're hitting in March, April, May, and June are going to be lower than what we had anticipated back then. Our January and February numbers were, kind of, what we had anticipated because we saw Omicron coming. The thing that we totally missed - because we just didn't look at this - is that, from the existing base of customers, we're going to take a hit of 20%. That would still be existing in the springtime after the Omicron wave.

Chris:

I think if you were to look at the other parts, it's going to be way behind. Because of the shutdowns that have happened, there would be a massive loss in the industry across the region. So, Australia is taking 20% or 30%, which is maybe comparable to what Bob was talking about - 20% in America. Then, you look at Thailand talking about 80% of the industry being gone. You would hear anything in between that in other parts of the world. Most of the big events in India have missed three editions. The Mumbai marathon would have fundamentally missed three years before they would come back in February next year. So, we'll talk about commercial models later, but the knock-on impact of that is absolutely enormous in many of those other markets.

Panos:

Do we think that all of that can be, basically, attributed to Omicron, the effect it had on the market and, maybe, lingering psychology of participants not wanting to come back and race?

Bob:

I think it's a combination. I think at least half of it is on the event organizers and the other half is the psychology. It's not necessarily the wave. I think people have, kind of, gotten used to waves. Here in the US, I think that there's a decreasing concern as waves build. Like, there's a wave that's building now in the US. Overall, I'd say that the amount of concern is continuing to decrease whether you're on the right or the left, or you're blue or red. What I mean by "on event organizers" is I feel that - Chris was just talking about Mumbai that hadn't happened in three years - the event organizers just naturally, kind of, lose some of their enthusiasm. Some of the people that were there have gone on to other things. You just, kind of, forget what you did three years ago. Then, as an event organizer, you have to have this concern of, "Well, what happens if a wave comes?" So, we had a symposium planned at the end of January, spent a bunch of money, and actually ate a bunch of money to put that on, but it got canceled. We couldn't have it at all - that's very disappointing from an emotional perspective. You go through these troughs of repeated emotional disappointments. I think the event organizers, at the end of the day, are just a little bit hesitant to really put a lot into it.

Chris:

I sense that Omicron, maybe, masks some underlying market fundamentals - the challenge to the business model which we'll talk about a little bit further, I'm sure. I think, in many markets, there was an erosion of trust in the consumer. Some people handled their refund policies well, others didn't handle them well. There was such a discrepancy. I'm still hearing elements of people saying-- I'm not sure what your stats are, Bob, but the stats that Pierre got is that the peak of the bell curve has moved up for three weeks closer to event day. What is that about? Maybe it's about people being indecisive. And this is speaking for Europe. Maybe it's about them not being fit. I think part of it's more around the trust element. "We want to see if this event is really gonna go ahead. We want to see if there's another wave." So yeah, maybe COVID links to that. So, we've got a massive, I think, consumer confidence issue as Bob pointed out. I was speaking to Hugh Brasher a while ago about this real concern that people have fallen out of love with participating, they have forgotten the vibe of being in a group. Some people think that it's, kind of, the fear of not coming back. I think it's less about the fear and more of "We do other things now. We filled our lives with different things."

Panos:

Bob, I think, in your Q1 business update, I read a point you made there about early signups, which is what Chris was referring to there. The fact that not having early signups in itself has adverse effects because you don't have a large enough group of people to, then, refer others early enough to the race. So, you get that, kind of, like, knock-on effect.

Bob:

Yeah. There's a network effect that happens - we used to call it viral, but we can't call it that anymore. Word of mouth is a positive way to say it now. Like, if I sign up for a race that is going to happen in the summertime in January, I would tell my friends. But, now, I'm not going to tell my friends until I sign up for it two weeks beforehand. Then, that network effect doesn't have a chance to take hold as much as it used to.

Panos:

Yeah, which is also very practical because, at RunSignup, you have peer-to-peer referral infrastructure - right? With every new member you bring on board, it has, like, an additional 20% or 30% of encouraging others.

Bob:

Yeah. A number of our customers use this functionality called referral rewards. If you sign up for an event, you have a special code that you can give to other people. When they sign up, we track that. The race director can say, "Okay, if you get five people to sign up, you get $20 off" or "You get your full entry fee back." And the ROI on it is, like, incredible - it's, like, 1,000% plus. It's really amazing how that works. We track those stats. The referrals are really powerful there. Depending upon how aggressive the race is, as much as 40% of participants come through that referral program.

Panos:

Do we have a sense, then - this being one of the issues - whether, perhaps, organizers going a little bit more aggressive with their earlybird pricing or other early sign-up incentives might help with this situation?

Bob:

I think so. Yeah. We are seeing some of our, kind of, more aggressive, higher energy race directors doing that sort of thing. So, they're pulling out more stops. That's why it's only 20% down - you have these few bright stars that are figuring out ways to break out and still, kind of, bring people together.

Panos:

So, if we try to just get into the head of each of the three constituents in the industry - say, the organizers, the participants, and other stakeholders like local authorities and stuff-- I know you guys have your finger on the pulse of the market in different ways. What's your feeling about where the race organizer mentality is at this stage? You both mentioned that there is a little bit of hesitancy in investing and, maybe, people are holding back a little bit. Do you have any concrete examples or, like, recurring themes from your discussions with people of what's really in the minds of organizers?

Chris:

I'm hearing 'survival' a lot. We're in survival mode. It's really hard. We're exhausted. Everything's really challenging. I had some quotes - I won't name the person - that the next six months are about trying to generate enough cash flow to survive until 2023. That's when we hope that - this was a quote from Asia - we'll be back to 80% to 100% of 2019. So, I think there's very much that - it's survival. It's really challenging on many different levels, from supply chain to staffing and entry. We're on a treadmill that's running really fast, and just trying to stop being blown off the back of it, I think.

