Mass participation sports events are on the rise. Be it marathons, triathlons or Spartan Runs, these races are regularly attracting tens of thousands of people.
Experts disagree on the reasons for the latest upswing of the event format. But some of the benefits to the most important stakeholders of a sporting event are commonly acknowledged:
- Participants: Mass sports events give participants to opportunity to be part of a community, to be involved in a certain kind of lifestyle and to compare themselves to elite athletes on a real scale. Mass sports events have grown largely as a result of an emerging middle class in many regions of the world having more disposable income, becoming more active and health conscious and more aware of mass events through social media.
- Host City: A mass participation event is a chance to showcase a city while demonstrating the variety of activities that can be done in the host city’s environment. This serves as an additional marketing channel for the city brand and the tourism department. Moreover, they proved to be important factors as regards to reducing health costs, national (& regional) pride and community engagement.
- Rights-holder (federation): The word ‘mass’ says it all: The more people participating in a federation’s sport, the better – with obvious promotional and commercial benefits. Also, mass participation events could improve the overall level of the elite in the long run, as more participation eventually leads to more selection for the next higher level.
- Elite athletes: The nature of mass participation sports events naturally makes them an attractive marketing channels for all kinds of brands – the personal brands of the elite athletes included.
With elite-only events facing challenges as regards to cost efficiency, host city recruitment and overall legitimacy, what can they learn from mass sports events and potentially implement in their own format?
The answer is simple: All of it. Any sport event should strive to become as much of a ‘mass sport event’ as possible by embedding different formats of amateur competitions into the main event. This would allow them to reap off many – or at least some – of the above benefits by turning the event into a more comprehensive, multi-layered and ultimately more attractive product.
World Athletics for example integrated enhanced activation and promotion of mass participation events in their four-year-plan, published in July 2020. The plan talks about creating “weekend festivals of running” combining “a significant mass participation component” with professional road events like the World Half Marathon Championships and the World Race Walking Team Championships.
Every sport event can potentially be converted into a mass participation event – and if the desire is there, the benefits can be too.