Tuesday 30 August 2022

2022 Participant Survey - results and insights

Runners who entered a race and enjoyed themselves. Actual Scenes.


Since the return to events in 2021 we have seen more and more races get back and relaunch across the country. However, all was not as it seemed. Midway through 2022 and Race cancellations were still taking place, the number of people turning up on the day, despite entries being fuller, less people attending on the day itself. Covid hasn't fully gone away, and my running friends were reporting long term exhaustion and breathlessness and not returning to running. And we thought - what is going on ? Where is everybody ? and me being be, I thought - why don't we ask people ? So here we are.

Other recent reports have tried to look at the same problem - one of the event booking companies noted that bookings were down https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6937334235133325312/ - but then gave some of their own ideas about why people were not entering - but not derived from any actual evidence. (ie forgetting that people had to pay for petrol at £1.96 per litre to get to many parkrun's which is not free to drive to - so they are influenced by the cost of living, they can't be written off as totally free events as they did in their analysis. Plus of course there's always the price of a coffee and kayke afterwards...)

Just take part. Your friends can do the heavy lifting

Another discussion (here: https://headstart.buzzsprout.com/1757785/10624550-market-update-are-we-there-yet ) didn't satisfy my curiosity, so I thought - I'd better ask people - and find out what they really thought. So I did this survey in the last bit of May 2022.

The design of any good questionnaire establishes who is answering it, clear questions with yes and no answers which are the same sort of questions to cross check that people are interpreting them in the same way, and then a range of closed questions (With limited responses), and then a set of open questions with free text responses. This crosschecks different question interpretations and helps get a consistent analysis of the results.

Whilst the absolute answers themselves make for interesting and easy understanding, the interesting part of the analysis starts when you start to look at two questions put together - ie: are you motivated, and what sort of runner are you ? (to answer if club runner are more motivated than individual runners), or - have you had covid and what distances do you prefer to race now ? (ie if you've been ill are you running shorter distances?)  These all start to produce interesting insights which when looked at broadly - will start to give the events some direction on what to do next for their potential entrants and future customer base.

So with one final point - all this is my days of hard work and data analysis, so if you're going to use it - please refer back or quote to us as the original source. use this link if you like : https://sspimg.com/2022-participant-survey  or contact me, Anthony, on info@sussexsportphotography.com - I'd love to hear from you and your ideas !

The detail of the results

So first off, lets establish who is answering this survey:

So roughly half of you are club runners, and about 40% of you are individuals, and the rest of you like a bit of social running.

About 75% (Three quarters) of you like to run up to a half marathon, with a third sticking under the 10k limit, and about a quarter in total enjoying running marathons and longer. Notably Half Marathons are the most popular distance.

A staggering 50% of you have had covid, and of that 14% of the entire survey population (or 28% of those who have had covid) - have not recovered.

This is the first big bit of data from the survey - 14% of you couldn't enter a race if you wanted to. Take that bit of news event organisers and set your expectations accordingly. The market is 14% smaller - at best.

So - who is entering races exactly now ?

Let's start crossing over the questions then...

So are you more likely to have had covid depending on what kind of runner you are ?

Yes ! is the answer - 45% of club runners have had Covid, whilst 56% of individual runners have had Covid. In probability terms - that means that Individual Runners are 24% more likely to have had it than the club runners. I'm not sure if that's counter-intuitive - but that's the data !

Note though - Club Runners have not recovered as well - with 33% of Club runners who caught it still not 100% whilst individual runners are down to 23% who had covid still not 100%. Does that mean club runners are closer to the edge on their overall fitness and their self perception is more critical ? I don't know.

Put that in the overall context of the running population - if club runners are half your entries, but they are taking longer to get better from Covid - then they are going to need more help to get back into running.

So why didn't you race when you had entered ?

I did a load of questions about have you entered but not raced, but honestly it wasn't very interesting in the general response - but 80% had raced already this year by May 2022

Asking people if and why they didn't attend races if they had entered them - given the first four options of Health, Fitness, Life and Motivation does cover 2/3rds of the survey - but the mistake I made here was giving people a free "other" choice. All of the other responses given could have been put into those four categories - ie Injuries would happily fit into the "health" or "fitness" bucket quite easily. Anyway the main takeaway is that some 40% of overall survey responses hadn't turned up to a race this year, but very little of that was down to motivation. What motivation is required is to get people to enter in the first place. 

Planning ahead ?

So at this point I'm wondering if people are behaving the same in everyday normal life with their planning for entering events - and it turns out - they're not - 35% of people are not planning their lives as far ahead as they used to.

That's a third of people waiting for a bit more certainty and stability - and this seems to make sense as half of the reasons given for not turning up to a race you had booked - would fall into a category related to "Life gets in the way". 

