What can you do with your 1,000 finishers?

altas-race-logoAtlas Race have gone under. Again. Superhero Scramble couldn’t make it work for them, Ruckus took their show on the road and it drove them out of business. Battlefrog just reformatted their entire race experience in an effort to attract more people and stay in business themselves. They aren’t the only stories either – Foam Fest, Hero Rush, Extreme Nation and more.

Ace – Superhero CEO himself – once went on record with the vast amount of money his race costs to put on every weekend. Six figures, and up – each and every weekend – will get you a race comparable to the Spartan Race experience in many ways.

Except, not in the most important way – athlete attendance.

See, when you put on an event, regardless of how much flash or pomp you have, how much money your backers have, how much you spend on social media marketing and how many employees you have, if people don’t show up and spend money … you go out of business.

We seem to have reached a rough – entirely unscientifically studied – going by my gut-feel average of about 1,000 people willing to go to a race – be that a national, traveling event, or a local OCR. Some races with history in an area can do more of course (Savage Race for example) – but as a general benchmark, 1,000 people seems to be it.

Can you survive as an OCR business with 1,000 people?

Local OCRs are doing it.

Local OCRs like Wason Pond Pounder in New Hampshire can. They just had 989 finishers, a certain Junyong Pak won first place with cash on the line, and they had enough money to donate everything they made back to local charities. FIT Challenge – in their third year – regularly has successful 1,000 to 1,500 attendance events, donates money back to charity and can still afford to come back a couple of times a year. I hear of local events in other regions doing the same thing – making it work with 1,000 people.

 Why can a local OCR pull 1,000 people and be a success, when a traveling road show would consider the same numbers a total failure? They spend considerably more on marketing, so surely they should expect more attendees? They’ve got a bigger brand, more presence on social media, sponsored athletes, bigger prizes, bigger obstacles – with names! Surely that should add up to at least a significant uptick in attendance?

Except, it doesn’t appear to be that way at all.

10603552_666698620096929_6171903817587809113_nWason Pond Pounder’s marketing budget bought them some flyers.
FIT Challenge drop under $1k on flyers and Facebook ads for an event.

I’m fairly certain – but have no proof – that Battlefrog, Atlas, Superhero Scramble and co spend more than that.

Why is this not working out for them?

I believe it’s a combination of things. I’m no marketing expert. I don’t work in marketing professionally, but I have slept in a Holiday Inn.

They’re simply doing it wrong, and don’t seem to be prepared to admit it. If you followed the Atlas message, they told you how bad ass they were. How extreme. Battlefrog are at it too – they promote their elites, and the athletes who do multiple laps of their Xtreme challenge. They tell you stories of their biggest and toughest obstacles – with photographs shot by amazing photographers of the elite athletes in sports bra’s or shirtless.

11351375_666697980096993_3114513093996936763_nWason Pond Pounder? A couple of cell phone photos of the construction. FITChallenge? Photos of the owner’s kids


But they clearly have different target markets! Local, low budget OCRs are only pulling in the weekenders – the casual participant. Big budget traveling road shows are focusing exclusively on the enthusiast and elite market!

Except Wason Pond Pounder did such a good job, they pulled in two time worlds toughest mudder. He wasn’t there for the prize money ($100), nor the incredibly challenging obstacles (they were family friendly). He was (I assume) there for the fun.



How much fun can the average joe or jane have, staring down huge walls or 1/4 pipes, with scary names, or hang upside down from rope ladders over freezing cold, muddy water – or carrying heavy heavy loads for long periods of time?

They don’t. Thats not fun for them, so they stay home and run a 5k on the road – or go to a local OCR where everything is accessible and fun.

Thats not to say these events don’t bring out the enthusiast crowd either – FIT Challenge routinely gets 200, 300 members of the New England Spahtens – a community of enthusiasts. Wason Pond Pounder setup a special desk just for participants of the #racelocal Grand Prix to make the process of registering for multiple laps easier and quicker – some people did the course five times – each lap putting money back into the charitable donation the race directors donated.

 So, what is the point I’m trying to make here?

Local “easy” OCRs pull in the same numbers as the challengers for Spartan’s crown, yet they do it with a fraction of the cost. They don’t market themselves as brutal slog tests, full of military scary stuff, and they don’t make you feel like you have to be one of the fastest runners in the world to toe the start line.

They invite you and your family to enjoy a fun time – and assuming they nail the details and deliver on those promises, people come back time and time again.

And thats not something that anyone involved with Atlas can offer any longer.

Paul Jones

Paul Jones is the Idea Wrangler over at the New England Spahtens and has been a contributor for ORM since it's inception. The NE Spahtens are one of the most active, and successful obstacle racing communities in the world.

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  1. Wason Pond Pounder

    2015 2014 2013 2012
    Participants 990 829 739 784
    Returning from Previous Year 254 213 199 (inaugural)
    Return Percentage 25.65% 25.69% 26.92%

    Battlefrog Atlanta 2015 2014
    Participants 1535 1638
    Returning from Previous Year -235
    Return Percentage 14.35%

    Battlefrog Carolinas 2015 2014
    Participants 855 740
    Returning from Previous year 136
    Return Percentage 15.90%

    Tough Mudder Return Percentage 20%

    Wason Pond Pounder has a 25% return rate, 10 percentage points greater than Battlefrog and 5 percentage points greater than Tough Mudder. They obviously do a fantastic job; that is the highest participant return rate I’ve seen in OCR’s. However at just 10 points greater than Battlefrog that means only an extra 100 participants on a 1,000 person event.

    The real question is, why is the participant return rate at best 25% in OCR?

    1. These are interesting numbers but your math does not necessarily “add up”. Let’s look at Georgia BattleFrog, there is no way of telling how many of the 1535 participants from this year were the same or different from the 1638 from the previous year. It could be 1000, it could be 100. So to call it a “return rate” really doesn’t work.

      In addition, the ones you listed are just a handful of races and does not look at the entire picture of the industry.

      There are markets were Spartan attendance grew from 5,000 to 6,000 from one year to the next, and yet there are other markets where attendance is the same or even shrunk.

      In addition, there are several races that go out of business each year, and yet there are new races popping up all the time.

      All of us in OCR are hopeful that the genre is still growing, but I don’t know if any one has any actual facts that it is or isn’t.

      1. By comparing the names of the people who attended BF Atlanta 2014 vs. 2015 it is possible to get an estimate of the return rate. It certainly isn’t perfect since names can change and since some of the 2014 attendees may have “returned” to Central Florida, Miami, Pittsburgh, etc. But the 15% to 20% return rate by venue is consistent across the races I’ve looked at. Even with the legionnaires program and the best data in the business TM states only a 20% return rate.

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