Reaching New Runners Through Referral Rewards

Referral rewards have been a favorite marketing tool for RunSignup customers since their introduction in 2016. Referrals work like this:

How Well do Referral Rewards Work?

We know referral rewards work: we’ve seen individual races get as much as 20% of their registrations from referrals. And because we know referrals can work, we make it easy to enable referral rewards on the last step of the race wizard. But, not all referral programs are created equal. Factors that impact success include:

  • The rewards offered (and if the reward is challenging-but-achievable)
  • The promotion of your referral program

Setting Ideal Thresholds and Rewards

The reward for referrals, and the number of referrals needed to reach that reward, is entirely up to you. We typically recommend a high threshold, high reward strategy. By setting your threshold high (3-5 referrals for a reward) and providing a reward that’s valuable enough to encourage sharing ($20+), races typically see a high ROI (return on investment). While many participants will refer 1 or 2 registrants, only a few will meet the threshold for a refund or swag reward. If you’re using swag rewards instead of (or in addition to) refunds, make sure the swag item is premium and exclusive (not available for purchase).

Promoting Your Referral Rewards Program

Referral rewards only work if participants know about (and are reminded of) your reward. Recommended steps to make sure participants are sharing your event include:

  • Include reward options in your confirmation email.
  • Send an automated registration follow-up email reminding participants to share.
  • Promote your rewards on social media and your race website.

In 2023, 5% of registrations came from referrals when they were enable. But while 5% is nothing to sneeze at, we also know that that average is impacted by races who enable referrals but never really promote the program. So, we wanted to take a look at what’s possible when a race (Sound to Narrows) goes all-in on referrals.

Referral Rewards in Action: Sound to Narrows

10% of Registrations from Referrals
4 Refunds Processed
78% of Referred Registrants Were New to the Race

Sound to Narrows, a multi-distance event in Tacoma, WA, used a multi-tier referral program to incentivize participants to share their event. Rewards included:

  • 5 Referrals = S2N Cling
  • 10 Referrals = $25 Registration Refund
  • 20 Referrals = 1/4 Zip S2N Pullover

In addition to providing things people want, Sound to Narrows did a great job of encouraging participants to refer. They made it easy for people to find their referral link directly from their race websites and sent dedicated emails with mock-ups showing the sweet swag that was available. In the end, they processed just 4 refunds, handed out 16 S2N Clings, and provided 3 quarter-zip pullovers – in exchange for 500+ referred registrations.

The extra effort paid off for Sound to Narrows, with 10% of all registrations coming directly from referrals. Perhaps more impressive: 78% of all referred participants were new to the race, having not participated in 2022 or 2023. We frequently hear from race directors that they worry that referrals will simply discount runners who would have joined anyway, and this result suggests that’s largely not the case. We compared the referred registrants report to the repeat participant report to determine which (and when) referred registrants had previously participated. We found:

  • 78% of Referred Registrants had not participated in 2022 or 2023
  • 11% of Referred Registrants had participated in 2023 but not 2022
  • 9% of Referred Registrants had participated in 2022 and 2023
  • 2% of Referred Registrants had participated in 2022 but not 2023

In other words, while it’s possible that you’ll give referral credit for a participant who would have signed up anyway, the majority of referred participants were new to the event.

Resources for Referral Rewards

Subscribe to Our Blog

Customize Lists...