The more chaotic life is, the less likely you are to book something further into the future - you're more likely to wait until the last minute dot com... and as we know - the one thing we have all got used to through lockdown was - cancellations, at the last minute (when that one test comes in positive). 

Is this a post-lockdown effect then ? Don't bother booking because you'll only get screwed over by the refunds, or the new date, or the event organiser going bust - these are predominantly financial control issues - which relates to "can I afford to lose the entry money if things change?" : Simple answer - no.

What are you waiting for ?

so we cross check the not planning ahead answer with this inevitable question - so what are you waiting for ?

Pay attention here - because people - on a pretty straight question are saying - 45% "the right sort of event", and 18% are saying they want more certainty before booking. Importantly - and when we cross check this with two different questions later - only 8% say directly that finance/cost ie Entry Fees themselves are an issue - some of our later analysis explains cost isn't the financial problem.

The problem with the main 45% answer is we don't know if "the right sort of event" actually means something linked to an event with entry flexibility and refunds, the costs, or distance or terrain or local. It means too much - but it does give us something to consider - ie Runners are a fussy lot and 45% are not satisfied with the status quo. If you're into race innovation as a race director and business improvement - then this is your starting gun... almost half of your potential customers want a better/different sort of event with better/different financial conditions.

What's the motivation?

So I thought - hang on is this just a motivation thing ?

well, I guess it might be - because over a third of you are not as motivated to enter a race as you were before lockdown. Are the third who are unmotivated the same third who are booking things later - NO !! never fall into that trap of assumptions just because the numbers look the same. there's some overlap, but they're not all the same people.

Instead lets see if race distance has an impact on motivation - it turns out it does

The shorter your normal running race distance - the less motivated you appear to be, and intuitively this makes sense too -  somewhat logically - it seems the further you run and race the more motivated you are to get back out there to run and race. Basically people who like to run further are more motivated to run than people who don't like to run further.

Does being ill with Covid impact your motivation?

So what about having Covid - does that demotivate you ? 

No, it turns out that on average, having covid and recovering is very similar to not having had covid in the motivational stakes. However - Not recovering 100% - that appears to be quite demotivating (as you might expect).

But - ah - that's the average - what about if you're a Club runner ? (this is half our survey remember).

It turns out having Covid has been massively demotivating if you're a club runner
- almost 47% are no longer motivated to enter races, whilst not had it is averagely demotivated 34%. Its almost as if we can blame lockdown for 33% of the demotivation (ie not had it), and being ill itself for a further 14% of demotivation (taking you to 47% demotivated)

Overall that would feel like you're ~50% more demotivated by having Covid - compared to your Club Running buddies who have not (because 47% is relatively speaking 50% larger than 33%). That's a big hit of demotivation.

And - so how does this work for individual runners (not club runners) - has Covid hit their motivation hard too ?

No it hasn't - quite the opposite - there appears to be a small amount of confidence compared to the average of 34% with only 29% being demotivated after they have had Covid. It's actually a little boost of confidence and motivation - I've had it and survived it yaay !

Be warned though - if you're an individual runner, and still haven't recovered from covid - half of you are likely to be demotivated. Is this evidence that being part of a club can help motivate you through the hard times ? Might be. And might be worth considering joining a club if you haven't quite recovered from covid but need some get-up-and-go to help you.

Again the "not-had-it" crew are 33% demotivated - so that's my benchmark for the impact of lockdown - for all runners.

Summary findings so far
So far then - of the runners who are entering races - we have 35% planning their entries later than before, and 33% not motivated to enter races, and club runners who have had Covid are likely to be even more demotivated.

This table should show you the overall situation quite well:

Motivation and entering races on time

From the table you can see that only 41% of all previous runners think they are behaving the same way they used to. That's 59% of runners making things harder for event organisers to fill their events and generate cashflow. - and remember of that remaining 59% - 14% of them have covid and are ill so they are not back to running races.

NB: The slight discrimination in percentages discussed and the table above depends if we are talking about all runners, or a percentage of runners who are back to running and healthy.

Why the demotivation Marvin? 

You can run, but you're not entering races. Why is this ?

Why are 33% who are active, fit and running (ie not currently ill) - not motivated ?

It appears that 57% of people who could be entering are saying that lifestyle of time and planning is stopping them from entering races. 

So "general certainty" for 26% and "waiting for the right sort of event" - 63% of active runners makes up the reasons for these runners.

So what is the right sort of event ? 

It appears that for 81% of runners now the right sort of event is any distance up to a Half Marathon - which is split almost 50-50 with 10ks.

And of all these potential runners, despite all saying lifestyle is stopping them, when asked the open question of what advice did they have for Race Directors - and in the longform answers - we found that 50% advised that cost factors needed fixing. So is it really lifestyle and the right sort of event ? The bulk of the cost related factors included prices, refunds, and deferring or transferring entries. More about this in a moment.

