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Keeping Up Participation Means Not Letting Go of the Resolution Crowd

24 Feb, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Late February is When Newbie Athletes Start Retreating to the Couch. Here’s How Savvy Planners Keep them Coming Back to the Game

Call it the physical cliff or maybe the end of the resolution. It’s what planners of recreational sports events, and those who monitor health club membership, all know and hate: the late February to early March point at which New Year’s resolutions run out of steam.

While athletes on travel teams are unaffected by the January benchmark, what might be called the fitness public (weekend warriors and so forth) are susceptible to waning enthusiasm as the weeks drag on and New Year recedes from view. And that can translate into less participation and lower economic impact from events that cater to that population.

Unless, of course, planners know how to market around that, and to counter-program for success.

According to an article in Sports One Source, Gold's Gym said that an analysis of its check-in data has identified Feb. 18 as the “Fitness Cliff,” when fit-related New Year Resolutions reach their expiration.

"As February hits, and more and more time separates consumers from the healthy resolutions they made as the New Year's ball was dropping, the motivation to get fit begins to fade away," said Gold's Gym Fitness Institute Member and National Fitness Expert, Jamie Eason. "That demotivation, coupled with a side of frustration from not getting the results they want quickly enough, can often be the dumbbell that broke the camel's back for consumers – leading many to abandon their New Year's Resolutions by mid-month."

It’s also cold weather for much of the U.S., which makes outdoor exercise, and even stepping outside to travel to the gym, less palatable.

But sports planners are working out ways to keep people motivated and by extension, keep their participation up. Here are a few:

Focus on the Future by Capitalizing on Each Upcoming Holiday: Just as New Year’s was a goal, other holidays can be used to leverage participation. Charm City Run in Baltimore has a green-themed 5K event that it starts promoting early since its popularity makes it a consistent sellout. The event is close enough to New Year’s to still be on recreational runners’ radars, even at a time when their motivation might otherwise be dropping off. Plus it’s fun enough to garner large-scale interest. And after the leprechauns have stopped leaping, savvy event planners can keep the interest going by marketing events that have themes for Easter, April Fool’s, Mother’s Day, etc.

Training Groups: Keeping an eye on the calendar is one piece of the puzzle. Another is working, either independently, or in partnership with a local retail establishment or sports club, to keep people in shape, which of course, leads to them wanting to participate in the next challenge. Training groups can keep up the local motivation and help individuals work toward a goal. Market smart by establishing a specific event; the idea of being ready to run in that upcoming St. Patrick’s Day 5K or getting in shape to play in the Ides of March Tennis Tournament can keep participants focused – and registered.

Partnerships with Local Businesses and Sports Clubs: Running stores are usually interested in working with event owners, rights holders and planners because packet pickup for road races creates foot traffic that drives business. Expand that philosophy to other sports businesses, including those that cater to triathletes, swimmers, skiers, tennis players and more. Offering product demo events or sponsoring a talk by representatives of a local sports club (often in conjunction with a private sale or discount for those who come into the store for such an event) can also keep the drum beating.

A Cause to Believe In: Part of getting off the couch means avoiding self-pity. If an event benefits a cause the public feels passionate about, there’s less chance of attrition.

Constant Communication: Getting registrants is one thing. Keeping them engaged takes sustained effort. E-mails, website announcements and social media posts to keep participants excited about an upcoming event are critical. This article on US Masters Swimming’s website is intended to help newly minted athletes (and those striving to become athletes) remain focused on their goals.

Take It Inside: This is another opportunity for partnerships. In places where it’s too cold for outdoor exercise, keep people motivated by bringing them indoors to train for events, even when those events are a few months out. Local fitness clubs might be interested in offering get-fit-for-your-event programs, such as Cardio Tennis, which give them the opportunity to show off their facilities to potential new members and drive people into classes. Need more ideas? A triathlon that will host a lot of first-timers can benefit from an indoor short course tune-up day, with laps in the pool, running on a treadmill or track, and an abbreviated spin class. Gold’s Gym (they who identified February 18 as a Fitness Cliff) opened its doors free to the public on that day so it’s not hard to imagine that other clubs could benefit from this tactic.

Maintaining and growing participation in sports at the recreational level means helping athletes keep their goals in sight. And since planners want consistently positive numbers, not booms and busts, it behooves everyone to put in the extra effort that will keep the focus on the future.

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