Bob:

If you look at race organizations in the US, even the largest ones are very small businesses and they all had lots and lots of struggles to get through the pandemic. In addition, the top 100 races only represent, like, 5% or 6% of the total number of participants. So, it's that long tail that really makes up the majority of the community. Those are made up of, like, individual people that are a timer, that have a van, that go out and time races and things like that. They basically got no income over the past couple of years, so they had to find alternative things to do. A number of them simply went out of business. So, they're not in the business anymore. They may have tried to sell their equipment and things like that, and then got 50 cents on the dollar for their equipment - it was tough for them. Then, there are nonprofit organizations - I'll give you an example. The reason RunSignup came along was I became involved in the Scott Coffee Run. It's a run put on byt the local Rotary Club. I'm not a member of Rotary, but I became involved in this anyway. So, we usually have our organization meeting in January for a June race. This year, we didn't have the organization meeting until April and the committee was down by two very enthusiastic members because they had left the area. There were no replacements because the number of people that were going to the weekly rotary lunches is down by half, so they just don't have the people that are part of the club anymore. The general level of enthusiasm was just down in the room. People were like, "What did we do to get the bagels? Who got those?" The energy was, kind of, lacking but they had to do it because it's their biggest fundraiser of the year. I just sat there in that room and I was, like, "This is what's happening in thousands and thousands of races that are getting organized. This is the reason why we're down 20%." So, it just became really crystal clear. At the end of the day, it's just people and people are tired. They've gotten used to sitting and watching Netflix and not getting out. I think, as both of you have said, people found other things to do and it's going to take them a while to, kind of, get back to IRL communities and be together with people.

Panos:

As you mentioned earlier - everyone can sense as well - this start-stop thing should be incredibly demoralizing. You try to put on your event and another wave comes. You try to get it back into the water, but you're not exactly sure. So, it takes its toll on you, I'm sure. Chris, you must have heard similar stuff from even much larger races across the world.

Chris:

Yeah, absolutely. I think it's kind of the analogy of starting the marathon. Every time you run another 5K, the finish line gets moved further and further down the track. How do you adjust for that with all the unknowns and the staff issues that come with that? I mean, one of the statistics that I quoted on tonight's call - this is a statistic from France - some organizations have 80% new staff. I get a lot of insights from Marcel Altenberg, a crowd scientist. Marcel was telling me that in many large-sized events, 40% of their key staff are seeing that event for the first time - key roles like decision-makers, start-line managers, and course managers. So, the amount of energy that's being poured into the recruitment process, the onboarding process-- I was talking to Mike Nishi and he was talking about the amount of time that he's spending on onboarding staff, going through a very, very strong due diligence to make sure that you get staffs that are aligned to your purpose and are going to be there for a long time, and so on. It all takes time and energy. Managing your cash flow and permitting issues - which we can talk about later as well - are challenging. It's really draining for entrepreneurs. As Bob said, many small businesses with 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, or maybe 15 staff at most, represent a large part of this industry. Kirsten Fleming from Canada was saying, "Many of them have just put up their hands and said, 'Too hard. I'm just going to sell my permit'. I've lost the love for it. I've lost my passion. I can't do it. I used to get one piece of paper. Now, I need 20. I'm taking all this commercial risk to go with it as well."

Panos:

Yeah, I mean, I have to say that - having tried it for a couple of races - putting on races was never an easy job even in the best of times, right? I mean, it's a very challenging business. Then, to have all of these things to also contend with can get really, really stressful. I think resilience and the whole, like, mental health of the industry is also something we want to look a little bit closer at. These churn rates we're seeing in terms of resignations and people moving on are not particularly unique to our industry, though - I mean, it's something that's happening, sort of, globally, right?

Chris:

Absolutely. I think it presents some great opportunities for those that are willing to look at them. I think one of the challenges in our industry is that there's a lot of it that can't be taught in a university or a school. Being able to walk onto an event site and understand what's going on and being able to respond in split seconds to situations often comes with experience. For me, that is the fear - we've lost decades of experience. I have no doubt that we're going to have an amazing industry, but is that going to be in two years, three years, or five years' time? I think there's going to be a real need for our industry. I think, as an industry, we need to guard against this. We lose these decades of experience from both race directors and volunteers. They're probably going to be replaced by - what's been missing for many years - the young tech-savvy entrepreneurs, but they don't necessarily have the operational skills. So, the industry is at risk again. These people come in. They have the skills to market, and we saw a lot of it in Asia as the industry exploded in Asia. Events would go from 0 to 10,000 participants in their first edition. When you have inexperienced people putting these events on, there would be people getting injured, sponsors getting burned, and so on. So, as an industry, how do we mitigate that risk. It's going to be great to get people that generate more revenue, but if they don't have the operational skills and we got on the front pages for all the wrong reasons, there's an equal risk. So, I think that there's going to be wonderful opportunities, but there's going to, certainly, be challenges as we go through this transition.

Bob:

I always see the glass half-full. I see it as a wonderful opportunity, where things have died down and there's a better opportunity now to go out and start an event. I'll use our own company as an example. We, kind of, really focused and fought through this entire pandemic and put a lot of energy in. We did not lose energy at all during the pandemic and we've benefited greatly. Like, the industry might be down 20% plus - or even 40% if you add on the number of races that have not a reoccurred and the lower numbers per race - but we're growing 20%. The reason is we're, kind of, just entrepreneur that is finding the opportunities and is pushing hard. We see customers doing that. We see some of our customers, kind of, taking the opportunity and, kind of, moving forward. Yeah, it's tough and all of that, but there are fewer competitors out there for them. There are less 5K's that are happening in the neighborhood. I'm, kind of, optimistic for the next year. I think the fall is going to be better, and I think that next year is going to be a pretty good year.

