Head Start

Race Trends: Summer 2021

July 12, 2021 Race Directors HQ Episode 9
Head Start
Race Trends: Summer 2021
Chapters
Head Start
Race Trends: Summer 2021
Jul 12, 2021 Episode 9
Race Directors HQ

With races starting to come back, and at least a hint of normalcy slowly returning to the endurance events market, it’s a good time to take stock of where we currently are on the road to recovery. 
Are more participants signing up for races? Are they signing up later, as some race directors have suggested? Are in-person races making a strong comeback? And what about virtual races which dominated events for most of last year? 

We’ll be answering these questions and more today with the help of my guests, Johanna Goode and Bob Bickel from GiveSignup|RunSignup. With registration data coming in from thousands of races, GiveSignup|RunSignup is in a pretty unique position to be able to provide actual data-driven insights into what’s happening in the market - and, as we’ll see, the conclusions coming out of the data are not always what you’d expect.

In this episode:

  • Total registrations volume is still down, but recovering
  • In-person races are making a strong comeback, but virtual races are still a thing
  • Entry fees are starting to normalize towards 2019 levels 
  • Contrary to anecdotal evidence, the data doesn't support the narrative that participants are registering later than usual
  • No clear evidence right now that more first-time racers are entering events
  • Downward trend in participation for younger audiences continues

Thanks to GiveSignup|RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 21,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use GiveSignup|RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about GiveSignup|RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.

You can find more free resources on planning, promoting and organizing  races on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com.

You can also share your questions about the findings in this episode or anything else in our race directors Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.


Show Notes Transcript

With races starting to come back, and at least a hint of normalcy slowly returning to the endurance events market, it’s a good time to take stock of where we currently are on the road to recovery. 
Are more participants signing up for races? Are they signing up later, as some race directors have suggested? Are in-person races making a strong comeback? And what about virtual races which dominated events for most of last year? 

We’ll be answering these questions and more today with the help of my guests, Johanna Goode and Bob Bickel from GiveSignup|RunSignup. With registration data coming in from thousands of races, GiveSignup|RunSignup is in a pretty unique position to be able to provide actual data-driven insights into what’s happening in the market - and, as we’ll see, the conclusions coming out of the data are not always what you’d expect.

In this episode:

  • Total registrations volume is still down, but recovering
  • In-person races are making a strong comeback, but virtual races are still a thing
  • Entry fees are starting to normalize towards 2019 levels 
  • Contrary to anecdotal evidence, the data doesn't support the narrative that participants are registering later than usual
  • No clear evidence right now that more first-time racers are entering events
  • Downward trend in participation for younger audiences continues

Thanks to GiveSignup|RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 21,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use GiveSignup|RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about GiveSignup|RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.

You can find more free resources on planning, promoting and organizing  races on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com.

You can also share your questions about the findings in this episode or anything else in our race directors Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.


Panos:

Hi! Welcome to Head Start, the podcast for race directors and the business of putting on races. With races starting to come back, and at least hint of normalcy slowly returning to the endurance events market, it's a good time to take stock of where we currently are on the road to recovery. Are more participants signing up for races? Are they signing up later, as some race directors have suggested? Are in-person races making a strong comeback? And what about virtual races which dominated events for most of last year? Well, we'll be answering these questions and more today with the help of my guests, Johanna Goode and Bob Bickle from GiveSignup|RunSignup. With registration data coming in from thousands of races, GiveSignup|RunSignup is in a pretty unique position to be able to provide actual data-driven insights into what's happening in the markets - and, as we will see, the conclusions coming out of the data are not always what you'd expect. So without further ado, let's get into this amazing episode. Johanna, Bob, welcome to the podcast, guys.

Johanna:

Thanks for having us, Panos. It's good to see you again.

Bob:

Great to be here.

Panos:

So you guys are both based in Morristown, New Jersey, where the entire GiveSignup|RunSignup team is based. How are things in New Jersey?

Bob:

It's really hot today. It's going to go up to 94 today. It's just humid. And we're right outside of Philadelphia, for those who don't know Morristown. And we're actually not all based here. We're a pretty distributed company. So we've got a big office down in Richmond. We've got an office down in Orlando. And, then, we've got talented folks sprinkled across the United States.

Panos:

It's hot today. And I had to get you guys to turn off the air conditioning as well, to make this recording well. So, I really appreciate that. So, how many people are in the company these days?

