Prior to explaining how to organize a virtual run or virtual race, let us first explore what a virtual race is, and why it is a good idea to create one.
When asking "what is a virtual race?", you may actually be wondering, "why do a virtual race?" A virtual race is a race that is held at a location and time of the participant’s choosing. Virtual race participants don’t require a hotel booking, airline tickets, or other complicated travel arrangements. Each virtual race has different rules for the timing allotted for completing the race, but they are more flexible on the location and the timing of completing the race than a traditional race.
The two clearest distinctions between a live event and a virtual event is that you can participate wherever and whenever you like. Virtual race events often include swag like medals, shirts, and sometimes other items like bibs or sticker decals. Some virtual events only offer a shirt, while others may offer nothing other than the online results. However, most virtual running races do include both a shirt and a medal. There are companies that can create all of these items at one location, and some of them are even willing to do the fulfillment for you.
Race directors hold virtual runs for many reasons. Here are just a few reasons why you should consider creating a virtual race:
Most of the time a virtual race event is far less costly to put on than a live race. Here are just a few reasons why:
1. No need to obtain a permit.
2. No need to hire a professional timer.
3. No need to hire a porta potty company.
4. No barricades needed.
5. No law enforcement required.
6. No need to pay to hold a prior fitness expo.
7. No need to hire a finisher announcer.
Virtual races are a much more cost effective method of putting on a race, and as a result many have started popping up beginning roughly a decade ago. Race directors as well as non-profit organizations saw the opportunity to expand their participation beyond who was able to come to their venue at a given date and time. This flexibility for virtual participation has led to increased revenue for organizers and charities. Soon, virtual race companies like Moonjoggers, VirtualStrides, Miles for Medals, Ragnar, Disney, and many others caught the virtual run flame. And, the rest is history...
Some race organizers overthink how to create a virtual race. It is super easy to create a virtual run, since there is no need to get approval at state or city government levels. The event simply needs to be able to ship or provide the swag or packet that the participant purchased as part of the virtual event in a timely manner.
If you find a company willing to perform the fulfillment, all you need to do is create the brands and concepts along with the marketing campaigns. You just need to decide if you care more about the ease of putting on the virtual event, or the margins. Either way, it is much less work to hold a virtual event than it is to hold a traditional race.
Virtual Races are easier to manage than a live event. For many events, knowing how many medals to order or shirts to order can be hit and miss. Many events unfortunately miss… They either order too many shirts and medals, or too few of them. This can make or break an event, and can be very wasteful if there are extra shirts and medals left over. Many event directors put on or offer a virtual race option to help with getting these extra medals and shirts sold.
If you intend to organize a virtual race, you will enjoy higher margins due to the absence of permits, and hiring 3rd party vendors. The margins are higher for the virtual event to take home, or to use to donate with. Your participants' dollars go further when your expenses are far less than a live event.
By creating a virtual race, you open up more opportunities for participants to not only find out about your event, but also sign up for it even if they are not in the same area. There is a large demographic of participants that predominantly just do virtual, and by offering a virtual option to your event, you are now able to convert those participants.
Many events offer a virtual race as a training to prepare for the actual live event. Awards, medals, and swag can still be provided while keeping your runners engaged and involved in your event goals.
By making a virtual race, you allow your event to come from any country in the world! Just make sure to charge more shipping for your international virtual race participants. You will be vastly increasing your marketability to not just those that live within a certain distance of your live event, but to essentially anywhere you are willing to ship them what they purchased.
Virtual races offer an event the ability to quickly pivot. Even if you have a live race, you can plan and execute a virtual event in a matter of a few minutes. This allows you to be able to quickly scale up your donation or fundraising efforts with little time involved. By giving participants the opportunity to participate in your virtual race, you are able to receive more branding for your company as well as more revenue for your cause.
Many virtual races follow a theme. Whether it is for fans of a new movie, passionate donors to a cause or just someone trying to get back into shape and achieve a personal goal, virtual runs allow them to do this. You as the event director set the rules for time. Is this event going to be available for 365 days? 1 Month? 2 weeks? 1 day? That is totally up to you, based on what the goal is for your event. Also, you no longer need participants to run a certain speed to get off the road quickly. For example some traditional marathons have a 6 hour time limit, since that is the most the city will cover traffic control for, but with a virtual event you can choose to allow your participants as much time as they want to complete the event, now that there are no city permit requirements.
The struggle for many live events is their following on social media. Directors often struggle with good ideas that are effective, and getting more participants becoming followers of their cause, brand, or organization. By putting on a virtual event or virtual challenge, you are giving these new followers a reason to be engaged as well as spread the word about what you are trying to accomplish.
One of the more recent reasons why participants are flocking to virtual races would be due to health concerns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic with public gatherings. Whether it is by personal choice, or by government restrictions on mass gatherings, people are more open to virtual races than ever before.