Panos:

It's still a challenging market out there, and whatever hopes we will had of a full recovery to 2021 numbers seem to have been a little bit premature, unfortunately. And it's been a very hard time for all you guys out there putting on races, whether it's through a non-profit, a for-profit, or a local running club. Hopefully you're not giving up just yet, and as Bob said, this is maybe even the time to be bold and to be looking to improve and grow the races you already put on. For those of you looking to do that, there's one platform that can really up your game across almost every aspect of your event, from the way you take registrations to how you market your race and even how you manage your event on race day. And that's RunSignup. You know, I keep banging on about RunSignup, because, beyond the great people I frequently get to speak to over there, I hear great things about RunSignup all the time from the hundreds of RunSignup customers that are part of our Race Directors HQ community. And that's all stuff you just can't fake. So take a minute - just a minute - and go visit runsignup.com. Have a look at the features they have to offer and if you have any questions or want to see more of those tools in action, just click to book a free demo - it's right there at the top of the page. Give it a try - 26,000 races can't be wrong, you know! Okay, now, let's get back to the episode. In terms of where the participants' minds are - Chris, you've been tracking the actual factual effects of COVID on participation and the fact that there's been, maybe, like, two or three infections among millions of participants in events through the pandemic - do we feel that, despite that, people are quite apprehensive about getting out on those start lines again?

Chris:

Yeah. I think the statistics are amazing - it was just a simple report from events giving us their data. We stopped the study a couple of weeks ago because we reached the milestone of 10 million participants with only five reported COVID cases in 36 countries. My sense is, from everyone I was speaking to, it's less about the apprehension of getting on a start line. I think, seldom, anyone I spoke to say, "Participants are worried to get on to a start line." I think it's more about what we spoke about out of the habit of doing different things. There's no doubt that there are going to be some tough economic times coming - interest rates are increasing and inflation is going to come through. I think, sometimes, our industry is-- I don't have any stats to back it up, but we're probably an industry that is more recession-proof because it's less of a disposable income, it's getting out there, it's being able to engage, maybe there's a degree of escapism in it, but as I said, I don't have any stats to back that up.

Bob:

I do have stats to back that up, Chris. I actually co-owned a running store for a while back in the 2000s. During the 2008 recession, running stores did bonkers business then because, like, not everybody lost their job and not everybody was bad. So, it might not be cool to go out and buy an expensive car, but to go and buy a pair of shoes-- even if you were, kind of, constrained in terms of your entertainment dollars that you could spend, buying a pair of shoes, going out, running, and spending $35 on a 5K is not that extravagant.

Panos:

I had Peter Abraham - that you both know - on the podcast a few episodes back talking about branding. We were discussing the challenges that events, regardless of the pandemic, face in thinking through how to allocate their dollars. He was saying that, like, an event these days maybe $100, then add this and that to it. Then, for two people to even go out of town and race comes up to a few hundred dollars-- people might think, "I can either race or do something else." I do a couple of races a year that I really love. I seem to have, like, a different kind of wallet for my racing budget, so I wouldn't think of it as fungible. Do we feel that's the case - that, maybe, disposable income gets a little bit tighter and people would actually have to make those decisions between going out on a race or going out to the theater or doing something completely different?

Bob:

Well, yeah. I mean, everybody has to make their own decisions on that, but I think that people have plenty of money to go out and sign up for a race. While it may hurt some of the events where there's travel involved, I think most people are going to races that are within a 25 or 50 mile radius of their homes - I don't have exact stats on that, but that's my gut feel. So, I think that people have gotten used to doing other things over the past three years, rather than they're not willing to spend 0.05% of their budget on signing up for a race.

Chris:

I would second that. Also, I think that there's a great opportunity for more experiences - people going out of town for a weekend. My sense is that there is an opportunity to put on more of an experience than a race where people would go a long distance from home. Some of the statistics from Sports Travel Magazine, from Jason, was that people were actually prepared to travel further domestically than they were, prior to the pandemic, to have those, kinds of, experiences in other towns and so on. So, I think people will get the mix right around the experience of running the triathlon or whatever it may be. I think that there are great opportunities there. Going away with the family and people wanting to reconnect-- I think more and more people have reconnected with nature and the outdoors and things. So, I think it may be a challenge for more urban events - city events may be more challenged, from that perspective. I mean, you've seen the massive boom in what's happening in trail running and gravel biking. People are wanting to reconnect with nature. The setup and delivery costs of those kinds of events are lower. Obviously, the capacities and some instances might be limited. It seems to me - without huge experience and interrogation of the business model - that those are probably going to be more sustainable and there'll be interest in being able to go and do those.

Panos:

Yeah, that makes sense to me. I mean, I think it makes sense that when things come back, you have a different appreciation of your time and maybe you want to try to do events that have something to offer in terms of experience. You may not just go and run your local non-distinct race over the weekend - you may just save yourself to go and do those other events. In terms of no-show rates, I know Bob obviously has the experience and data from RunSignup and Chris has some thoughts on that in your recent pieces. Do we have any idea what no-show rates are doing currently in the industry?