Bob:

We're actually have up to 62 people. What's kind of amazing is that, last year is a really, really tough year for us. At the beginning of 2020, we actually have 45 people. So we've grown during the pandemic era. The pandemic was quite difficult for us. In the third week of March, our revenues had dropped about 80% - the number of transactions that happened on our platform. And we were worried about the survival of our company. March 13 was Black Friday. Everybody in the company took a 50% pay cut, to try to last as long as possible. Fortunately, PPP came along. We were able to restore salaries by the middle of March and the middle of April. And, then, we pivoted super hard to virtual and challenges. And by the summertime, we are onboarding like 50% more new customers per week. So we are onboarding about 180 new customers per week from August through October, as opposed to 110 in the previous year. So, like, the revenues and the transaction volume was still down considerably, but the fundamentals of our business were actually going pretty well. And, so, it's been an interesting ride. And, now, we're kind of coming out of it very strongly. So, I'm sure we'll talk about that in today's podcast.

Panos:

Yeah. Well, that's great. I mean, we've all been through a pretty crazy time. When you were talking about March and April last year, it feels, to me, almost like 10 years ago or something. But, yeah. It's been a hard time. Tell us one more thing that, I think, is going to be pertinent for today's podcast. How many races are currently hosted on RunSignup, roughly? And what percentage of the US market that represents right now?

Bob:

So, in 2019, we had 21,000 races. We actually had about the same number last year in 2021. And if you look at the data that we're utilizing to share with you all today, in Q2 - we just put out Q2 report - we had just over 10,000 races that actually processed transactions on our platform in 2021, about the same amount of processed transactions in 2019.

Panos:

Right. So the reason I'm asking this is because you guys produce these industry stats on an annual basis. Hopefully, through this podcast, we're able to release snippets of that throughout the year. And the important thing to understand here is that all the numbers we're going to be sharing with people today really come from GiveSignup|RunSignup registrations. These are data that we're going to be sharing anonymously. It's going to be just statistical trends over all those thousands of races that you guys host. But it's important to understand the number of customers that you currently have, so that people can appreciate that the numbers we're going to be sharing today are fairly representative of what's happening in the market. Because we're talking of 10,000 races and upwards of that, like 30% of the market, I think it's fair to assume that the conclusions we will be drawing today, and the numbers we'll be discussing, should be considered as broadly representative of what's happening in the market.

Bob:

It's certainly statistically significant. Going into the pandemic, we estimated our market share at 25 to 30%. I think it's going to wind up being closer to 40% post pandemic. And it's representative of small through large races. So about 25% of the top 100 races use us - down to a lot of 50 person races use us - just because it's like this self-serve-- massive platform that serves thousands and thousands of races.

Panos:

And that's exactly what we need actually. I mean, sometimes some of the data we see - coming on to the industry - are a little bit skewed, on the upside. And I think getting the view from a larger number of events that are more representative of the bulk of events that are happening out there is going to be a lot more useful, certainly, to the audience of this podcast. So we're gonna get into the specifics, the numbers, and the data in a second. And I think there's some interesting stuff in that. But before we go into that, you guys work with races, sort of, all day long. What's the mood out there currently among among the race director community? Is there any kind of optimism, coming back to the market?

Johanna:

Yeah. I mean, I think there's a ton of optimism amongst race directors that we feel ourselves. I think, starting back in early 2021, there was some sense that things were gonna start to get better. But we really seen that bounce back, I think, even faster than we were expecting. Smaller races started coming back, even as early as February or March. We start to see some of the smaller races getting permission. Now, we're looking at the fall with some of the largest races in the country, opening back up. Some of them have minor caps. We're talking about 20,000 runners versus 30,000 runners. It's still huge numbers of runners getting back together. And I think everyone is cautiously optimistic that it's going to last this time. And even if things go up and down a little bit, races are actually still going to be able to proceed.

Panos:

Do you feel whether there's any, kind of, like, regional differences in this bounce back? Particularly, depending on the fact that different parts of the US have been coming out of lockdown and restrictive measures at different speeds? Do you see parts of the country coming back stronger or sooner than others?

