Why Hybrid Events are the Key to 2021

March of 2020 awakened the world of Virtual Events. By June, the hot new option was a Virtual Challenge. As these two continue to be a part of the event experience and we shift towards resurrecting in-person events, 2021 will have be the year of Hybrid Events.


What Is a Hybrid Event?

A Hybrid Event is any race, run, walk, ride, or fundraising event that incorporates both in-person and virtual elements. It means increased options for participants. In the era of COVID-19, race directors and nonprofits are embracing a hybrid approach as a tool for engaging the maximum number of participants, increasing fundraising, and keeping legacy events alive.

What Does a Hybrid Event Look Like?

There is no one-size fits all for a Hybrid Event. Local restrictions, virus conditions, and the specific strengths of your event should be considered. Providing options gives your event the ability to continue on regardless of changing local situations and appeals to a broader reach of participants.

Hybrid events are about providing options and may include many choices. For example, events could provide a combination of any of the following:

  • Traditional scored on-site events with defined course.
  • On-site, defined course(s) with flexible start times and expanded race dates.
  • Race anywhere with set distance(s) and participant or GPS submitted finish times.
  • Set distance challenge events (achieve a goal distance incrementally)
  • Open distance challenge events (incremental mileage accumulation).
  • Elevation challenge events (incremental elevation gains)
  • Activity challenge (any activity such as pushups, good deeds, fundraising amounts, recipes made, etc.)

What Should We Expect in 2021?

Much of the fate of 2021 events relies on the status of the pandemic, and the level of adaptation by the industry.

The State of the Industry:

  • In-Person Events are increasing. Creative modifications to traditional race setups and increased information about the risks of outdoor interactions mean that the number of in-person events is rising. Over the weekend of November 6-8, there were 95 in-person races of over 100 participants on RunSignup.
  • Larger Events are finding success. In-person events over 1,000 are still the exception, but we are seeing some leaders demonstrate ways to hold them safely. Both the Richmond Marathon and the Wheeler Mission Drumstick Dash are hosting races of more than 5,000 in November, each with unique modifications.
  • Marquee Large Events are still stalled. While small races are rebounding, large keynote events scheduled for Spring 2021 are likely to follow the lead of the Boston Marathon and cancel, postpone, or go virtual.

The State of the Virus:

  • Cases are rising. Across the country, case counts are increasing. While recent restrictions have been more targeted, uncertainty remains.
  • Outside events are safer. The consensus of the medical community is that the air flow outside makes it a safer environment, especially when combined with other distancing or mask modifications.
  • A Vaccine is Coming! The big news is the Pfizer Vaccine with early indications of a high level of efficacy and safety. While it appears to be the closest to dissemination, there are also eleven other potential vaccines in late-stage trials, meaning more than one vaccine may be available by early 2021.
  • Roll-Out Will Be Gradual. A vaccine means a gradual resumption of normal. It won’t be an instant switch but rather a tiered approach, creating a period of variable levels of immunity throughout communities – some of whom will be ready for events earlier than others.

Why Hybrid is the Answer

All the medical progress and innovation from event organizers adds up to an improving but unsteady environment 2021 events. Hybrid events capitalize on the best of both worlds while offering built-in contingency plans. Here’s why:

  • Appeal to Traditional Participants. For some members of the traditional running community, a virtual race just isn’t a race – so give them a race! For that runner, the first event to provide a race day experience and a real finish line has an advantage securing registrations.
  • Something for Everyone. Until the vaccine is fully distributed, some portion of your audience will not feel comfortable joining in-person – but will still want to be participate. A virtual option keeps them engaged in the race.
  • Expand Your Pool of Participants. Just like some runners only want to run in person, it turns out that some runners really love the flexibility of the virtual format. A virtual option allows you to reach people who would never show up on race day – including people who live out of the state. Plus, adding a challenge option expands your participant reach beyond the typical endurance participant.
  • Flexibility Encourages Registrations. Participants are procrastinators, and the wave of cancellations in the spring has only made them more hesitant. A built-in option to switch to virtual if things change – cases rise in the area, they need to quarantine, etc. – gives people peace of mind. Can’t participate in-person anymore? No problem. Switch to virtual!
  • Built-In Contingencies. Unlike the spring, when races en masse had to convert to virtual last minute, having a virtual event already set up makes that switch much easier if conditions change last minute. Beyond that, an event that is planned as virtual will have more features for engagement, like digital bibs, RaceJoy Anywhere, participant photo uploads, and virtual results posting – ensuring a high quality virtual experience.
  • Fundraising Can’t Wait. Nonprofits rely on revenue from fundraising events to complete their missions, and many were drained by cancellations in 2020. However, while registrations fell in 2020, donations on RunSignup | GiveSignup actually increased 63% in Q3 of 2020. Incorporate donations and fundraising into your events – not only can you help support the nonprofit, supporters of the nonprofit will be more likely to support your event.

How To Set Up a Hybrid Event

To get started, check out our Hybrid Event Hub, Hybrid Events Setup Webinar, and a Marketing Checklist for Hybrid Events. RunSignup | GiveSignup tools that will be crucial for a successful Hybrid Event include:

  • Flexible Participant Management Options make it easy for participants to switch between events (like from in-person to virtual), request deferrals, or swap bibs. This flexibility is essential for earning trust from participants who lost money on cancelled events in the spring.
  • Integrated Email Marketing to manage clear communications around race day instructions and virtual event result submission.
  • The Corral Management System organizes a socially distant start through small waves over a longer period of time.
  • The Virtual Results Platform allow your virtual participants to self-report their results.
  • RaceJoy’s GPS Runner Tracking creates an interactive race experience that can be enjoyed both in-person and virtually.
  • Shipping Address Collection and Geographic Fees make it easy to get swag out to your participants, wherever they are…without absorbing excessive shipping charges.
  • Enabling Participant Upload Photos unites participants in both in-person and virtual events by providing a space to share their race experience.
  • The built-in Sponsor Platform offers tracking of key metrics for your sponsors, including page and email views, ads on RaceJoy, a digital goody bag via sponsor offers, and more.

Here’s the bad news (it is still 2020, after all): Hybrid Events can take extra work, since you need to create two unique-but-enjoyable experiences in parallel. But there’s good news, too: if you start now, there’s time – and events that are able to get themselves on the calendar first, while demand outpaces supply, will reap benefits in the market.

To learn more about setting up your hybrid event, visit our Hybrid Event Hub: https://runsignup.com/hybrid

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