Race Survey: In-Person AND Virtual Race Options Expected Through 2021

We sent out a short survey this month to help create a snapshot of the revenue and operational expectations of races in 2020 and 2021, and look at how organizations are adjusting. This survey follows a similar version in May, giving us a picture of how expectations have changed over the last 6 months.

Top Takeaways

  • A successful 2021 will rely on both virtual and in-person events. While expectations for modified in-person events grows over the course of 2020 (peaking at 66% for events held in the second half of the year), there’s a clear indication that virtual isn’t going anywhere with 36% (first half of 2021) and 27% (second half of 2021) expecting to host a virtual races another 25% (first half) and 19% (second half) anticipating hosting a virtual challenge. We expect many of the planned in-person races to add a virtual component, significantly increasing the percent of races that are Hybrid from their current prediction of 42% in the first half of 2021 and 46% in the second half.
  • There is less optimism about 2021 now than there was in May, with expected revenue for 2021 falling from 76% of 2019 profits (in May) to 64% of 2019 profits today. However, that 64% still demonstrates that conditions are expected to improve over the course of the next year.
  • May expectations for 2020 have proven relatively accurate, with 45% of revenue expected at that time, and 43% of revenue now expected by the end of the year.
  • However, smaller organizations (under 1,000 participants per year) are exceeding their expected revenue for 2020. These organizations make up 42% of respondents.
  • To make up for the revenue shortfalls, organizations are trying to save money by reducing operating and employment expenses. More encouraging: since May, races have also gotten more serious about making money, with 8% more respondents indicating that they are adjusting by creating new revenue sources.


As we move towards 2021, it’s crucial to start thinking long term. Get a head-start on your events and create events with multiple built-in contingencies.

  • Go Hybrid. In-person events have been increasing (they made up 35% of our registrations in the second half of October), but uncertainty remains and many participants aren’t ready to show up in person. Creating flexible events with virtual and in-person elements provides the best opportunity to reach more participants and increase your revenue and fundraising. Get best practices for Hybrid Events here.
  • Open early. The built-in back-up plans in hybrid events allow you to get your race on the calendar NOW. Indications from countries that have more fully opened are that events will come back with a bang when the medical situation improves – you want to make sure your event is the one that’s ready to go. Signup for our 2021 Kickoff to get your event up and running ASAP.
  • Get creative with Virtual. If you feel like virtual is getting stale, mix it up. Try a challenge instead of a race or work with a timer for a RaceJoy Anywhere option that feels like a real course. Sometimes just the small things – like changing the wording around virtual – can get people re-engaged.
  • Fundraising is possible – especially if you’re innovative. Even if your “normal” events aren’t possible, supporters are demonstrating that they’re dedicated to supporting causes. 49% of nonprofits adjusted to current restrictions by creating entirely new event concepts.

Full Survey Results

Data Set:

398 total respondents

Because event restrictions are often tied to event size, we asked two questions to give us a good about the types of events represented in the resonses.

Size of Organization’s LARGEST Event (last time it was held as normal):


Number of Participants across ALL of an Organization’s Events (in a normal year)


As you might expect, the largest single segment is smaller races, with 41% of respondents noting that their largest race is less than 500 participants, and 29% of organizations serving less than 500 throughout the year. However, there is a wide spread of event and organization size.

We also asked where the bulk of an organization’s races are held to try to take a look at geographic differences. This did not end up being a useful comparison, since the answers were very dispersed and the sample for each locale too small to be significant.

Location for Most Common Responses

Outside US5.1%

All other states were under 5% of the respondents. Of the five most represented states, there is a wide variety in the level of restrictiveness implemented by state governments. There were only 6 states not represented at all, most of them with low populations (Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming).

Revenue Expectations

This is the heart of the issue: how much of a financial impact are organizations expecting in 2020 and 2021 – both now, and as compared to earlier in May of 2020. The basic takeaway: while larger organizations generally expect to be hit harder, all race organizations expect an impact in both 2020 and 2021 and 2021 organizations are more pessimistic now than they were in May.

2020 Revenue Expectations (compared to 2019 Revenue): May Responses vs. November Responses

2021 Revenue Expectations (compared to 2019 Revenue): May Responses vs. November Responses

While expectations for 2021 are significantly improved, organizations still expect to see reductions as compared to 2019. Smaller organizations expect to rebound to around 74% of their 2019 revenue, while larger organizations expect a longer impact from COVID-19, forecasting only 49% of 2019 revenue.

Types of Events

Next, we asked about the types of event that race organizers have hosted since March 2020, as well as those they expect to host in the first and second half of 2021. While the answers are all over the map, one thing is clear: organizers are preparing for alternate options, including virtual, challenge, and hybrid models.

One note: the question allowed for answering all that apply, so a director hosting a Hybrid Event may also have selected both Virtual and In-Person.

Making Up the Shortfall

With race organizations of all sizes expecting revenue shortfalls in 2020 and 2021, we also asked what changes they are making to reduce their expenses to absorb those shortfalls. Across the board, adjustments have been made. Smaller organizations relying more on cash reserves/other forms of income, and reducing program and operating expenses. This segment likely represents a significant number of smaller races organized for nonprofits, and signals that the programming of the nonprofit is impacted by the revenue reduction.

Larger organizations, with more employees, are the most likely to be furloughing employees or reducing compensation. But they are also the most likely to reduce software/subscription expenses, and the most likely to seek out new revenue sources like virtual events.

Since the chart above can be a lot to take in at once, we have included a table with the data as well.

If you are expecting a Revenue Shortfall, how are you Adjusting your Expenses?

Using cash reserves/have other sources of income26%52%56%71%55%67%63%
Creating new revenue sources (i.e. virtual races, challenge events, etc.)25%33%42%56%82%71%63%
Reducing program/operating expenses (including cutting mission-driven programs for nonprofits)33%46%43%51%53%62%13%
Reducing compensation across all team members2%10%8%21%18%52%38%
Furloughing some employees4%12%6%15%16%43%75%
Reducing software and other subscription expenses1%12%13%23%16%24%38%
Loans (PPP, EDL, private, etc.)4%15%14%34%55%71%13%
Expect bankruptcy1%2%0%0%3%0%13%

Adjustments in November Compared to March

How have adjustments changed over the last 6 months? On an aggregate basis, the standout change is am 8% increase in the number of people that responded that they were creating new revenue sources via virtual events, virtual challenges, or other events. Every other response decreased .4-5%.

Note: the “Loans” option was not available in May, and was added due to the significant number of respondents writing it in.

Fundraising Events

The majority of traditional races are either hosted by nonprofits as fundraisers for their organization, or hosted by a for-profit entity with contributions to a nonprofit. In 2020, despite the challenges, fundraising events were still widespread, with 62% of respondents indicating that they had hosted at least one type of fundraising event. Virtual run/walk/rides dominated, but 17% of respondents had explored a non-endurance event for their fundraising efforts.

Fundraising Events Hosted Since March

Events in which fundraising was a primary focus. Respondent could select all that applied.

Fundraising successes were the result of flexibility on the part of organizers, with 92% of respondents indicating that they had made adjustments to their fundraising strategy. A significant number, 73% said they had adjusted by changing their event type from in-person to virtual, while an additional 49% had created entirely new types of events to meet the moment.

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