Johanna:

Yes. Although I think it's less of a factor now than it was-- looking back, earlier in 2020 and 2021, there are still a little bit of differences and restrictions. And we do see some things like the Boilermaker just announced that they're going to be requiring vaccinations. And that's in New York State, which is going to be a lot harsher and stricter on how they want things run. That being said, in early 2021, there were states like California that no events were allowed at all. Whereas other states were essentially allowing anything up to 5,000-10,000 with fairly light restrictions. And I think it's definitely evened out a lot more. We're pretty lucky to have vaccinations pretty available across the country right now. And, so, that has really helped to make things feasible with pretty much anywhere.

Bob:

Yeah. The first multi-thousand person marathon that happened, to my knowledge, is Woodlands down in Texas. And that was several thousand people. And that happened at the end of February. So it was definitely very regional at that point in time. And if you talk to a race director in New York State, they were all exceptionally frustrated that they couldn't open and so forth. But it seems like everybody is opening now.

Panos:

Great. So, that's great news to hear. So, in terms of total registrations, like, in terms of like total volume of activity, and I should probably say that-- I guess this is probably the one number that's a little bit more susceptible to what's happening at RunSignup because you guys are a single company and you're on your own growth trajectory. But from what we can tell from the numbers, what's total registration volume telling us about the strength of the comeback of races so far and, sort of, where we are on the curve of recovery?

Bob:

So, we just did the Q2 report. And Q2 overall was down 11%, in terms of the number of registrations on our platform. But if you look at June, it was essentially flat of about 440,000 registrations, for the month of June. And July has started off pretty hot. And it's going to get even better as July goes on, because you've got a number of fall races like Boilermaker, Broad Street, Vermont City Marathon, all opening up in July, for the fall - following that.

Panos:

So is it a combination, you think, that fewer events are being scheduled, and, then, the ones that are being scheduled, they're coming on with reduced numbers?

Johanna:

There's some reduced numbers. But I would actually say we're getting-- now that we're starting to get into registrations for fall, you're starting to see more events, because you've got a lot of postponed events. I think when we take a look at registrations, it looks like registrations are still down and a lot of events - I think largely because there were caps put on throughout the summer - where they couldn't host as many runners as normal. But it's definitely, I think, going to start bouncing back up - participation levels.

Bob:

But, like, if you look at the Q2 numbers, part of the problem was there just were not that many events opened up. And if you roll the clock back to April, in the US, a lot of people still couldn't get vaccines, in the beginning of April. So there is a lot more cautiousness on the part of a participant to actually sign up. And, we just see that trend kind of opening both, in terms of race directors opening up their races, as well as participants signing up for the races. So it's kind of the way we talked about internally. We've got a lot of wind at our backs.

Panos:

Yep. And how about this much predicted? I hear it from from everyone. A guest has been telling me on the podcast as well that, there's going to be, like, a big surge of events this fall. Basically, like, lots of postponed events coming up within the next three or four months. Is that something that you're also seeing on the ground?

Bob:

Yes and no. If you take the top 100 races, a lot of them have shifted. But if you look at the numbers, only 6% of participants sign up for the top 100 races. 94% of participants sign up for all the rest. And, so, if you look at the normal 200 person 5 km in a local community that was supposed to happen in March, but it did not happen in March, they typically are not going to delay their event into the fall and try to be competitive on the calendar. So at the top end of the calendar, you might have some big events that are on the same weekend in October. But if you think about how they get stretched out geographically, and you think about, kind of, the pent up demand that we all, kind of, think is there on the part of participants. And you look at Boilermaker, they're capping at 12,000, rather than 15,000, this year. And you look at Broad Street, they're going to cap it below what they usually cap it at. Same with Philadelphia marathon. So I think that the supply and demand will actually kind of work out okay. And I think that there's going to be plenty of demand for races to eat up that supply. I don't think the supply is over the top as people think, like, "Yeah. Boston got delayed. Oh, my gosh." But I don't think it's going to have a huge material impact on the overall situation.

Panos:

Yeah. I think it's fair to remember - and this is probably like a psychological skew people have - that the bulk of events, and the bulk of this industry is really not concentrated in the top, like, 50-100, kind of, like, marquee races that people keep referring to. And, as you say, although there's been news of some of these high profile events being postponed till this fall, as you're saying, it really matters what happens to the rest of the, like, 90% of the market of smaller and medium sized events which-- yes, it seems like they have a smaller tendency to want to shift to fall. So one other, obviously, huge thing, during the pandemic and 2020, has been virtual races. What's happening on that front, in terms of in-person races coming back? Are they coming back? Are they keeping the virtual components? Are still some races continuing to be virtual? What's the mix on that?

