Executive Directors Note from Inside Track - Winter 2018 (expanded)
By Jean Knaack, RRCA Executive Director
Hey, Chicken Little, the sky is not falling! Yes we know numbers of participants have dipped in the last few years. The number of races being produced annually has dropped off since 2015. Shoe sales are not as strong as they were in 2014. But, let’s consider a few things as we look towards the future.
Fewer events being produced is not a bad thing. Poorly organized events have been erased from the market as runners get smarter about selecting their events. Event producers that only care about massive profits, and not about the runner experience, have closed-up shop. This is not a bad thing for runners; it is proof that runners value quality along with the sense of community found in long-stand events or top-quality, newer events organized by RRCA members.
In the last few years, we have watched as hedge funds gobbled up quality events, run specialty stores, and endurance publications thinking they would translate the success of these organizations into massive corporate profits only to find their balance sheets coming up short. Look to the news about the Dalian Wanda group exploring an IPO on the Hong Kong market for its sports properties as a means to rationalize its holdings, which include the Ironman triathlons and running events. For years, there are many in the running community that have questioned the "Walmartization" of endurance sports.
So why are these investors coming up short? This is because the hedge fund people lacked a critical understanding about running and the endurance markets. The success of the ventures they had purchased was based on a critical asset that can’t be quantified on a financial statement - passionate people with a strong connection to their local running community. What these hedge funds have learned is you can’t manufacture or fake passion and runners recognize when they are simply being viewed by a corporately-owned event as an income source on a financial statement.
As we see some decline in participation, keep in mind the younger generation of runners that fueled the meteoric growth of the sport in recent years are moving into a new phase in life, namely parenthood, with the costs and obligations that come with it. Our goal as a running community should be to continue to embrace them even if they can only afford to run one or two races a year as opposed to ten. We want the Millennials in the sport for a lifetime, just like the Baby Boomers that fueled the first running boom and are still working hard to win their age group awards. We also need look to the massive number of recent post-high school runners that have help build high school Cross Country into the one of the largest sports in the U.S. This is our audience of the future: the kids that found a love of distance running from grade school mileage clubs to their Cross Country teams.
I’ve been “saying it for years,” the success of the running community and the future growth of our sport will continue to be driven by passionate people invested in the success of their local running communities with a mission to help people live a long and healthy life through the most affordable physical activity ~ running.
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