Holiday-Themed Events are Raking in the Dough, Dough, Dough

13 Dec, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for Sports Business

Your belief (or lack thereof) in Santa isn’t going to affect this one: December is the most wonderful time of the year to be a sports event director.

Consider the lowly neighborhood 5K. There were, at press time, nearly 1,300 such events throughout December, according to the calendar in RunningInTheUSA’s website. Want novelty runs, like obstacle races and theme runs? They’re taking place too – but here’s something interesting. As opposed to last month, when the race du jour was the Turkey Trot (but could appear in many iterations and wasn’t syndicated), this month, you’ll see far more trademarked events like the Santa Hustle, Ugly Sweater Run, Jingle Bell Run, A Christmas Story Run (how many people come dressed as that leg lamp?) and others.

In part, what makes those events so popular is the fact that they’re often held in the morning, allowing participants to spend the rest of the day fulfilling all the obligations that come with the holidays – shopping, traveling, going to social events and more. (And planners who are savvy will schedule their events for centers near shopping malls – and include coupons and more in race packets, encouraging foot traffic into local brick-and-mortar stores, rather than shopping online.)

But running events are far from the only ones with a holiday tie-in. There are Christmas Classics in CrossFitracquetball, basketball and plenty of others sports. In fact, part of what makes the time so profitable is the scheduling of such events. Winter breaks facilitate more extended youth travel and encourage families to visit tourism destinations to see light displays and more. And destinations have responded by offering plenty to lure them to stay an extra day. Rockford, Illinois, for example, has its Stroll on State, which starts shortly after Thanksgiving. Scottsdale, Arizona, consistently makes USA TODAY’S list of top 10 holiday sights. And there are plenty of others.

Another reason holiday sports events pack so much economic impact? It’s the season of giving, and events with a holiday tie-in, whether they’re football games that take donations of Toys for Tots, 5Ks that collect canned goods for food banks or events that raise funds for a local, regional or national charity, can all benefit from the fact that a spirit of generosity abounds this time of year.

And athletes themselves will be among those receiving gifts as well. According to the National Retail Federation, sporting goods and leisure items make up 20 percent of the gifts consumers want to receive this year.

Other noteworthy numbers include the following:

$1.2 million to $5.6 million: The average economic impact of a Santa Hustle (varies by city)

60: Percentage of people who will participate in the Ugly Sweater Run as a family.

60 (again): Percentage of U.S. shoppers who plan to spend on themselves this holiday (including purchases of sporting goods), according to the National Retail Federation

If the Running In the USA calendar is a good barometer, event planners tend to stick with early December dates and shy away from anything right before the holidays. The reason: people get tapped out, financially as the month stretches on, and are unlikely to be enthusiastic about the prospect of committing money to something personal. And many people are just plain uninspired to exercise. They’ll start up the first of the year; hence the popularity of New Year’s Resolution runs, walks, tennis blitzes and more.

So what actually works to bring in people? Here are a few ideas that bear repeating:

  • Form partnerships with local sporting goods stores (independent running shoe stores or tennis pro shops, for example) and hold pre-event activities in order to satisfy the ‘shop local’ crowd

  • Stay away from dates late in the month since more people are overcommitted and undermotivated

  • Have promotions started early – maybe in the fall – in order to get registrations and keep people engaged.

For those who are planning to host an event (particularly for adults) either right before or right after Christmas, and whose event does not depend upon children’s vacation times, the following suggestions are useful, as provided by Active Endurance Blog:

  • Ease of access: The event should be during a specific time, so that it does not take up all day (for example, a morning 5K, etc.)

  • The fun factor: Are you using seasonal tie-ins like holiday costumes or other gimmicks? It just might nudge some people off the couch

  • Constant communication: How are registrations selling? Are there any special deals? Is there a deadline for early registration rates? Keep in touch with all participants.

  • Don’t just use one platform: Too many event directors want to use only social media, or only e- mail. Recruit on all fronts. Develop hashtags for the event and increase visibility.

  • Envision what you want your event to look like: Work backwards from there.

Properly presented, an event can be the most wonderful time of the year. Just like Santa, make a list and check it twice to make sure you’re doing all you can to promote it.


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