Johanna:

We're starting to see, kind of, a gradual removal of the fully virtual options for races that were previously in-person. And you're definitely seeing an in-person option for most races, moving forward. That being said, we do see races looking at more of a hybrid model where they offer a virtual race to accommodate the people who joined last year who might not live locally, or who may not be able to make it to the ride or race. It's kind of making room to reach those people as well. I think we were looking at about 80% of transactions are, now, for in-person events, which is up from about 30% in June of 2020, to about 50% in January of 2021. So the shift is massively notable that in-person events are back to being the number one choice. But I do think we see a lot more virtual options allowed than we did before.

Bob:

Yeah. And I think it depends upon how a race really adopts the virtual or the challenge part, and how that each race, kind of, applies that. I think a lot of races are going to keep it around for the next five or ten years. And it's going to be a nice little 5-15% bump for them. But there's some races that really, kind of, double down on it. And, so, like, if you look at the Indy 500 marathon, they are doing this challenge event. And it's wildly popular. Thousands of people have signed up for it. Actually, that's the same number - of people sign up for it as the number - of people who have signed up for the race that they're going to have in February 2022. So it's material to some events - if they put marketing effort into it, and they figure out how to make it interesting and unique. And the challenge - one of the things that we were thinking about last year, when we were developing it - this is a great way to make your event more than a single day event. Whatever the mission is behind your event, you can make it last a lot longer with a challenge, type of, scenario,

Johanna:

I think it's important to remember that, in general, virtual participants-- last year was an anomaly. But the people who opt to do virtual tend to be - much more likely to be - women. They tend to be older than your participants on race day. They often aren't the same people. So, when you're providing a virtual option - particularly, if you can do a really robust one, even if it's just an extra option to allow people to join - you're not losing people from your regular race. You're just, kind of, expanding the pool of people who might engage with your organization.

Panos:

And you think that race directors have, sort of, woken up to that fact - that they're actually conscious - of the opportunities that having a virtual option presents for them and their event?

Bob:

I think they're more than conscious - some of them. Because some of them were saved by virtual last year. They needed to pay their mortgage. And virtual is the only way that they were able to do it. So it's very real and visceral for those people. And the ones that were successful with it really understand that. And they're taking it forward.

Panos:

Did you happen to see, also, on that virtual front, particularly, towards, sort of, beginning of the year where in-person events or the hope of in-person events were coming back? Did you start to see - from discussions with people - this fatigue that people report from runners of, like, being completely overwhelmed and disinterested by virtual events? Like, after a few months, everyone was just so sick of them. Did you see that?

Johanna:

So, you started to see-- it's kind of hard to tell, because you started to see in-person events coming back around that same time. So people were starting to have other options. That being said, we continue to see increasing numbers of participation through early 2021. So people may have been tired and not wanting to do virtual, but there were still people signing up for those events. It may not have been their first choice. Or it may have been that it was people who wouldn't, normally, participate in it at all. But the numbers were still increasing through that season. So someone was registering for them.

Panos:

So one of the complexities, I suppose, that virtual events introduce, in terms of the discussion we're having today, the data is that, they tend to be lower priced events. And what that does, I suppose, overall in the data is it tends to depress average prices for events. There's been a few questions in our group and the community. Lots of people wandering whether - events coming back now in 2021 - the first in-person races are going to be hiking prices, or reducing prices, or keeping prices the same. Do we have any sense - from the data - what direction the market is heading up?

Johanna:

Our best kind of assessment would be that it's starting to even out back to, kind of, pre pandemic prices. We did see a huge decrease in prices in 2020, largely on the more expensive longer events. And that is because a virtual marathon doesn't cost more to put on a virtual 5 km. So that tends to even the prices out. We saw a big drop in prices because of that. We are still seeing prices that are lower than 2019, but they are starting to get closer. A good look at half marathon in 2019, averaged around $64. In 2020, it dropped to $52. It's back up to $60. So you are seeing people starting to come back to the prices that we originally were at.

