What Happened with Virtual Events in 2022?

This is one of series of blogs we’ll use to break down key endurance industry trends we saw in 2021, and evaluate what they mean for race directors as you prepare for 2022. You can find the full report (and more resources) below, along with additional blogs on the topic.

>> How Much Was Race Participation Impacted by COVID in 2021?

What Percent of 2021 Events Were Virtual?

Virtual was BIG in 2020, with 40.1% of all registrations on RunSignup for either a virtual race or virtual challenge. In 2021, in-person events came roaring back and made up an increasingly large percentage of all registrations throughout the year. Across the year, virtual registrations still made up 20.4% of all registrations, but in the best month (November), only 8% of events were virtual (race or challenge). There was a slight uptick in virtual in December as the impact of Omicron was seen, but in-person remained dominant with 88% of all registrations.

How Did 2021 Virtual Participation Compare to Pre-Pandemic Years?

While in-person events bounced back in 2021, virtual participation still remained significantly higher than in pre-pandemic years. In 2019, just 1% of all participants were virtual (and that was an increase compared to 0.8% in 2017 and 2018!). While we expect to see in-person continue to pick up a larger share of participants, it appears unlikely that virtual registrations will revert all the way back to 2019 levels.

How Do Participant Demographics Vary Between Virtual and In-Person Events?

One of the most important takeaways from 2021 is that the profile of participants is slightly different for in-person participants than for virtual ones. While a majority of participants identify as female in all types of events, the gender disparity is particularly pronounced for virtual events, with 65.1% of virtual event participants and 63.3% of virtual challenge participants identifying as female.

Additionally, virtual participants tend to be a little older than in-person participants, with 29.6% of virtual race participants and 31.5% of virtual challenge participants over the age of 50. In general, Gen Z and younger Millennials have been hard to reach with virtual events, with just 18.7% of virtual event participants and 21.1% of virtual challenge participants indicating that they are under 30. In comparison, that age range makes up 33.6% of in-person participants.

How Does Event Type Impact Average Event Size

The headline on this one is simple regardless of whether you are talking about virtual or in-person events: most endurance events are small. In 2021, 96.1% of in-person events and 96.6% of virtual events had fewer than 500 participants. In other words, despite the fact that most of the news about the endurance industry is focused on large, premier events, most participants are actually joining smaller, local events.

This is one place where virtual and in-person evens are relatively similar, although in-person events are more likely to have 101-500 participants than virtual events.

What To Look for In 2022

Hybrid was the name of the game in 2021. Given the challenges of managing two parallel events with differing logistics, we expect to see some events opt to focus on in-person events in 2022. But virtual events still drew a significant number of participants in 2021, so events will need to balance demand for virtual options with the logistical challenges of hybrid events.

The big challenge for race directors in 2022 will be finding ways to incorporate traditional in-person participants and newer (often older) virtual participants into the same set of events.

Action Items for Race Directors

  • Something for Virtual Participants. Provide a path forward for both your traditional, pre-pandemic participants and your virtual recruits from 2020 and 2021. If you can’t handle the juggling of a hybrid event, consider a standalone virtual challenge or event, or a new race series for beginners to provide options for all participants.
  • Hone your RaceDay skills (or your relationship with your timer). In-person events are back and options are starting to open up for more experiential elements like post-race parties. Make sure you’re up-to-date on RaceDay technology for efficiency (like the RaceDay CheckIn App) and fun features (like RaceJoy and RaceDay Photos).

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