Chris:

Yeah. I just got some interesting stuff, again, from Pierre today. In Europe, those have now dropped to 10% over the last couple of weeks. I'm still hearing around 20% to 25% in some other markets. For a long time, I've seen 10% was, kind of, like, the norm pre-COVID. There is an example that totally contradicts that - I think it was the Cardiff Half Marathon two weeks ago, which you may be aware of, that has a 52% no-show rate. Obviously, that's probably skewed in many parts by the deferred entries. People were just now having to say, "Well, I've got to, kind of, check it in before I lose it. So, I'll say that I'm gonna go and then I don't go." So, I think it's hard to get a true read on what that means. Obviously, from a P&L perspective, it's a huge impact. That, combined with the issue of late registrations, how do you order your T-shirts, your medals, and even your, kind of, perishable supplies of your water and your bananas, how many volunteers do you need, and all that kind of stuff, definitely has a P&L impact. It seems to be leveling off in some markets, but I'm still seeing it varies in others.

Panos:

Bob, any insight on the US? What's happening with no-show rates?

Bob:

I don't have any hard data that I prepared for this - I'll publish something later on in the coming weeks on that because we have the technology for timers, and we can track that. We've not seen anything unusual, so my assumption is that we're still about 10%. That makes sense to me because people are kind of more cautious about signing up. Therefore, if they're signing up, they're going to be more conscious about making sure that they attend.

Panos:

Okay. I guess, the one thing that may not be obvious to everyone - and, of course, every race director has their own personal experiences on that, so it might be useful for us all to inject some broader statistics on this - what's happening with local authorities, like, giving out the permits, supporting races on the ground, and welcoming or, in some rare cases, not welcoming races back into their communities. What do we think is the feeling and the situation on the ground with the people that are standing on the other side of the fence and working with race organizers to bring on events locally?

Bob:

They're, kind of, the same thing as race organizers. The story I told every race organizers are, like, "Oh, geez. You're back?! You want us to close down the roads? Do you know how much of a pain it is to close down Main Street to have your Scott Coffee Run? Ah, geez..." Some local cities are just, kind of, tamping down even more and it's becoming more difficult and more expensive. Police rates are increasing and it's a major source of frustration in the US.

Chris:

That's mirrored and it comes back to the great resignation as well - massive staff turnover in the last two years. So, many people are turning up to go and apply for a permit. You're speaking to someone completely new who came in from a different department. Maybe, he got no history with the event. Resourcing is a huge issue. You might be aware of this, Bob - the Illinois marathon which, if I'm correct, is a marathon or half marathon, couldn't get a permit for the marathon because there were not enough police to be able to close the roads. I heard, I think, in Dallas, there were 50 to 60 police headcount short to be able to close the road. So, they can't give any permit at all for the event. I'm hearing in other countries that the councils are now emboldened and empowered by COVID because they've been able to enforce other COVID-related rules - some of that is certainly happening. "I'm now more of a powerful council member and I'll flex my muscles and make it difficult for you." But then, I had some feedback from some people saying that they're not aware of events that are not getting their permit if they come with a collaborative approach - they've got a good plan and they've been flexible. If I'm the old-fashioned race director that's been around for 20 years and I don't need that young whippersnapper behind the counter telling me that I need a permit, and I need to do this and do that, you'll probably be counting problem. But if you come in recognizing that both sides have a challenge, as Bob said, you don't want us to close down the main street because we got the shop owners protesting, the people can't get to church, and all the events that every event deals with - they have to deal with those. I've always said, "Put yourself in the shoes of the permitting authorities and understand what are the problems they have to solve, and let's solve them together." Then, we're more likely to get an outcome that's beneficial as opposed to, "I'm the marathon that's been here for 20 years. I need to get my permit again." Surprise, surprise. You're probably not going to get your permit in the new world that we live in. So, I'm certainly hearing people being asked to provide extra staff and barricades. I think, again, with the glass half-full, this possibly presents an opportunity for the industry to come together in an area and say, "Okay, let's work together as the events that are here" and "Why don't we go to the council and put a solution together, train up more of our volunteers to manage traffic, all those kinds of things, and find a solution that's going to benefit everyone." I think one of the real goods that's come out of this is collaboration. If I go back to when I started in the industry, in the most simplistic term - it still happens - in some parts, when you finished an event, you'd get a flyer for all the events that were coming up. What were we doing? We were fundamentally sharing databases, weren't we? But if you go to someone now and say, "Cross-promote to your database and advertise my event on your Facebook page" some people would do it but most people would say, "Oh, why would I do that? I can't do it." That's how the industry was founded during the running boom. We were all sharing each other's databases in an old-fashioned way. That degree of collaboration, I think, can help with the rebirth in these areas that are struggling.

Panos:

I mean, it's interesting to bring that up. We had a couple of comments in the group around this point as well that I didn't personally expect, that made some sense. I guess that businesses and local businesses may be seeing the case of events being put on in their area and disrupting the regular flow of business with a slightly different perspective, actually. So, you often see some antagonism now, not only from some local residents that always raise some issues around that, but also local businesses being a little bit more reluctant to sign off on these things or, like, jump on the train of "Oh, this is going to bring new people to the area" - the economic impact case. By the way, since you raised this point, Chris, I'm wondering, since I have the both of you here, there had been some efforts - speaking of collaboration of some organizations being formed during the pandemic - to promote the interests of the industry. We had several, sort of, like, endurance industry and endurance alliances across organizers and other stakeholders in different countries in Canada, in the US, in California, and one in the UK. Do you guys have a sense of how effective those were and, generally, as an industry, how well we respond in terms of, like, coming together and fighting a case for the industry during the pandemic?