Bob:

Yeah. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible for us to pull out the data to say, "Okay. Just give me prices for virtual versus in-person." But if you think about that - $60 for that half-marathon versus $64 in 2019 - that $60 is influenced by some virtual. And, so, if the mix has switched to 70% or 80%, you put that factor on, and it's probably about the same. And, anecdotally, what we're seeing is that, like, a lot of race directors are saying, "This is the return to normal. We've always charged $50. We're gonna continue to charge $50 as you come back. And, then, the other factor is a cost factor where, like, I think six months ago, race directors were having to plan for a lot of extra costs to adapt to the COVID restrictions and everything. I think a lot of those costs have kind of dissipated. And, so, the cost differential to what they had, before and now, has been, kind of, minimized.

Johanna:

I know there was a lot of talk about, like, COVID fees, and adding extra fees for that. And you've seen a couple of large name races do that. Boston has one. I have not seen - again, that's kind of anecdotally, but as we go through races, I have not seen - other races - smaller, more traditional races - add that kind of iffy.

Bob:

Right.

Panos:

Yep. One other thing that-- again, speaking of anecdotal trends, one of the things that people seem to be reporting is a pattern where participants are registering later for races. The rationale being presented there by people who report this is that, race directors feel that, maybe, some participants - who are a part of the market - is holding off to see whether the likelihood of events taking place is going to increase, and just making sure that the event is just going to take place. Do we have any sense, from the data, whether people are indeed registering later than normal?

Johanna:

I would say the data says pretty much the opposite. We tried to look at this in a couple of ways because-- some weird things that happens when you have races that are postponed, it makes it look like people have registered much further out. So we tried - as well as we could - to remove people who had registered in March for a race that, then, got pushed back to October. Even when we do that, we're seeing about 25% of people registering on race week, which is actually down a little bit from 20%, in 2019. So, it may be true that there are some events that have seen that. But, as an overall marker, that does not appear to be holding true.

Bob:

Yeah. I was actually, kind of, surprised when we did that - ran that data.

Johanna:

And I broke it out by distance, just to see if, like, we were missing something. And that trend was really true in a 5 km, and it wasn't in a half marathon, or something. But it holds pretty steady for, actually, slightly, fewer race week registrations across the board.

Panos:

Yeah. That is quite surprising, actually. I mean, I guess one way to interpret that might be that people who are, let's say, 30 or 60 days out from their event, they get the feeling by looking at registrations 30 or 60 days out, they might interpret lower registrations as people holding off to register later, like, closer to race day. But another, perhaps, sadly, more straightforward explanation might be that there's just less people registering. Right? And, then, you're seeing your 36 day out numbers being low, hoping that this is going to come back later, closer to race day. And maybe it's just lower registrations across the board.

Johanna:

And some of that may be true. And improving again, I think there was a lack of confidence amongst runners to go ahead and register for quite a while. And as you see that coming back, we may see those numbers go back up, but it is entirely feasible. But, like we said, registrations are still down, and some of that may just be races that are not quite coming back to their same size yet, because people are not yet back to regular life.

Bob:

Yeah. Well, if you look at those Q2 numbers, and you say that, "We're around a little over 10,000 races in both 2019 and 2021. And overall registrations were down 11%." So it's about the same number of races on the platform taking registrations during Q2 and, overall, 11% fewer. So people may be seeing that. I think that, as we've seen, if you look at that April, May, and June numbers, June is flat - not down 11%. That means that April was down 20%. And, May was down 10% or something. But I think that-- I agree with Johanna that it's just participants and races, kind of, getting ready to open up. The other interesting anecdotal piece that I have is that, I've seen a lot of races bring back on price increases - scheduled price increases. And, so, that's becoming much more normal. Whereas with virtual races, people last year, they just open them and kept the price at $35 for the whole two months that they had it open or something.

Johanna:

That's actually not even just anecdotal. We measured how many persons there are and it is not quite back to 2019 levels, but we are seeing more price increases.

Bob:

Yeah. And if you remove the 20% of virtual, I bet it is fully back.

Panos:

Is that like a bullish sign for the industry - price increases coming back?

Bob:

Oh, yeah. I think it's really bullish. I think it's really bullish to see races coming back at what their previous prices were - widespread adoption. You can say Q2 is down 11%. But there's a lot of things that are moving really, really quick. Like, again, if you go back to April 1, people had to stand in line for vaccines. Think that the dynamic has changed, remarkably, in the country over that 90 days.