So overall we have runners who are a mixture of not motivated, less interested and entering later. It's a combination of all three - there's a venn diagram of overlapping problems - so I went through their responses to the "If you were a race organiser, what one thing would you be doing to encourage race entries ?" - and it's 45% of the respondents that fall into this pool saying "its not the right sort of event". (note for race directors - That's almost half of your potential entries - check that again: almost half your potential income).

This is roughly how their answers work out (NB they could and did write across a range of topics) as to why it's not the right sort of event for them:

Again it came down to money and financial risk (risk of losing their entry fee) as the main reasons people are not motivated, not interested or now prefer to enter last minute.

In broad terms - half of the potential runners are saying it's not the right sort of event, and half of them are saying it's not the right sort of event because of money somehow. If you're an event director - this is an easy target to address - it's that low hanging fruit - and my thoughts on that are below. Remember financial elements are not just the cost of entry.

So, here's my summary of thoughts of what the landscape looks like and solutions...

The industry is back to where it was in numbers and attitude to mass participation running before 2012, and people have learned in lockdown to live from home, just as much as they learned to work from home. That includes the simple joys of running from their doorstep - alone or with a friend. Crucially - locally and without pressure and low cost. Lockdown has demotivated 33% of runners from entering races.

Covid has brought uncertainty, last minute planning flexibility, unexpected news, changes of plans seconds before going out because of a surprise positive test. People are exhausted from this and opting out of planning too far ahead into the future, preferring to be more impulsive if an opportunity pops up and everything is ok. Work from home = play from home: why travel somewhere to run ? Enter last minute if it's still open because I feel ok today to do it *today*.

This chaos factor means that 35% of people are going to enter later - so you have to build that into your cashflow forecast and final entry numbers in advance - or do something to give them the confidence to get them back entering in advance.

What motivates people to run in a race ?

People are reverting to 10ks and half marathons - not so much marathons - as was the momentum into 2020, and from what we're seeing this season - people are turning up for positive good causes, and not so much for themselves if they're a little bit out of form - especially the club runners.

15% of people are still ill and have long covid and are not 100% - they are not entering races. Think of just how massive that is, and as an average is going to continue for some time. It's no wonder businesses are struggling if this is repeated across industry - who operates a company with a 15% staff sickness margin ? nobody, and event organisers should plan taking this into account for their planned entry numbers. 14% not entering will tip some events into unsustainability.

33% of potential entrants are not motivated - so you have to sell/advertise/motivate and do it all again Mr Motivator and deal maker. Remotivate people back to events. This is the improved comms. Go local, target those club runners as they are half your base, get them promoting your race as the best thing ever - think of possible club discounts. Club runners especially are really cost conscious and not entering as many races because of it compared to non-club runners (yes I analysed that too), and yet they are almost half of the respondents to this survey. That's a large number of potential entrants pulling out of their race entries. Consider selling club running spots with them only having to declare the runner on the day so the results are correct.

After you've done all these numbers, whilst there's a little overlap - this leaves you with roughly 17% turning up as normal before - which really isn't great news for the industry, or anyone trying to plan an event. And it means - if you sit on your hands and expect things to bounce back to how they were before - it's simply not going to happen. Your event will die or you will suffer massive cashflow problems. Change or die - it is that simple. We've already seen some who haven't change go bankrupt - it's not good for anyone.

Meanwhile the 54% of your target audience that you want to target to enter - want better cost/financials/entry terms and conditions - ie less financial risk to entering a race. (this is the best summary phrase I can make from all the free text comments to those race director questions).

It's not just about the medals

So what to do about it all ? a few simple fixes...

Race organisers need early entries and cashflow to run their business and book facilities, supplies and suppliers with some financial security. Their contracts with their suppliers need to have more flexibility to reduce their risk if a smaller than forecast number of entries turn up. This will require some good business conversations.

As I read it - the cost isn't the absolute overriding factor for many - it's the waste of an entry fee that people don't want to risk if circumstances change. But event organisers also need to keep the cash to plan the event properly, and as we have seen - deferred entries just kick the financial problem into the future for many event organisers - causing havoc a year later. Refunds certainly don't help with cashflow, admin tasks, or hidden refund costs and already sunk costs - put simply - refunds are not an option if it can't be resold.

What is needed is easy - really easy - entry swaps - up to and including until the event is over on the day of the event, before the final results are issued.

That means people need to be able to sell or pass on their entries to others, even on the morning of the event. Technology for event entries needs to be able to support these last minute swaps (and I understand that they do for a majority of platforms), and of course the results systems need to be able to adjust - because the most important thing is the gender/age/name of the actual person on the day is accurate - so the results are fair and accurate.

This will require some innovation from the event entry and results companies to make it slick, provable and easy (somehow get the runner to do the admin - not the results team on the day!) , and might require more manpower/staffing at the event to enable the swaps on the day if some of the tech isn't yet developed - but it's not a big ask. Innovate !

