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St. Patrick’s Day Races Show Event Owners the Green

9 Mar, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

It’s the time of year for all things ersatz-Irish: 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 Thursday, meaning most events have to be held the weekend before (March 12th and 13th) or the weekend after (March 19th and 20th). That actually can work 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 populous areas.

The more spread-out dates also allow for a number of activities, particularly indoors for much of the United States: pickleball, ice hockey and tennis are popular draws as are racquetball and volleyball. And then of course, there’s basketball – this being March, after all.

But make no mistake: the biggest mass participation event of the holiday (outside of a bar crawl) is the 5K road race, and it’s 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: 494 events. And that’s not counting those that flew under the radar.

Themed races continue to be popular with crowds and St. Patrick’s Day events are another part of this equation. Wearing green, dressing like 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 its most recent Non-Traditional Running Events report, Running USA estimates that the popularity of non-traditional running events in this country drew a record 4 million participants in 2013, surpassing the record 2.5 million finishers of both the half-marathon and marathon combined last year. The non-traditional events are growing exponentially and each year the number of participants has nearly doubled.

In other words, themed races (including those on St. Patrick’s Day) 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.

In fact, for those so inclined, it’s even possible to refine an Internet search to include only St. Patrick’s Day races with drinking stations. Just for research purposes only, of course.

The party tie-in is a safe bet to bring in participants; according to a 2015 survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF), 37 million Americans planned to celebrate the holiday either at a party or a public event – this includes sports events. In addition, adults ages 25-34 planned to spend an average of $41.69 to celebrate (close behind were young adults age 18-24, who planned to spend $38.55 on average.) And those celebrants are easy to spot: more than 104 million Americans, or eight in 10 (82.4%) of those celebrating, plan to wear green. As an aside, the NRF says much of the wish to celebrate and spend can be attributed to Americans’ wish to get out and socialize as winter comes to an end, and to celebrate the coming of spring.

Of course, if planners are saying a Thursday St. Patrick’s Day puts a damper on this year’s celebrations, they’ll have three complaint-free years coming up. In 2017, it falls on a Friday; in 2018, it will be on a Saturday and in 2018, it comes on a Sunday. After that, it’s back to weekdays. Green beads optional.

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