The COVID-19 pandemic has no-doubt shaken up the endurance industry. In-person events have been cancelled and postponed, and race organizers and athletes have both had to face their own set of challenges with this new reality.
While physical races will likely return in the coming months (read our safety tips for future races here), depending on local rules and regulations, these races might look dramatically different than they did in 2019.
Race organizers who have pivoted and offered virtual races instead of simply canceling their event will be exiting these strange times with an entirely new medium at their disposal and a stronger, more flexible brand.
But after all this is over and in-person races resume, why should race directors still offer a virtual race alongside their flagship physical race?
The answer is simple—reach and revenue. Virtual races make a once-local event into one that can attract participants from around the world, capturing participants otherwise unwilling (or unable) to travel to your event.
Here we discuss why, for example, someone from Seattle should sign up for a random half marathon in Dallas, and the best way to attract them to your event over a competitor’s.
Make It Regional
Of course you want to attract participants from all around the world, but you’ll want to make it feel like a “local” event to capture participants in certain markets. Give promo codes to top running clubs in large metropolitan areas, create private Facebook groups for different areas in the United States, etc. Do some research and see which areas have had their events cancelled, and target those areas, too.
Social Media Spotlights
While they’ve been around for a while, virtual races are still foreign to many race organizers and participants who value the in-person connection of a physical event. Of course it’s not the same, but social media is a great way to connect with your participants from different areas. Consider going live (keep different time zones in mind) and spotlight some of your most active participants, feature a running club or give shout-outs to areas outside of your own who have the most registrants (or spotlight up-and-coming areas).
You can also make a Strava “club” that’s only available for athletes who have registered for your virtual event and highlight those on the leaderboard each week.
As we mentioned, why should someone from Seattle sign up for a random virtual half marathon based in Dallas? This is a small tweak but can make a world of difference – include imagery from different areas outside your own. For example, include shots of people running past the Space Needle, through Manhattan, along the beach in San Diego, etc. You don’t have to take the shots yourself—a stock photo account should have all the assets you need for a variety of shots without costing an arm and a leg.
Local sponsors are often the backbone of smaller, local races, but when it comes to virtual races, try to target more nationwide (or worldwide) sponsors. These sponsors can help promote your race through their social media and email marketing channels, which will help drive potential participants to your registration page from areas you might not have influence in. Remember, the more who sign up, the more you’ll earn and the more eyes your sponsor will have on their logo. It’s a win-win for both sides.
Lastly, to entice participants to register for your race who aren’t from your immediate area, providing “added value” is always a nice way to help your event stand out. Sure you can give out race medals and virtual swag bags (and you should), but if you offer things like age group awards, comprehensive training and nutrition plans and flexible distances, you’ll be more attractive to an athlete than your standard “plug and play” virtual event. For our complete list of creative ways to differentiate your virtual event, click here.