Racing against the trend

This time last week I was recovering from yet another weekend of OCR (Obstacle Course Racing). OCR involves participants being required to climb walls, wade through lakes, jump through fires (among other obstacles), in addition to running distances ranging from 5km to 42km. This may sound like either a crazy hobby or something that people would perhaps only do for charity but OCR has seen a surge in popularity over the last few years.

Many companies have jumped on the bandwagon to cash in on these adrenaline/adventure fuelled junkies, be it through creating their own events (such as Spartan or Tough Mudder) or sponsoring them. Tough Mudder (one of the more well-known choices) currently charges up to £200 per entry ticket and is estimated as generating revenues of $100 million per year – tremendous growth since it was founded just 6 years ago.

I was first introduced to OCR training/racing around 2 years ago, at which point the number of local races was few and far between (perhaps to 7-8 races per year). Now these races can be done on almost a weekly basis, with each provider promising their own unique OCR experience and encouraging runners to part with their hard earned cash. I am guilty myself of being sucked into this trend having spent almost £1,000 on races in 2015 alone (a fact that I only realised upon writing this blog – not to mention my associated spending on clothing, training and travel!).

With ticket prices ranging between £30 and £200 per race it’s no wonder those with a spare bit of unused land are capitalising on this new demand. Even local authorities have begun to make use of public parks for these events in order to generate additional revenue.

These races have also presented business opportunities to those not directly organising the events. Although the sponsors of the larger events are generally dominated by the blue chip corporations such as Land Rover, many new start-ups and local owner-managed businesses are given the opportunity to exhibit their products directly to their target market. In addition, many of these local businesses have been needed to provide their services at these events whether it be catering, the provision of scaffolding (for monkey bar challenges) or even temporary fencing and security services.

So why the sudden increased interest in OCR? Previously these races were seen mainly as challenges for elite runners or for people raising money for charity. However, the way these events have been marketed recently has transformed the view of these races to encourage a wider range of people to participate. Some events are specifically designed not to be timed and represent a challenge for people as an individual or as a team, and generate a sense of achievement without the pressure of finishing in a certain position. This untimed race in particular is now also seen as opportunity for businesses to encourage team building and boost morale by signing up their staff members.

Although these races may be just a “fad” and the demand for these races may well decrease as the market saturates, it is certainly a glimpse in the potential opportunities out there, and how a simple idea or change in marketing technique can adapt a business outlook and encourage growth.

In the meantime, I have already signed up for another race in a few weeks’ time (despite my earlier shock of what I have already spent on these races in 2015). Perhaps I will see you or your business at the next one?

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