As the country (and the world) slowly starts to open up and start the long rebuilding process, it’s only natural that some people are a bit apprehensive and feel uneasy about leaving their homes and returning to society.
This holds true not just with office workers and people who are in the public sector, but also with endurance athletes who, after months of self-isolation, may not be ready to toe the line surrounded by thousands of other competitors.
As a race director and event organizer, it’s important to keep this in mind. You’ll have two types of athletes interested in your event—those who can’t wait to race as usual, and those who want to race but are afraid to be in large crowds at the moment.
If you’re planning on hosting a physical event, awesome—just make sure to follow local guidelines and safety tips to protect you, your volunteers and your athletes. But to cater to those who still would like to participate without actually being there on race day, offering a virtual event is a great way to include everyone.
Here are a few reasons to continue allowing virtual participation after in-person races resume.
Including a virtual race component allows for greater flexibility for your athletes. Instead of traveling to the event and toeing the line for a specific start time, they can complete the set distance at their convenience within a predetermined date window. Of course those who choose the virtual option won’t be eligible for age-group awards, but they’ll receive their finisher medal and swag bag (if you’re sending them).
Also, let’s say, for the sake of argument, there’s a spike in cases and more restrictions on physical events are reimplemented, having a virtual race component gives your athletes the option to complete the event (and earn their medal) without you, the organizer, issuing refunds. For example, it was just announced that the 124th Boston Marathon will be held as a virtual race.
Justifiably so, older athletes or athletes with health issues will naturally need more time to feel comfortable at in-person races or events. Athletes 55 and older account for a significant percentage of registrants (and returning registrants), so including a virtual component to your event will give them the opportunity to race and feel included and ultimately boost revenue (more on this below).
By offering both a virtual race experience and physical race, you’ll be able to capitalize on those ready to race in-person and those who’d like to participate, but are still nervous about being around large crowds (or are unable to travel).
A virtual race can help make up for the likely dip in registrations you might experience due to the pandemic, and make your event more sustainable for future years. There’s also less cost associated with virtual races, as you’ll need fewer swag bags, portable toilets, sports nutrition/food, etc.
Also, a successful virtual race might grow into a virtual race series, where your athletes have the opportunity to complete several virtual races throughout the year. Play around with different themes, incentives like offering an additional medal for those who complete the entire series or “buy two virtual races, get one free” specials to increase participation/revenue.
A healthy sponsor-event relationship is all about providing value on both sides. Adding a virtual alternative to your in-person race creates an entirely new way to not just engage with your athletes, but how your sponsors engage with your athletes as well. Get creative with your sponsors specifically for your virtual event—this might include branded training plans, logo inclusions through e-blasts and social media posts, a virtual swag bag and virtual expo, etc.
For more information about how to show value to tour sponsors through virtual events, click here.