Chris:

My sense is that it's been a struggle and quite a lot of them, unfortunately, are losing steam now. So, it depends a little bit on what their kind of terms of reference was. Some of them were set up as lobbying groups to get funding and get approvals for events. For example, AMPSEA, the Australian Mass Participation Sports Events Alliance is really looking at a long-term legacy of education, collaboration, and so on, on an ongoing basis. I always get the Canadian and American one mixed up - you might need to help me, Bob. Endurance Sports Coalition, I think, is in America, isn't it? So, they've passed their responsibilities or their work to Running USA and Running USA is now driving that. My sense in Canada is there are a couple of people that are driving it. A very huge amount of work went into SISO in France - they have a formal-registered organization as AMPSEA does. They have all of the major federations onboard - running, cycling, triathlon, and so on. The feedback I had this week is they're really struggling to get the industry to sign up. That's a shame because I think that, if we had a bigger voice as an industry, globally ahead of this, I think that we might have had an opportunity - we'll never know - to come out of this sooner than we did. We were always at the back. The stadium events were coming back. The analogy that I often drew is the seating bowl with scattered people in it. But, the best analogy is people going into a stadium and leaving a stadium - that's exactly what's happening on a start line. It was allowed to happen with people going into a stadium or in the concourse. The picture you saw was in the bowl, but those organizations have this lobbying and commercial power that our industry hasn't managed to do. I'm not saying it's easy, but if we can continue to build this collaboration and representation-- there's a real dearth of research and data that backs up the impact that we make. I still don't think we make the case - as an industry broadly, whether that be country-by-country, city-by-city, or globally - of the enormous impact that our industry makes, not only economically, but on the health and well-being of populations.

Bob:

I think it's a tough argument to make. I think it's a tough challenge. I mean, if you look at the US, people spend about a billion dollars a year to sign up for races in normal times, and a billion dollars of transaction volume is just not very big. I remember, at the beginning of the pandemic, I was reading and thinking about lobbying - different organizers and states were trying to figure out - how do we do lobbying to the federal government to get attention on the endurance community and things like that. I was reading this article about Las Vegas - I can't remember the numbers - about, like, in one casino, how much transaction volume do they process in the year? Like, one casino is bigger than the entire endurance community. So, like, just from our ability to really make an impact, I really became jaded by that. Then, when you look around at the organizations that are part of this-- Race Directors Hub is basically - you, Panos, created this - this virtual community. If you look at Running USA, it's only a couple of people, and they're under severe economic pressure because most of their revenue comes from their conference. Conference attendance was down in the past couple of years. The expo area was down. So, at the end of the day, we're all just a bunch of small little businesses trying to survive. It's been a tough couple of years. I think it was unrealistic to expect that we could impact things. Yeah, we could have done a better job, maybe, but I think it was always, kind of, a doomed effort.

Panos:

So, Bob, speaking of data, maybe you have some data on the number of races that don't seem to be coming back onto the market in terms of races that used to happen and races that - on their scheduled dates, at least, for more than a year, even - may not be coming back. Do we have a sense of what that number may currently be running at and what would be more, like, a steady-state number from before the pandemic because events just didn't repeat back then as well?

Bob:

Yeah. We've been tracking, since 2017, this term called 'Churn' - in software businesses, that's what you track to see the health of your business and stuff. We track two types of churn. We've done it on a monthly basis since 2017, and we do it for races that are over 500 on our platform that happened each month. We have been tracking that historically. So, pre-pandemic, about 5% to 6% of races didn't happen from one year to the next. Then, we happen to lose between 1% and 2% to competitive churn for various reasons - mostly, getting bought up EnMotive, IimATHLETE and Rugged Maniac. The no-race churn is really a considerable churn - the report that we just did includes those numbers in detail. Roughly speaking, from January to April, the number of races that churned was about 20% to 25%. If you take that three-year hiatus and you multiply the 6%, it's kind of in that same range that it always had been or, maybe, a little bit more, but it is considerable when you take it over that period of time. Are things like they were in 2019? No. There's been, at least, a 20% shift just because that's the way the world always worked. There's also been a little bit more pressure and that's why there are a few more races not happening. Like I said, we're fortunate. I'll give you the April numbers and example. So, in 2019, there were 241 races above 500 on our platform that happened in April of 2019, and 62 of those churned. So, they did not happen in 2022. But, we gained an additional 178. So, this is why our numbers, kind of, are inflated. So, the problems underneath were, kind of, hidden from us.

Panos:

And we don't have a sense, I guess, for those races, whether these are gone for good or whether they might come back a year down the line. Or do we?

Bob:

No. I would say 90% of them are gone for good.

Chris:

I don't have access to much of that sort of data, except anecdotally. I shared earlier that the folk in Thailand are telling me that 80% of races won't return - that's a combination of races and businesses. In Australia, they're saying 20 to 30 and, maybe, that increased a little bit. So, yeah, those are kind of some of the examples that I have. I've heard 50% in some other countries, but not with any reliable data like Bob has - this is all just anecdotal. Again, in those markets, with another cycle to go, I think, in quite a lot of these markets, we are going to see more pain in the next six months. I think there's a sense that, "Great! The pandemic's gone! We're coming back again!", but the lack of reserves to restart the engine in some places, I think, is going to have - at the risk of sounding negative - is going to have a significant impact in some places. People have used a lot of reserves to survive in 2019. With MPW, in Singapore, the biggest conversation both on and off the stage was around the broken business model for large sections of the market. There are, certainly, sections that are making significant money, but there were a lot of breakevens, small profits, and small loss businesses. So, just in simple economic terms, entry fees are mostly flat, and I'd love to get Bob's take on that in the US. In most markets, I'm hearing people worrying about increasing entry fees. For the staff issues input cost, generally, I'm hearing an average of 20% to 30% - in some markets, it's more. In any sector, that becomes a less sustainable business model with the limited reserves that most of our industry has. There are some concerning signs. I've heard some stories of 2023 - we spoke about registration trends-- some 2023 events are already selling out even at 10% more based on a similar entry level to 2019. Without any proof, my gut feel is that has to be a cash flow grab to try and sustain over the next six months, and that potentially creates a huge strain on our industry. Again, I'm not trying to be negative here, but we spoke about trust earlier on - people not getting their refunds. Now, we have a bunch of events that are taking entry fees that don't survive - they can't even give a credit for next year's event - it's just gone. Then, the suppliers would get bogged down in the process of that. I think, in some markets, we're gonna see more challenges in the next six months as we head towards-- that might be quite a lot of the Asian markets. It wouldn't surprise me to see quite a lot of the mid-tier go under. I think the top-of-the-pyramid has got the resources. The smaller two and three-person passion projects that are not for profits, that have no and low overheads will be fine, but the mid-tier, I think, is going to struggle significantly. I'm seeing some aggregation happening in markets like the US. I asked the question in other markets and I'm not seeing much sense of investment of people coming in and aggregating and buying up events and so on. I hope that I'm so, so wrong, but my sense is there's going to be more pain to come for the next six months as people try and find the resources to restart the engine.

Panos:

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Bob:

I'll tell you why. What's the reason that all three of us got into this community? It's because of passion, right? Most of the people that are organizing these races also got into it for passion. What I see, by large, is not necessarily business people running these organizations - it's passionate people. They just don't want to harm the participants. They are so anxious to get participants back. They think if they raise the price by $5, they're not going to get as many participants back. Chris was talking about economics, right? At the end of the day, that is what drives it. I think that the passion is, kind of, leveling that out. So, at least, in the US and our customer base, I feel a little bit more positive that we're not going to have catastrophes, we're not going to have a thousand people showing up and there's no race there and stuff - I'm a little bit more hopeful on that front. At the end of the day, though, their net income is not going to look good over the next couple of years until till they adjust. People are going to need to raise prices - that's just a simple fact. I've had a couple of discussions with passionate race directors that also care about the economics of it because they have to pay a mortgage and so forth. That's a simple fact that that's going to happen.

Panos:

What's your thought, actually, Bob, on the price elasticity point? Do you believe that raising prices is going to drive people away or not?

Bob:

No, I don't think it will. I think people are going to come back. I think people are slow to come back just because they're out of the habit. Netflix just increased prices to everybody by 10% or so and they had, like, 0.1% of people turning off their Netflix accounts. I think you'll have a 0.1% people that decide not to run the Scott Coffee Race just because we raise the price from $30 to $35. We kept it at $30 this year just because that's what we've always done. We don't want to change things. This little race I'm involved with, I think, is a microcosm of what everybody else is going through. It's just common sense at the end of the day. I will bet you that we raise it to $35 next year.

Panos:

Yeah. Chris, I guess, you agree with that, in terms of elasticity and the effect rising prices might have on participation overall?

Chris:

Yeah, I think so. Again, if we're talking across a basket of events, I think, at the lower level, it's less so. An interesting example is the PTO launched their triathlon and they marketed that at a premium level, and they had to back off and reduce their entry fees. That remains to be seen - what will happen in 2023. As we move beyond that, I think, inevitably, it has to go up. My concern is, without putting it up in the next six months, can these businesses survive even with the passion projects? The base of the pyramid is made up of thousands of these events. I worry from two perspectives0 I worry from a cash flow perspective, but I also worry from a liability perspective. What are those unknowing, passionate event organizers doing - from a liability perspective - if they're not able to put on the event because they've paid the deposit for the T-shirts, the metals, and then the cash flow is such that they can't pay the final one. I think Bob's right. You're hopefully not going to have a whole bunch of thousand-people events where people don't turn up. I'm talking about the mid-tier here. The 500, 1,000 people events, I think, will continue and sustain because they've got low overheads that are probably, mostly, in places where they got low staff overheads and low delivery overheads, because they're not closing down city centers - at, kind of, rural park locations where the infrastructure is simple. When you get into more of that staffing, overheads, equipment, and things that go in there, the prices would go up significantly, and that's where I think we might see some issues.

Bob:

I think that's true for a purely professional organization - like a for-profit organization. I think, in the mid-tier, there is potential, but even those organizations are typically sponsored by sponsors. They've got connections to nonprofits. They've got some sort of connection and support with the city, community-building, and things like that. So, we have a lot of those mid-tier events on our platform - the 1,000 to 10,000 person events - and we're seeing that the leaders of those organizations are passionate enough to pull it off, somehow, someway. Things are tight, but they're figuring it out. That's, kind of, what we're seeing. We have measurements with NPS scores and things like that, that we track, and races, by and large, are doing a fairly decent job. So, like, we've not seen a radical drop. We haven't had-- knock on wood - but we haven't had any bad experiences yet. That's with 1000 plus races happening every month on our platform.

Panos:

I guess, those kinds of races, I tend to agree with Chris, are the most susceptible in terms of the bottom-of-the-pyramid with the passion events and the really high-end multi-million dollar operations. That middle layer of people who put on races for a living also, probably, have to contend with the additional headwind of having some of the government support and loans, perhaps, that they entered into during the pandemic, that have to be repaid. At the moment, maybe some of them were expecting that they would be out of it or that we would be at a better place because they would have those payments kicking in. I think you mentioned that in an article, Chris.

