We release an annual RaceTrends Report each winter to provide a thorough assessment of the state of the endurance and fundraising events industry. This year, as the industry adapts to a post-pandemic world, we pulled a reduced round of midyear data to help event organizers better understand the current state of the industry.
The data used for this report includes internal RunSignup data from January through July of 2022. The numbers represent 4,387,409 participants registered in the first half of 2022, and and 6,759,602 participants from throughout 2021. We estimate that our data represented at least 25-30% of the endurance market in 2019; while the market is less stable today, we believe that has increased to more than 35% market share.
1. Slow Regrowth
One of the key ways we look at the strength of the market is by comparing the number of participants in races that have been on our platform for two years. This removes any impact of increased market share on our platform or new races in the market, looking only at how participation numbers for races have grown (or not).
If we look only at 2021, the news is encouraging – races are continuing to re-grow after the lows of 2020. However, when we pull back the lens all the way to 2019, the picture is a lot less rosy, with lagging participation each month.
Races by Size
When looking at the 2019 to 2022 comparison by the size of the race (in 2019), races above 500 participants shared in the drop relatively evenly. Interestingly, the very smallest events fared the best, actually showing notable growth.
- Race participation is lagging behind 2019 numbers. Adjust your budget for a smaller race size to ensure viability.
- While there’s obviously a lot more room for a 50 person event to grow, it is also possible that the personal touch and community-focused nature of small events is making it easier for small events to re-integrate into participant’s lives. Look for ways to engage community partners and local nonprofits.
2. Disappearing Events
We manually track every race over 500 participants to see how many of them return on our platform, how many leave for another platform, and how many events cease to exist at all. In 2019, just 5.9% of all races from 2018 did not recur (on our platform or any other). In 2022, we’re still comparing churn to 2019 because there was so much volatility in events in 2020 and 2021. While our competitor churn remains low (0%-1.4% each month this year), a significant number of 2019 events have disappeared from the 2022 schedule altogether.
- With may races from 2019 likely gone forever. This creates some room in event schedules for ambitious event directors with creative race concepts to test out new ideas and expand their race operations.
3. Prices are Rising
We first hear rumblings about rising prices in 2021 as supply chain issues and municipal price increases started to kick in, but with virtual events and challenges (and their lower overhead) continuing to make up 20% of all events in 2021, average prices remained artificially low. Now, with virtual events down to just 8% of all events and inflation impacting prices across the country, we’re seeing a noticeable jump in event prices compared to pre-pandemic.
*note that the drop in Ultra prices is likely impacted by two things. One, with fewer events in the category it is more impacted by a few outliers, and two, the virtual challenges that continue typically “Ultra” in distance, bringing down the average price.
- Prices are up across events. Be transparent and honest with your participants about rising costs – they’re likely seeing the same thing at other events as well.
- Don’t be afraid to try new pricing strategies. Yes, a price increase is a great call-to-action, but a $5 savings may not resonate today as much as it once did. Instead, consider block pricing (increasing by the quantity sold), a flat pricing with discounts for all local running clubs, or focusing on group or age incentives.
- For some events, cutting what you offer (like that t-shirt you hate designing) and moving to an add-on purchase model for swag may provide an alternative to raising prices.
4. Young Runners are Absent
We started raising the alarm about a dropping number of participants under 30 back in 2016 or 2017, and the pandemic has only accelerated the trend, with just 13.7% of all 2022 participants between 18-29.
- We know that younger athletes weren’t excited about virtual events, but there’s also clearly a lack of enthusiasm for traditional endurance events. Surveys indicate that Gen Z and young Millennials are inspired by working for a cause (collaborate with a great nonprofit!) and social experiences (create fun team opportunities!).
- Explore (or enlist help with) marketing strategies built for younger people. These include more video content for Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, and capitalizing on micro-celebrities within your local running scene.
5. Planning Ahead is Back
One of the pandemic impacts we heard the most concern about was that it would increase procrastination and lead to more last minute registrations. While the 2021 registration patterns held pretty close to normal, it looks like the impact in 2022 is actually the opposite: race week registrations are down for the first time since we started doing this report.
Not only are race week registrations down, so are registrations in the last month as a whole. While some of the spike in super-early registrations could still come from postponements in 2021, we did not see that type of impact in 2020 from 2021 postponements.
While the shift to earlier registrations shows up across distances, 5K’s track the closest to a “regular” registration pattern, with 21.7% of registrations on race week compared to 26.2% in 2019.
- Registration patterns are unpredictable. Look for local partners to make it easier to wait for ordering, and consider a cutoff date for giveaway guarantees.
- Capitalize on participant’s enthusiasm to get back to their favorite events with a big registration launch instead of waiting until the last few weeks for a marketing push.
6. Marketing Trends are Normalizing
There is one area where our 2022 reports look consistent with our pre-pandemic numbers: marketing tools. Across several metrics, we see the effectiveness of marketing tools
- Referral Rewards made up 7% of all registration dollars (when enabled) in 2022. After spiking to 17% during the 2020 virtual craze, this represents a return pre-pandemic rates.
- Teams continue to draw 30% of participants when they are offered, demonstrating the sustained power of social running.
- The average discount for a coupon code was $13.07, similar to the $13.88 we saw in 2019. One positive here: the ROI on coupons actually increased from 294% in 2019 to 337% in 2022.
- Despite changing trends, the same marketing tools you’ve been using for years remain consistently effective. Continue to employ on word-of-mouth marketing and simple calls to action.
Looking at trends right now can feel a little bleak – participation per event is down, youth participation is stalled, race churn is up, and unpredictability in costs and registration patterns are making it harder than ever to prepare for an event. But we can’t leave this update without providing a little bit of reason for hope and enthusiasm…
These numbers are aggregates, and it’s true that many beloved events are struggling –but there are others that are actually seeing growth. We believe it’ll take some time for patterns to settle, but there are things you can do to try to jumpstart your current events – or even create new events. There is opportunity here to get creative, just as we saw events do in 2020, and try bold new things. A few of the things we discussed at the recent RunSignup Symposium include:
- Re-engage your community by connecting with running clubs, stores, community centers, schools, nonprofits, etc. A lot of the groundwork you did when you first started your event needs to be re-started. Creative pricing options can help you bring some of these groups back into the fold.
- Implement creative Loyalty Programs to coax your previous fans back to the event.
- Think outside the box with referral rewards, including easy-to-manage ideas like digital gift cards or VIP parking to limit shipping hassles.
- Seek out micro-influencers in your community (think: a few thousand followers who are known in your local running community) to become low-cost ambassadors for your event, and track registrations from their individualized link.
- Build a digital strategy that activates people through video content. A little investment in video can go a long way with repurposing on social media, advertising, and your race website.
- Try something new. With all the race churn, there’s bound to be a free weekend on your town’s schedule. Take a leap and try something completely new, whether it’s no swag, ALL THE SWAG, a family relay, or Tuesday night series. Start small and track all your results with RaceInsights to help determine what events are worth growing.