What’s Happening with Virtual Events?

During the COVID years a return to in-person events seemed like something that may never come to pass. Virtual events appeared to trend toward being the new normal. However, as COVID has made its way into the rearview, and virtual races are no longer a necessity, it’s a curious question to ask: what’s happening with virtual events?

In this article we cover a few virtual event takeaways from this year’s Race Trends Report. Below are our top three insights, as well as a few recommendations for those considering putting on a virtual event. 

*Editor’s note: All data cited in this article comes from our 2023 Race Trends Report. If interested, you can read the report in its entirety here.

The demographics differ a bit from in-person events

It may not come as a surprise, but virtual events had slightly different folks turn up for them when compared to in-person events. For example, virtual events were more heavily attended by people who identify as female. In 2023 65% of virtual attendees were female, whereas 53% of in-person participants identified as female. 

Virtual participants also skewed older than in-person. In 2023 34% of virtual challenge participants were over 50. Virtual events could be more enticing for older folks as the time commitment is generally less than an in-person event, and also gives them more flexibility on how they participate. They may also be less enticed by the social aspect of an in-person event, which seems to be a motivating factor for younger participants. 

Participation has dipped 

At their peak, virtual events made up about 40% of all events on RunSignup. Understandably, that number has dropped as COVID restrictions were lifted. They now account for around 9% of events, but only a little over 4% of participants. 

Even from 2022 to 2023 the number of events and percentage of participation went down around 2%. So, are virtual events totally out? It doesn’t seem that way, but it does seem that they really were something born of necessity. And given the option people do seem to greatly prefer in-person events. 

Because of that, it may make more sense to mostly have a virtual option for an in-person event to try and boost participation slightly. The overhead cost to have a virtual component should be relatively low, so it could be a good idea to bolster numbers for an event. 

Challenges and long-distance events are the norm

Even though overall participation is down, there is one area that virtual seems to do well: challenges. A challenge is basically where there’s a set distance someone signs up to run over a set period of time. For example, they might sign up to do 50 miles in a month. 

Since these types of events happen over longer periods of time, and are totally at the discretion of the participants of when they complete different legs, virtual is a great option. In 2023 72% of virtual challenges actually exceeded 31 days. Virtual races were a little different, with 67% of them spanning between 1-30 days.

So, if you’re doing a challenge or an endurance run over a span of a few days, virtual is still a good option. It gives participants agency, while also allowing them to engage in some way with a community of people participating in the same event. 

Moving forward

Virtual events served their purpose when in-person wasn’t an option. However, as life has mostly gotten back to normal, it seems like the appetite for purely virtual events has dropped off dramatically. For things like month-long challenges, or even things like ultras, virtual events still can make sense. That said, if you’re doing a more standard length event, it’s probably best to keep virtual as an option, but keep the focus more on in-person. 

If you’re looking for a tool to mount your next virtual, or in-person, event, you can create a free race using RunSignup

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