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The Running of the Green: St Patrick’s Day and Sports Tie-Ins

8 Mar, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Quick show of hands: who knows anything about St. Patrick other than (a) his feast day being March 17 and (b) some vague recollection of a story about snakes and Ireland?

(***crickets***)

It’s more than evident that St. Patrick’s Day is known by boisterous celebrations that employ green beer, green beads and the opportunity to consume enough of the former to engage in inadvisable activities in order to obtain the latter.

Unless you’re a sports event planner, in which case it’s an opportunity for, once again, tie-ins with one of the biggest party holidays of the year. This year, St. Paddy’s Day falls on a Friday (a big score for bars), meaning most events will be held the weekend after (March 18th and 19th) – or possibly the weekend before (March 11th and 12th). Either way, it works to the advantage of planners who are putting on events; the holiday falling on the exact same weekend as an event often leads to crowding, congestion and parking difficulties, particularly in urban areas.

The public is already primed to spend money celebrating this holiday. According to statistics compiled by the National Retail Federation, more than 125 million plan to celebrate and are expected to spend an average of $35.37 per person. Total spending is expected to reach $4.4 billion. And whether it’s because St. Patrick’s is the first big holiday since Christmas and New Year’s or whether it’s because it signals the onslaught of spring (or even whether it just means a chance to down some Guinness), the historical spending for the holiday has been strong.

The tie-ins are endless for sports as well. There are pickleball and racquetball tournaments (held in the evening of St. Patrick’s Day so as to capitalize on the festivities), lacrosse weekends (with thematic T-shirts), and of course (it is March, after all), plenty of basketball. Spring soccer also gets in on the action, with the St. Patrick's Day Cup in Columbia, Souh Carolina, drawing close to 200 teams.

But if you want to get the common man involved and generate revenue, there’s really nothing like the bar crawl good old 5K. After all, it’s fun, it’s doable for most people and it can involve a whole community. In fact, it’s more than safe to say St. Patrick’s Day-themed races attract a lot of people who don’t normally step on a racecourse. (Ever. Period.) Running in the USA has created a calendar of races, fun runs and similar events with a St. Patrick’s Day tie-in. The total number as of press time: 520 events (up from 494 last year). And that’s not counting those that flew under the radar.

Themed races continue to be popular with crowds and St. Patrick’s Day running events are another part of this equation. Wearing green, dressing as a leprechaun, wearing kilts (or anything that might pass for a kilt) and more are all popular, particularly with those who run to be social. In other words, these races have outstanding potential for economic impact – or, if you will, to put green in organizers’ pockets.

Often, races accompany other events in cities, such as St. Patrick’s Day parades and festivals – and as a result, include a party component at the end. Many race fees cover the cost of a beer tent at the end, and if the event happens to be held in an area where eateries and bars are available, the potential for more widespread economic impact is there. Some races abandon all pretense of a fitness activity and publicize that they have “aid stations.” (The kind that involve a shot glass.)

For those who want the more authentic experience, there are plenty of opportunities to try historic sports of the British Isles, including hurling, Gaelic football and camogie. The North American Gaelic Athletic Association, the national organization that promotes these activities, includes city and state chapters. The website includes a club locator so that event organizers, sports commissions and others can find a group in their area.

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