Panos:

Okay. So that's actually a really, really interesting observation - from the data, what we were saying a minute ago - about the data not actually confirming a pattern of people registering later than normal. I think that's really interesting. And that's one of the powerful data points - you could only really tell by just looking at thousands of races, what's happening with registration there. Let's see if the other hope of the industry bears any any evidence in fact. Lots of people have been saying that, when things come back - which seems to start this fall - we're going to be seeing, kind of, revival with lots of new runners coming into the scene - lots of people who have picked up running during the lockdown are gonna boost registrations in the industry. Maybe it's a little bit too soon, right now, to have that evidence. But are we seeing anything - in the data or in discussions with people on the ground - about new blood coming into races?

Bob:

It's interesting to see what's happening. It's all over the map. Right? There are some events that just did not survive through the pandemic. And there are new events that are starting up. Like, we just had a ton of nonprofit new customers come to us for virtual events last year, because their galas got canceled. And, now, they're sticking around not only for virtual, but they're going to put a real race on, and things like that. So, there's that new blood. And, then, my other observation is that, there were people who were aggressive over the pandemic time - put themselves in a strong position to come back quickly - with the intention of taking market share. So we see that very, very much in the timer community. So there's some timers out there that put themselves in a real position to grow post pandemic. Big River, Race Day Events, organizations like that. And the same thing is true with individual races. The individual races that, kind of, opened up early, that have a plan, like, the Indy 500 that had a challenge event, and just coordinated everything and, kind of, put themselves in a chance to take advantage of all the change, and be one of the people that, kind of, caught the early adopters. They're doing quite well.

Panos:

What about first time racers? Is there any evidence to suggest that new people are coming into racing? Perhaps, even younger people, in terms of the age breakdown of people racing this fall?

Johanna:

In terms of whether or not there are new people coming in, it's a little bit hard for us to tell, specifically. We can compare a race from 2020 to 2021. But because 2020 was such an anomaly, we don't think that really tells us if this is someone new or someone who just skipped the virtual year in 2020. We can say that if you're looking for growth over the next few years, there is definitely an issue in the market with attracting younger runners. We saw a pretty big, significant drop-off of both the under 18 runners and, also, the 18-29 group. 18-29 year olds are down to 11.8% of our current 2021 numbers. And that was 16.3% in 2019. And in 2018, we were saying that that age group was falling as a percentage of the market. So there is definitely some questions where we are seeing more older runners joining the sport, which is great and encouraging. But we are lacking some of the younger runners.

Bob:

Yeah. And, then, anecdotally, we have a way that allows races to use our platform to, kind of, look at repeat participant reports so they can tell, how many people have done it first time, two times, three times, four times, five times, ten times, a hundred times. And when we look at some of the semi-large races in there, it looks, this year, about the same that it'd look like in 2019. So if you look at the 2019 data, the percentage of first timers is about the same as the percentage of first timers in 2021. So there has been a lot of talk about that. I've got people coming up to me all the time, and saying, "Oh. You do that running thing, right? I've got into running during the pandemic, and I'm gonna run the Scott Coffee Run." And I'm like, "That's great." And we've all seen that. And like, that's a big hope. And I think, generally, it's hopefully true. I know my buddy owns four running stores locally, here in South Jersey. And they have definitely seen an increase in the number of runners buying shoes. It's good, but I don't know that we see hard data yet - to see it impacting and going to overwhelm our start lines, unfortunately.

Panos:

Yeah, well, indeed. I think in terms of what the hard data says, as Johanna was saying earlier, it's not particularly encouraging. And, actually, that's a trend that has transcended the pandemic - that the industry continues to struggle to attract younger people into racing. And Johanna was saying - which I suppose is the positive spin on it - that we see from the data, because in the older age groups, the older age group percentages are growing. That could just be that it's still me and you, Johanna. And we're just getting older. And we're just moving across the age brackets there. So do you guys-- I know, this is not a pandemic related question, but I'm curious. Do you have any, kind of, like, thoughts on why it is that the industry is failing to do a better job in attracting younger people into the market? Like, is it a lack of innovation or imaginative formats? Like, what do you think it is?

