I love race expos. There’s something familiar and exciting about walking from booth to booth the day before a big race, testing new products or taking freebies and pamphlets I’ll probably never use or read. There’s that rush when I see a company I love handing out samples or I happen to spot my favorite pair of running shoes discounted steeply. I think, though, what I love most about expos is being surrounded by hundreds of other runners – whether they’re people signed up for the same race as me or simply there to work one of the exhibitor booths, pretty much everyone inside a race expo loves the sport of running.
As someone who is still relatively new to long-distance racing, I easily get caught up in health and fitness expos as this simple, fun activity that is part of Race Weekend. You pick up your bib, t-shirt, and swag bag and then make your way through a maze of free samples and running-centric products. But, these expos are also a big business opportunity for the race organizers as well as the exhibitors, providing revenue for both.
This weekend, I ran the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon in D.C. and I was eager to check out the health and fitness expo because Rock ‘n’ Roll is one of the more popular race series, which usually means more exhibitors.
There are runners who don’t like going to expos. It can be a stressful, time-consuming process that usually doesn’t accommodate people who work full-time and/or have families. It can be inconvenient for people who do not live close to the location of the race, especially travelers. For this reason, most races allow participants to pick-up packets for other runners.
Prior to RNR USA race, Competitor Group announced that runners could only pick up one extra packet free of charge. Additional packets could be picked up for $20 each. This caused some backlash on the Facebook page as well as in the blogosphere. One of the most interesting commentaries on this process came from Dorothy Beal on her blog Mile Posts. In her post on the subject, she writes:
This whole thing isn’t about making sure that someone is not using someone else’s bib much like they do at the Boston Marathon. It’s about making money. It’s a very sad sad day when races no longer CARE about the runners running their races and only see us people who open up our wallets to stuff their pockets.
She’s exactly right. Expos are an extremely important part of the sponsorship process that drives revenue for the companies organizing these races. For the upcoming Peachtree Road Race Health and Fitness Expo in Atlanta, Ga, booths can cost up to $1,450. At the expo tied to the Big Sur International Marathon event, booth prices go as high as $5,000. An important selling point for race organizers when reaching out to potential sponsors is that a certain number of people will pass through the expo hall, increasing exposure for the vendor.
Runner’s World has a series of articles where the Boston Marathon race director answers readers’ questions. This feature provides insight into the business side of road racing. Interestingly enough, several months ago, someone asked why he couldn’t pick up another runner’s race packet at an expo. The race director answered:
I suspect one of the biggest reasons this race wants runners to pick up their own packets is to maximize the number of race participants attending the expo. To secure sponsors, organizers often must promise a certain amount of foot traffic passing by the booths or a certain number of runners who might want to sample the products. The organizers may also be trying to prevent bib numbers being transferred without approval, but requiring in-person pickup won’t necessarily eliminate this.
While I’m still not sure I agree, Competitor’s announcement to charge for additional packets makes sense now that I understand more about the sponsorship process and overall cost associated with expos. The fewer people who attend the expo, the more likely it is that sponsors will not be happy with the experience and will be less inclined to enter into a marketing partnership with the race organization in the future.
Needless to say, with my love for expos and penchant for swiping my credit card at numerous booths, I’m a race organizer’s dream.
What about you? Are you an expo lover or hater? And, what do you think about Competitor’s decision to charge for extra packets?