Inside the Numbers: Thanksgiving Events as a Cash Cow for Sports Planners | Sports Destination Management

Inside the Numbers: Thanksgiving Events as a Cash Cow for Sports Planners

Nov 02, 2016 | By: Mary Helen Sprecher
While Plenty Will Sit at Home and Vegetate, Many Others Will Get Active, Something Event Planners Are Counting On

Who knew turkey was such a cash cow?

While plenty of households will adhere to the “Family-Food-Forget About Fitness” mantra for Thanksgiving, research shows there are enough who intend to make a preventive strike against the calories ingested at the annual gorge-fest the holiday has become. And if sports planners are wise, they’ll be ready with offerings designed to harness this enthusiasm.

The Daily Burn noted that hundreds of thousands of Americans start their holiday with what has become known as a “Turkey Trot,” or Thanksgiving-themed 5K. These popular running events on Thanksgiving morning have grown tremendously in recent years. Want some numbers? Feast on these:

870,000: The approximate number of people throughout the country who participated in Thanksgiving races in 2013

698,000: The number participating in 2011 (These first two numbers courtesy of both Running USA and The Wall Street Journal.)

1,032: Turkey Trots held in 2014, according to Running USA

1,470: Thanksgiving-themed events in 2016, according to Running in the USA

46.9 Million: People who will be traveling for the holiday, according to CNN, and many of those will be looking for a way to stay healthy in the towns they’re visiting (so onsite registration for Turkey Trots is always appreciated.) After all, there are always these numbers:

46 Million: The estimated number of turkeys eaten in the U.S. in 2012 (CNN)

4,500: The number of calories the average person expects to consume on Thanksgiving, and

45: Percentage of those calories that come straight from fat (thank you, ABC News, for both of those incredibly depressing statistics)

But wait! There’s more:

7.6 Billion: Number of calories consumed by Americans at Thanksgiving every year, assuming all those turkeys eaten happened to be 170-calorie-per-serving Butterball turkeys

32: Number of miles an American male would have to run to burn off 4,500 calories, assuming he is of average weight (195.5 pounds) and running at per-mile pace of 11 minutes/30 seconds. That’s right: in the unlikely event that guy decided to run a marathon after a Thanksgiving meal, he still wouldn't burn off the calories he consumed. (These equally depressing statistics from The Washington Examiner)

But at least there’s the option to do something to assuage the guilt. Runner’s World notes that Thanksgiving has become the most competitive day of the year, thanks to all the running events held in towns across the U.S. In fact, according to Running USA statistics, it has overtaken the Fourth of July as the most popular racing day in the country.

And sometimes, it’s simply the spectacle of the event, and what organizers have been able to achieve, that brings people out in droves. Runner’s World notes that the Manchester (Connecticut) Road Race, a 4.748-mile Thanksgiving Day race, has included the likes of Deena Kastor, Shalane Flanagan, Nick Willis, Kim Smith, Sally Kipyego and Sam Chelanga among past winners. The race started in 1927 as a way to extend cross country season and has been run since, except for a 10-year period during the Depression and World War II. Up to 15,000 runners start in each iteration of the event, which pays out nearly $50,000 in cash and gift certificates between overall, age-group and masters prizes. The first-place man and woman each receive $4,000.

Of course, the small town of Cuero, Texas, took the term, Turkey Trot, to a whole new level when it organized a race where onlookers cheered as more than 18,000 live turkeys were herded down the main street. When the local turkey industry dried up in the '70s, the town had to cut back on the race, but still holds a traditional 5K turkey trot for humans, as well as the Great Gobbler Gallop, which determines the winner of the "fastest turkey" award.

While there are no specific nationwide statistics on the economic impact of Thanksgiving Day sports (just figures on shopping provided by the National Retail Federation), many organizations have been able to parlay the day not just into great revenues from registration fees, but into donations to local food banks and other charities. And in fact, the growing trend of retail establishments that will be closed on Thanksgiving (and in some cases, even Black Friday) clears the way for sports events without fear they will interfere with shopping plans.

While there are plenty of other Thanksgiving tie-ins with sports (tennis, basketball, volleyball, golf, mini-golf, racquetball, soccer, hiking, flag and touch football, softball and more are among the offerings), it’s the 5K that has garnered the most attention and the greatest market share, particularly among the general public.

Of course, for couch spuds, Thanksgiving has long been the day to sit at home and watch others take part in sports. The site, US Sports History, notes that while the NFL currently dominates football on Thanksgiving, when the tradition of playing on the holiday began, it was the college elevens, not pro, that controlled the day. The institutions and myths of both the Thanksgiving holiday and football helped usher in a partnership between the two, that has become as much an American tradition as, well, turkey. And that’s why we have this final statistic, courtesy of the Washington Examiner:

27.2 million: The number of viewers on average who watch each Thanksgiving Day NFL game.

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