Bob:

Yeah. I think it's a matter of reaching out to certain communities. And I feel like, there's a number of races that are put together by old guys like me. We've been directing the Scott Coffee Run. Bill VanFossen has been directing it for 35 years. And that, by definition, says that Bill and I are old. And, maybe, we're not thinking about how we can attract a younger crowd to our event. And I think that the industry, in general, somewhat suffers from that. If you go to some of these industry conferences, there's a lot of people that have been to the past 20 years of industry conferences. I embrace change, and I really like change. But I know that I can't do it. So it's having younger people around and new energy coming into it. I'm somewhat hopeful, because this wave of nonprofits is starting to use our platform. I see a lot of younger people that are being the executive directors of these nonprofits or the event managers for these nonprofits. And I'm somewhat hopeful that they come up with new ways to to attract an audience into the endurance community.

Johanna:

Yeah. I mean, this is not an answer for what we're doing wrong, because like you've said, the trend started way pre pandemic. So, it's not the final answer there. I do think virtual is much less likely to appeal to younger athletes. And because of that, it's hard to know how much-- the significant drop this year is still a response to people not signing up for the virtual events, and just not quite getting back to their regular routine yet because they missed a year for virtual.

Bob:

And the data, like-- I think we should do neither one of these at the end of Q3 because the data may shift by then. Again, we're talking about first-half data here. If you look at the first half, like, under 29 year olds couldn't get a vaccine shot until mid to late April. Right? And, so, that may be part of it as well.

Panos:

Yeah. It's interesting. I mean, I was a little bit surprised by what Johanna was saying earlier about virtual races being predominantly dominated by, sort of, older than average runners. Like, in my mind, I would have guessed that - like, virtual novel, blah, blah, blah - maybe, that was the place where some younger audiences would come into the industry. But apparently, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Johanna:

I think there's an accessibility to virtual that really appeals to people who might be intimidated by race day. Or they don't feel like a runner. Or they just want to stay in shape. They want to do something with their friends.

Bob:

I do also think it's kind of event-specific. So if you're looking at Gourdy's Pumpkin Run, I bet that data skews really, really young because it's designed for, like, a young family with young kids to go and do it. And it's been a highly successful, like, in-person and virtual race. And they attract a much younger generation. That's the type of young thinking. Eric and Courtney who created that - they're younger people. They came up with this brilliant idea that has attracted, well, over 100,000 people to their events. And that's what I'm talking about. Like, it's that type of innovation. It's that type of thinking to target a certain market, to go after it, to make it inclusive, and to make it about endurance, but also more than endurance as well.

Panos:

Yeah. Actually, I think in their lives, part of the answer-- whatever data I've seen in studies on this, everything seems to point to the fact that younger audiences view events more as an experience - even sporting events like races, rather than people like us who, perhaps, have a slightly different expectation from events. That's why they may have been attracted, in the past, to all these, like color runs, and runs that combined music festivals and stuff. And maybe that's the answer. And maybe, also, that's why we're seeing in virtual events, which I mean-- let's face it, they sort of lack that experience component. That's why we're seeing fewer younger people being interested even in those. Looking forward, in terms of what we might be discussing in our Q3 catch up, which of those trends do you see going on? And, like, what do you expect to see when we catch up, like, in a few months time?

Bob:

I think that data is going to be a lot more real, at that point in time, because Q3 data-- I think things are now, kind of, pretty near normal. And, so, the data in Q3 is going to be a lot more substantive and accurate than the data in Q2 and, especially, in Q1. I think things will have stabilized in lots of different ways. And the data that's going to come out of it will be reflective of that. And my expectation is that we're going to see a rapid return to 2019 types of patterns, in terms of pricing and age, and all the other types of parameters we discussed today.

Panos:

If you had to put a date on it, would you wager a guess as to when the market will be, sort of, around the 2019 level? Like, when do you think we'll be getting around to where we were before the pandemic?

Bob:

We're seeing growth, in terms of the number of events and transactions that have happened on our platform. So, we're already well ahead of 2019. But I think, if we looked at - year over year for - races that existed in 2019, and how they see things in 2021, I might date September 1.

Panos:

This year, 2021?

Bob:

Yeah. I think by September 1, 2021, I think that races that have moved ahead are open for business, and operating, kind of, normally again. I think that participants are going to be operating normally by then as well. So, the data that we're seeing in July is really, really strong, in terms of the number of-- in terms of the transaction volume that's on our platform, and the number of registrations. That's somewhat skewed by some events opening up. But, yeah. Things are gonna look much more positive in the next two months.

