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Virtual Events Bringing in New Registrations, Revenue

20 Jan, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

While we’ve seen plenty of virtual races in the marketplace, 2020 marks one of the most high-profile competitive events to come along. Virtual fitness platform Zwift, a marriage between esports and activity that takes place IRL, has already kicked off its 2020 Tour de Zwift. And from what we’ve seen, it’s a success.

According to an article in The Esports Observer (TEO), while last year’s Tour de Zwift was open only to cyclists, this year’s race will feature virtual running competitions as well. Endurance Business notes that the event saw 119,076 riders take part in 2019.

“We are really stepping up the Tour de Zwift this year. It’s a great reflection of the efforts we’ve made in both esports and running, and I can’t wait to get started,” Eric Min, Zwift CEO and co-founder, said in a press release. “For those returning on the bike from last year, we have two new Worlds and a number of new Watopia routes to try.

The use of virtual runs and cycle rides has been steadily escalating, with more options being offered. It is a phenomenon that works well to bring casual sports participants and first-time participants into the fold of participating in rides IRL.

Rich Harshbarger, CEO of Running USA noted to SDM that the trend is increasing. “My overall outlook on the topic of virtual events has been evolving. Several years ago, I looked at these as nice options for those participants who might otherwise be unable to take part in the actual event.  What really comes to mind are those who might be deployed, unable to travel or maybe injured and so the option of a virtual experience made sense. “

And, he notes, it is an excellent additional revenue stream. “Over time, we are seeing that virtual events can be a good option for organizers to include additional participants, earn additional revenue, develop unique sponsor activations without adding much, if any additional costs or headaches.”

While Running USA has not tracked statistics on virtual events or trends, the organization recently presented a webinar on the topic and has included a session on it at its upcoming Industry Conference next month in Las Vegas. Overall, virtual events are seen as a way not only to increase revenue but to broaden the market, allow those who can't participate in person to become engaged, and to create increased social media buzz that feeds into increased participation.

Harshbarger adds, “It is certainly a topic to keep watch on and we will be discussing this as a possible topic to research further at our upcoming board meeting.” 

Those who are looking to implement their first virtual event can also go here for hints and tips.

Virtual competition removes the self-consciousness many first-timers feel and creates the feeling of belonging to a greater movement, which may lead to creating a comfort level when it comes to entering events later on.

TEO points out that this year, Zwift will host Pro-Am exhibition races for cyclists that are staged prior to Tour state events. The Pro-Am will pit professional cyclists virtually racing alongside the best community cyclists on Zwift. The professional racers will come from pro cycling teams such as CANYON//SRAM, TWENTY-20, Vitus, Canyon p/b Soreen, Ribble, SEG Racing, NTT U23 and Hagens Berman Axeon.

And you can’t fault Zwift for not providing the full competitive experience for participants, adds TEO. All men’s and women’s races will be held with a full broadcast production hosted by esports notable, OJ Borg.

The 2020 Tour de Zwift’s race category allows participants to will be able to select their race category (A-D) depending on ability. Races will be short format, high-intensity events and those who participate will receive a credit that can be put toward the purchase of wearable merchandise.

Individuals who just want to participate socially will also find a place, according to Endurance Business. Group Ride stages are positioned as social rides and can be ridden at the rider’s own pace. Every finisher will be awarded a finish time and position and will receive a credit toward Tour de Zwift in-game kit. A guide detailing what to expect can be found online.

Zwift users must provide their own bike or treadmill that connects with a Zwift-compatible trainer to turn the bike into a stationary machine for indoor training. The Zwift software costs a monthly fee of $15.

Zwift raised a $120 million Series B funding round in 2018. In addition to the Tour de Zwift, which is friendly to athletes of all levels, the company also operates its own esports league for professional cyclists.

The platform also continues to build on its offering, most recently announcing a new Run Speed Tracker, available to all participants. The NPE Runn is positioned as a semi-permanent upgrade that turns any treadmill into a smart treadmill. The device attaches to the deck of the treadmill and measures the belt speed via optical stickers placed on the treadmill belt.

In-home (or at least virtual) fitness has been in the news in a big way. From the whole “Peleton Wife” debate (and no publicity is bad publicity, apparently) to the obvious “new year, new me” phenom that fills gyms every year, this is a market event directors can take and, ahem, run with.

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