Chris:

Yeah, certainly. What I'm hearing across Europe is that governments gave loans and they gave, kind of, 18-month honeymoon periods on those, and those are being called in now. Some people are struggling to be able to pay those back. Again, it's anecdotal from a couple of quarters. As a generalization, the structures in Europe are around not for profit. So, I think there's, maybe, a bit less of an issue there but, certainly, that was the feedback that I had - they were struggling to be able to repay in Asia. It's much more of a business model generally, and less of a club, less of a not-for-profit situation. So, I think many of those who have struggled. As the industry came here, we had this explosion of every man and his dog thinking that it was a profitable industry, they could jump into it and make a fortune. The business model here is, kind of, completely the reverse. In most Asian countries, the entry fees are so low that, without a government grant or a decent sponsorship, it's not commercially sustainable. So, you have situations now where, in events that have been around for a number of years, if they lose a sponsor or they lose a government grant, they can't survive on the entry fee revenue that comes through. So, one of a better expression in US, particularly, and parts of Europe is that the sponsors are almost, kind of, like, the cream-on-the-top, and the entry fee revenue sustains a large proportion of the P&L - it's very much a different model than in this part of the world.

Bob:

In the US, the PPP program and the employee retention tax credit program were both fully-- like, you didn't have to pay them back, basically. Only under rare circumstances do you have to pay them back. RunSignup was certainly the beneficiary of those and the government helped us through that time. We were able to retain all of our employees and actually grow our employee base because of those programs. There's no clawback that's happening in the US. So, we don't have that overhead. The only overhead that races see is, if they defer a bunch of participants from their 2020 or 2021 race to 2022 and 202, they're not getting revenue. It's kind of like your story, Chris, where people are selling 2023 race entries, but is the cash going to last all the way until 23 - right?

Panos:

Yeah. I guess, in some cases, these deferrals almost act like taking a loan out from yourself, from your future revenue. So, I mean, you got the cash through the door, and now you have to deliver the event, and you have all of those people wanting to come back and participate. Before we wrap up, I wanted to spend a minute-- I was reading the latest race participant trends piece from RunSignup - which maybe you have authored, actually, Bob. I read this line in there that says--

Bob:

What did I say? Oh, no.

Panos:

Well, it's actually very interesting. It says - and I think it's pretty profound - that there has been a disconnect that has grown between events and their participants. We mentioned this point on loyalty and how that, sort of, gap has grown. I'm guessing, like, during the pandemic, sifting around between dates and locations of events didn't help much. Like, events rushing to come in the fall of the year when events opened up. Do we have any sense of practical steps, perhaps, that organizers can take to bridge that gap and rekindle some of that enthusiasm between races and the communities we serve?

Bob:

I think direct honest, open communication is the way to go - that's always been my mantra. I think it comes down to this idea of loyalty and support. We have this term called supporter engagement. Organizations need to engage their supporters. They need to find ways to thank them, to reward them, to get them to contribute and feel a part of whatever that community is, whether it's a race or whatever. So, again, it comes back to having the energy to do those sorts of things. Having training programs before, sending lots of emails, and sending special coupons to loyal customers - "If you've run a race two times, you get 20%. If you've run it three times, you get 25% or something like that" - can really have an impact. "Okay, this opening is just for our loyal customers and this special price is just for our loyal customers. We need your support. You've always supported us. You've always been there for us. We need your help now more than ever." - I think communicating like that and doing it in an aggressive, open, authentic way is the way to go.

Chris:

Yeah, I agree with everything that Bob said. I think it's also asking them what they want as well. I think, sometimes, as races, we kind of assume that, "Because we've been doing this for five years, this is what we should do. Because we've been doing it for 10 years, we should do that." Consumers have evolved and COVID has made an evolution. In any good business, what's the problem that we're solving for a participant? What are their pain points? Because we did it like this in 2019, does that mean it's still what those participants want in 2022 and 2023? Engaging with them in a way that is authentic and open-- as Bob said, "We want to hear from you." I've been saying for a while that I think one of the biggest missed opportunities in our industry is this year-round engagement. That's very easier said than done. Do we have this opportunity where we've got this loyal group of followers who signed up for our events and participated in them? How often do you see "Dear Bob, entries have opened. Please sign up. Thanks for signing up. Here's your training program. Here's your course map. Here are the details. Here's your e-certificate" and, then, there's a hush for another three, four, or five months? Those same organizations will go out and spend money in various forms to try and acquire new customers when they're not engaging with those customers that they've got. Pretty much, every event sits on a goldmine of their own data of people that have willingly subscribed to being part of their community. I think, as a generalization, there are probably opportunities to engage with them. The ones that have done that well during COVID like Bob and his business are the ones that are reaping the rewards now.

Panos:

Yeah, I think you both mentioned it. It's something that comes up in discussions I'm having with marketing people who work with races that year-round engagement is a huge missed opportunity. Regardless of where we've been, having to rekindle loyalty is something that events just need to get better at. There's this huge opportunity there. When I was talking to Fitz Koehler and Steve Fleck on the race announcers episode, they were saying that, for some events, even though races weren't happening, they did live events and other stuff for the runners throughout the pandemic. That's what events should have done, right? Keep people involved. Maybe, go out and put a community run on. Just try to get people to feel like they're still connected with the brand which, of course, brings us to one final issue in all this - and one final stakeholder - which is the sponsors. I had one discussion with Ben Pickel, in an earlier podcast, who does all the sponsor partnerships for Life Time Events. I asked him, "What new approach would you take for sponsorship now after the pandemic?" He said, "We actually need to re-educate sponsors on the benefit of sponsorship" because, like other things we mentioned, in the last two years, sponsors have gone around, started doing other things, tried other things, and maybe even questioned the value of even going back and sponsoring events. It's not even the case of having to, like, go out and win sponsors or convert sponsors from other events. The whole industry needs to remind sponsors of the value that event sponsorships bring, which sounds to me like a very uphill struggle.