Panos:

That's great. I mean, we're gonna have you back around that time. So we'll be able to go over those predictions, then. I think that's been super helpful, actually. I mean, we're trying to, to unravel very complex data. And, hopefully, we didn't get ahead of ourselves, in terms of some of the conclusions we've drawn here with a limited data that we have, even on those questions. I hope it's been a fairly useful session for everyone listening in. One last thing. You guys are still going ahead with both a Summer Symposium, which is going to be virtual this July 21-22. And, then, a Winter Symposium - hopefully, fingers crossed - in-person in Florida, in January. Why don't you tell us a little bit about what we should expect from the virtual - hopefully, the last virtual symposium - this summer?

Johanna:

Yeah. At least the last forced virtual symposium. Yeah, I mean, we're looking, kind of-- our goal with doing these throughout the year has been to provide really timely education. So we're trying to watch what's happening with races. And what are the tools that they really need right now. So we did a lot of training on virtual and hybrid events before. Looking at summer, we're looking at getting people trained up on hybrid, still - how to incorporate a virtual event. But, also, we're learning how to use some of the race day tools that have not been used and getting those muscles working, and thinking about how to actually move forward with events this year.

Bob:

Yeah. And, so, like, we've come out with new versions of photos, new versions of the check-in app, new versions of race-day scoring, new versions of on-site check-in, and all sorts of technology that's kind of new and enhanced to try to help races get back to normal. And our customers, they just soak up the education. So our Symposiums are kind of different. They're not kind of all that clubby or that sort of thing. They're more about learning tangible technology. So we're a bunch of tech geeks that tried to build technology for the endurance community. And we're just trying to pass along what we've learned from others, and systematize it, and make it available for everybody.

Panos:

And, obviously, I guess these symposiums were originally conceived as something for your own customers. And you have plenty of those to keep busy with this. But do you think there is value in non GiveSignup|RunSignup customers joining this educational sessions?

Bob:

I think there is because a lot of the different platforms out there, they'll have, at least, part of what we have. And you'll learn about different approaches of how to market better, how to operate better on race day, how you can incorporate photos as part of your marketing efforts, and how do you differentiate and really hang on to people. Challenge platforms - there's plenty of challenge platforms out there. So you don't necessarily need to use ours. But you'll hear great stories about how people are really utilizing a challenge type of a platform to elongate their engagement cycles with their customers, and to increase the revenue.

Panos:

Okay. And is the price - am I right in saying it's - like, $30 or something to join the--

Johanna:

It is free, eventhough--

Panos:

It's free?

Johanna:

Yeah, this virtual one is free.

Panos:

Oh, absolutely free because I was on the site just now. And I thought that it's just the first 200 people or something. Is it free for everyone - for anyone that joins?

Johanna:

Yeah, it's free.

Panos:

Okay. That's a pretty attractive price

Bob:

I think that $30 might be a marketing act.

Panos:

Okay. I mean, that sounds like a winning proposition. Because as Bob was saying-- yes, I mean, you're going to be talking about some things from a RunSignup implementation angle. But lots of platforms have similar features. And there's definitely, I think, an opportunity there for people to spend the last downtime they might have this summer getting prepped up for the fall season ahead. I think that's all from me, guys. I want to thank you very, very much for taking the time to adept all the reporting tools you have, so we could get some data out for people to share this summer. Hopefully, we'll be making this a regular occasion and I'll see you again back on the podcast in two or three months time, hopefully, with even more bullish state on our hands. I want to thank you both and the cats in the background. I think there were either one or two of them walking around.

Bob:

There are two. They are brothers, although they don't look alike.

Panos:

Perfect. Yeah. I think we're gonna put some bumps and slight noises on the recording down to them since they can't complain. So thank you very much, both of you guys. We're gonna put a link to the symposium in the show notes, if anyone's interested in taking a closer look at that. I'll see you guys around for sure in the group and elsewhere and back on the podcast in two or three months. And thank you very much to everyone listening in. I hope you found it useful. And we'll see everyone on the next podcast.

Bob:

Thanks, Panos. Bye.

Panos:

I hope you enjoyed this Race Trends Summer 2021 update with GiveSignup|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 findings in this episode or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub. As you heard back there, the GiveSignup|RunSignup Virtual Summer Symposium is on this July 21-22 - which, apparently, is free to join - so if you want to learn more or sign up for that, head to runsignup.com/virtualsymposium. And, last but not least, if you enjoyed this episode don't forget to hit "Follow" on your favorite player and do have a look at our podcast back-catalogue for more great content like this. Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.