None of this is a mystery if you think about it

Then people can enter knowing that their entry fee won't go to waste - they can sell, swap, pass on, encourage, and support the races going ahead and it's completely up to them how to do that. A friend might be able to give them the money for it, or a club might be able to share the entry and someone else on the day pick it up. As long as they register the swap officially whilst results are still provisional then it enables a more flexible approach to race entries for everyone.

This needs the Tech at the entry companies to really step up and solve this very old industry specific problem. Events keep the money to be able to put the event on, and a runner gets to run a race - it's a win-win.

The more possible swapping is, and the better the communications around swapping as a possibility for everyone - then the better understood is the financial risk for everyone - and that helps people to trust the event will go ahead - and helps the event get more entries, and then more people turn up !

In fact - encouraging people who can't make the race to swap to someone who can, and not waste the entry fee - should get more people out to the race, possibly encourage more first timers, and you step back onto the positive upward spiral of improved confidence and trust in the event. That's the win-win everyone needs.

Also we have to talk about Event Goodies - 15% of possible runners cited that as an issue for Race Directors to address to encourage entries. From the event organisers perspective - these need to be modified to be less up-front costs and shorter delivery lead times, and not fixed numbers of items. As a company - having cash tied up in physical products shipping from the Far East - just isn't a realistic option for financial success. More flexible goodies - digital instead of  physical, engaging instead of distributed, green instead of disposable - are all food for thought. 

Obviously I'd advocate free race photos as an option here - delivering extremely good value for runners financially, and simply the most effective emotional engagement to be had with participants after an event has taken place - giving people the raw material to talk about their race on social media whilst the memory and emotions are still racing ! Sponsors like them too !

And there's a load of stuff I could write here about comms, PR, engagement... but that can wait until you've sorted out the infrastructure to support better financial considerations for you and your runners.

sometimes you have to keep going through the muddy bits

So in Summary:

Lockdown has changed peoples habits, knowledge, fitness and lifestyles, and the economic situation is now also having an impact.

People are not as interested anymore, they are demotivated, and ill and entering later if they can. A significant number. The dynamic of races and the pattern of entries has changed.

There are financial pressures building. People don't want to waste their money if they enter too far ahead of time. Planning ahead has become a luxury for all but the most significant of events.

Event organisers need financial forecasting, and stability, and to reduce costs and long-lead time items - ie reduce financial risk and tying up cash in product expenditure they can no longer forecast (how many medals and T-Shirts ?) - race rewards need to reflect this dynamic and be digital not disposable. (ie vouchers for products, not the products themselves).

Events need to reassure people that their money won't go to waste, enable race entry swaps up to the last second, and tell them about it, get them to swap so someone turns up on the day and prioritise this over deferrals and refunds. 

Reduce the length of race distances available - 10ks are likely to be the most popular along with half marathons.

Make sure there's a great cause for your event to galvanise and motivate people to turn up for it. Build anticipation. Have a special part of your course that people can't usually run along, or a special landmark in the background that's special to your race/cause/club. Make it special.

Target local running clubs - offer club incentives, onboard local charities/hospices/causes, tie them all together - build a cause and a way of helping.

Build local - within 30minutes journey to the start, and marketing, marketing, marketing. Relentless comms and promotion. Old methods of flyers instead of online, signs at traffic lights, go to running club training nights. Tell your previous race entry list - time and time again.

So this is the situation:

And all the reasons for it are analysed above - but it's mostly financially related to events and the new normal of uncertainty and how that's managed with the event.

lots of people enjoying a run - all club runners ! 

I could go on, but I think you get the picture - Event and race organising isn't easy, and at the moment - going out to run with people at events just isn't happening as much as it used to. By a lot.

But - I'll leave you with one hopefully motivational thought to enter races. The Harvard University longitudinal study of past students has identified that the only factor that correlates with happiness is hanging out with friends (not money, job, status, health, etc) - just hanging out with friends - sometimes over food, sometimes over coffee, sometimes just whatever. I would put it to you as a runner - hanging out with friends and going to a race with them - is also a possible key to happiness - it really doesn't matter how fast you run it - it's the shared experience that matters most.

So go and enter a race today with your friends. Have something to look forwards to. It will brighten up your days, and make you happy. And that is a price worth paying.

Running with friends can make you happy. You just have to let it.

If you've got any questions on this analysis - feel free to get in touch - info@sussexsportphotography.com

Please link back to this report and credit SussexSportPhotography.com if you reference any of the figures in this analysis across your own comments/socials/blogs etc. Thank you !

good luck with the end of your summer training, and hopefully we will all have some wonderful weather as we get into autumn - perfect for those longer runs ! 

Until next time, and I'll put a link to this on our facebook page - so comments and thoughts there please 


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