Chris:

I agree with you. Certainly, from what I'm hearing, sponsorship is being much more considered. That said, I'm also hearing the feedback from a couple of people in Latin America that more brands are looking to get engaged with the industry - they see the opportunity to be connected with that community. I think one of the key points is around data, depending on where you come from and how you pronounce it. I think data is key. As an industry, we sit on massive amounts of data. The number of sponsorship managers I spoke to said that race organizers come to them and they've got no data to showcase how they engage and even who the demographic is. Going way beyond that, I think, as a generalization, sponsorship in mainstream sport-- other areas is moving more towards performance-driven sponsorship as well, so that presents a challenge for our industry, but also an opportunity if you're prepared to engage and truly partner rather than-- I tried to use the term 'partnership' rather than 'sponsorship'. If you build those real partnerships with the opportunity to get rewarded for delivering on a bunch of KPIs and work collaboratively towards that-- even around the data space, the small organizations don't necessarily have the tools or know, "Is there an opportunity for you to partner with your sponsor?" If you say 'yes', you obviously have to do it with all the compliance, but how can we analyze this data? What are the data points that would be valuable to you? Can we use your back office because we don't have the resources or the know-how to deliver that? That means that we get rewarded as we go through, possibly.

Panos:

Wrapping up, if we take a moment to look ahead, both of you earlier said that we expect somewhat of a stronger fall ahead. Where do you guys think we're going to be in six months' time? I mean, it's very early, I guess, but how do you think 2023 is going to unfold for the industry?

Bob:

I think we're gonna see a steady, kind of, comeback, but it's going to take, like, a full two years in my mind, because I think that it just needs time for new organizations to come into the market and for new events to, kind of, mature. I think it's going to take time for, like, the existing events to reconnect with their participants and their customers, but I think that it's going to come back. One of the things that everybody talked about, kind of, early in the pandemic was, "Look how many people are outside running, man. There's going to be so many people that are going to come to the races." That did not happen because all those people running outside, kind of, got used to running in their own right. But I do think that there is a natural tendency - in spite of Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram - that people do want to get together and people do want to commune and people do want to be a part of an event that has a greater purpose than just themselves. I think, at the end of the day, that will win over everything. Hopefully, we don't spend all of our lives in the metaverse and lose our ability to walk and things like that.

Chris:

Yeah, I agree with Bob there. I think we are creatures of community. Once people rediscover that love, I think that there will be opportunities. Will it be two years or three years? I think it will definitely take time. The one thing that I've found that's consistent is inconsistency during this period of time. So, as a generalization, the markets that I'm across are all so varied. So, some of them may come out of it in six months, and some of them may take four or five years to get out. If we look back on this, it's an incredible opportunity for our industry. I think we need to tell the story better about what it is that we are, what are the problems we're selling, and what is it that we're creating. Are we delivering races or events? Are we building communities? Are we delivering health and well-being to communities? What are the problems that, as an industry, we're solving? I think that there's an amazing future when it eventually re-emerges, but I feel there's going to be some short-term pain before we get those amazing long-term gains. It's exciting as we look forward.

Panos:

Let's hope - when we regroup in six months' time or something - that things are indeed going to be looking better and there won't be another wave of COVID, or whatever - I think we're running out of letters by now. Just to wrap up, do you want to, maybe, share some details with people about where they can find out a little bit more about your organization and yourselves? Are you willing to share your email in case people want to get in touch about anything we've discussed or other stuff?

Bob:

For us, it's runsignup.com or runsignup.blog. My email is bob.bickel@runsignup.com. My personal website is bobbickel.com. So, you can find me there. And, if you send me an email and mentioned this podcast, I will send you $5 because I want to see if anybody actually listens this far in.

Panos:

They do. Maybe, they're not very keen to get in touch, but I'm sure they do.

Chris:

I'm happy to match you there Bob. My email is chris@massparticipationworld.com. Send me an email and I'll send you a copy of my book "Mass Participation Sports Events", which I published in 2015. And, connect with me. LinkedIn is probably my preferred platform - chris-robb. Massparticipationworld.com. There are Facebook page and LinkedIn pages for that. I'm delighted to help anyone in any way I can. As we've heard, we're passionate about this industry. It makes a massive impact on the health and well-being of humanity and we'd love to see it grow. If there's anyone I can help, wherever they are in the world, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Panos:

Awesome. Well, guys, thank you very much for taking the time to join me today. It's been very helpful in understanding where we are and some of the issues that the industry is facing. I'm gonna head off now and try to create as many fake email accounts as I can and start emailing Bob for those $5. No Limits on that. I mean, it's all official. It's all on there. Thank you very much again!

Bob:

Thanks so much for everything you do for our community. Seriously, you do a really, really nice job.

Chris:

Absolutely. Thank you so much for the opportunity. Keep up the great work.

Panos:

Thank you, guys. I'll see everyone on our next podcast! I hope you enjoyed this market update episode with my guests, Mass Participation World's Chris Robb and RunSignup's 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 today's discussion or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub. Many thanks again to our awesome podcast sponsors Runsignup and Racecheck for sponsoring today's episode. And if you enjoyed this episode, please don't forget to subscribe on your favorite player, and check out our podcast back-catalog for more great content like this. Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.