Let’s imagine you’re an athlete looking to sign up for your first virtual race, and after a couple hours of online research, you’ve narrowed your options down to two different events. Both events have a virtual component, they’re the distance you’re looking for and within the date range that fits into your training schedule.
How do you choose?
As the race/events landscape has changed over the past few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many athletes who otherwise wouldn’t have signed up for a virtual race are starting to do so. They’re considering their options, seeing what’s available and making decisions based on a whole new set of criteria.
The key to capturing these new participants isn’t just to check all the prerequisite boxes (social media ads, virtual swag bags, flexible dates, etc.)—it’s to create a virtual event that truly stands out from the pack and, shall we say, goes the extra mile.
Here we discuss creative ways to differentiate your virtual event, including virtual training plans, offering an extended race series, and more.
Virtual Training Plan
We’ve mentioned this in past blogs as a way to collaborate with sponsors, but a virtual training plan is a great way to add value for your participants. At the very least create a simple, four-week training plan for a basic lead up to the race, but consider putting together a two- or three-month plan instead (or different plans for novice/more advanced athletes). Training plans help boost engagement, increase athlete retention and simply help your athlete stay inspired and motivated to perform.
More Virtual Resources
Take your virtual training plan one step further by supplementing them with online resources like recipes and nutritional guidelines for athletes. Many virtual race participants are new athletes or just getting started again after a long hiatus, so free additional resources for proper fueling (for training and racing) will be attractive. This can also include guides like to how to taper before a race, what to wear on race day, what to look for in a course, etc. ACTIVE.com is a great resource for both training guides and nutrition help.
Create a Race Series
Since virtual races aren’t limited by a physical location, it’s easy to expand your virtual race from one that’s only offered once a year, to one that’s part of a larger race series. Keep it fun (themes are good), spread out the dates and keep branding consistent between each event.
There are several ways to “upsell” your athletes to participate in multiple events—a tiered discount for multiple registrations(add a second race for 20 percent off, third race for 30 percent off, etc.), create a custom finishers medal that’s only available to those who complete the entire series, etc.
Generally virtual races don’t offer age group (or overall) awards for their participants due to the variability of each individual effort (some people might run net downhill, some people will have better weather conditions, etc.). While it’s true there’s no way to guarantee consistency, you can create some rough guidelines athletes need to follow to be eligible for an age group award.
The award can be the same as any event—plaques, medals or whatever creative solution that fits into your race’s theme. There can even be a mock “medal ceremony”, where you announce each winner on Facebook Live for recognition over social media.
Social Media Promos
Speaking of social media—encourage engagement on social media by offering incentives to your participants. Your goal here is to essentially create a grassroots “buzz” around your event.
For example, this could be as simple as creating a hashtag for your event where you pick one post a day and share it on the event’s main social media account and give the athlete some kind of perk (a promo code from a sponsor, a discounted entry for next year, etc.). You could also issue a “video challenge” where participants post updates on their training efforts for a chance to win a giveaway.
Keep it fun, keep it engaging and remember, consistency is key.
Since even physical, in-person events offer a range of distances to their participants, why not do the same for a virtual event? There’s no reason why you can’t (or shouldn’t) allow an athlete to choose their distance, and this will capture athletes looking to complete their first 5K all the way through those who are looking for the ultimate marathon challenge.
If you know the sweet spot distance-wise, promote that and make it the featured distance of your event—but ultimately give the athlete the ability to pick what’s best for them (or switch distances post-registration if needed).