Austin, TX. – At last week’s Running USA conference in Austin, Texas the question confronting the industry was ‘why the steady slide in road race participation over the last three years, and how to combat it?’
Pricing increases, calendar glut, and competition from other fitness platforms offer some insight into the reasons. But we have gone through almost 50 years of fitness and hard bodies as the Baby Boom generation moved like a cultural pig in a python through the second half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries.
Perhaps a question to ponder: Was it inevitable that there was going to be a backlash against the Boomer’s cultural impact, and road racing is just another example? What generation ever wants to do what their parents did? After all, rock ‘n’ roll was supplanted as the dominant musical expression by hip hop, and the 2018 Winter Olympics ain’t nothing your grandma’s Lake Placid.
“All our events are bucking that trend,” countered High Five Events CEO Jack Murray the day before the 27th Austin Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K. “Our 3M Half (Jan. 21st) was up 1500 this year to 8000. And it was up 1000 last year, too. The Cap 10,000 when we took it over four or five years ago had 13,000, 14,000. Now we have over 20,000.”
One thing Murray has going, as well, is a city experiencing major population growth with a well established running community. According to Census Bureau figures, the Austin area’s population soared 19 percent from 2010 to 2016. During that time, the region added nearly 330,000 residents; close to the number of people living in the entire city of Corpus Christi.
“We also have a team that is up on new ways to attract entrants,” explained Murray. “Early Groupon, give aways, combos. During a 4-day period we donated all registration fees from the 3M Half and the Austin Marathon to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, which totaled around $55,000.
“Today people know what a professional event looks like via social media. So we are competing not just against other running events, but against every other kind of event. And we have to deliver a similar product.”
Tomorrow’s Austin Half Marathon is up 1000 entrants from last year, the 5K another 1000, while the marathon held steady as it introduced a new, faster course late in the sign up period. The prize money had also increased for the second straight year with High Five at the helm. It is all part of a drive for Austin to host the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials.
The days of out-sized growth in the running industry may be gone, but just as the best runners maintain their careers by an unrelenting attention to detail and process, so, too, must the best events in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
You can watch live coverage of the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon live-streamed on Flotrack.org beginning tomorrow morning at 6:45 am. central time.