Virtual races allow first-time runners to warm up to an actual live event. Participating or competing in a live race can be daunting for many participants. Virtual runs allow for a great intro into the sport.
Most virtual events are cheaper than an actual live event. There is no need for virtual race participants to travel to the live event. Gas, Flights, hotel, food, babysitters, house sitters, pet sitters, etc. Travel time from work. The list goes on. One just simply gets on their treadmill, or opens their door, and starts their race!
Many live races happen during a specific time of day or time of the year. Virtual runs can allow participants to engage year-round.
Most virtual races focus heavily on the fundraising side. Whether the virtual race is solely for raising money, or the event donates a large portion to a cause the participant would like to support, the participant still feels accomplished for something positive done for him or herself as well.
Many virtual runners simply don’t like running with groups of people, standing in line at a check-in table, or waking up early. Can you blame them? What better way to still participate in an event by just doing it on your own time, virtually!
Since you are going to put on a virtual race, if you assume you will need to create a strong presence “virtually” on social media, well, you are correct! Ad campaigns, retargeting visitors to your site, or social media page, Facebook tracking pixels, and more will play a large role in getting the eyeballs you want seeing your event.
As stated before, most virtual races have higher margins due to the fact that there are large cost savings by not having to actually hold a live event. This can help with your marketing budget.
Creating your brand is as crucial as ever with a virtual race. With a virtual event, your brand and swag is the biggest part of what you are offering, since you are not creating an in-person experience. Here are a few ways to expand your brand to your virtual runners:
Offering Virtual Race bibs for runners that you either ship, or allow them to print out on their own.
Allow runners to submit their own results after completing the virtual run.
Recommend runner tracking apps (there are many free ones you can recommend to them).
Providing your virtual runners with a virtual finisher certificate that they can print off.
Affiliate or Referral programs to incentivize your virtual runners to invite their friends and family members to join them!
Provide a race medal and race shirt with your branding that they can sport around to their friends
Just because you are not putting on a live race does not mean you cannot retain or bring on new sponsors for your virtual race event. Virtual races allow for great sponsorship opportunities. Grocery Stores can still give out promotions both in-store as well as online. The same thing goes for other companies just like they would have done with a live event. The goal for many of these sponsors is to get more traffic to their store or site for your virtual runners to purchase their products. It does not matter if someone physically shows up to an event or not, you can get their company in front of your virtual runners.
Virtual race goodie bags have been a great tool for years now, both for live and virtual races alike! These virtual race bags provide a great opportunity for your race participants to claim offers, and visit websites of your sponsors.
This will have a large impact on when you ship your items to the virtual runners. Do you want those items in their hand before the event, during, or after?
By getting their packet to them before the event, or as soon as possible, you create a better opportunity for them to share and market your event to the world on social media. They will be able to wear the shirt or bib on their run for your virtual event. They can take pictures, and post them on social media using your virtual event #hashtag adorned in your awesome medal! This will help create more buzz around your virtual race, and inevitably get more runners signed up!
How long you keep registration open for your virtual event will also determine your marketing plan. Will you keep it open for a whole month because it is an awareness month for a specific disease, disability, or memorial?
Do you want everyone to do it on the exact same day to create unity and oneness?
Do you want it to run for a couple of weeks, so that there is a little bit of urgency, but also time for runners to complete your virtual race or challenge on their own time?
What will you be marketing and providing to your runners to help convert them signing up for your virtual event? Will you be offering a medal? If so, how big will it be? Most virtual medals are a minimum of 3.5 inches.
What about a shirt? Will you be offering generic sizes? Gender specific? Plus sizes?
How about a physical bib? RaceEntry.com allows every runner in a virtual event to print off their own custom bib that the virtual event customizes beforehand. Many virtual races actually ship out a custom-printed bib. Either way, make sure that it is well branded. These Shirts, bibs, and medals can play a key role in the marketing success of your virtual event.
Allow your virtual runners to rank themselves among their peers. By allowing them to personally submit their time, the Race Entry software will rank and calculate their pace automatically.
Finisher certificates have been a great value-add to virtual races. This allows the runners to view as well as print out a Custom Finisher Certificate that could include their placement, division, pace, time, etc. These virtual race finisher certificates can also have sponsor logos on them, if you choose.
Your goal is to bring as much of the experience the runner would have experienced at your event if they had actually attended your live event.
Open communication and clear expectation will be the two key items here. Your virtual race participants need to know WHEN you will ship their order to them. If you do not openly communicate when, and clearly set those expectations, you will create concern and frustration with your virtual race participants, thus hurting your brand, and causing you a lot of customer support work and headache. We live in a day and age of Amazon Prime. Many people naturally think they will get their order 2 days or so after they sign up. For many virtual races, this is not feasible. However, as long as your virtual race participants know what to expect, all will be well!
Instagram or Facebook live engagement
Best decorated or unique Finish line design
Prizes for most logged miles
Most donation revenue raised (For the supported cause)
Have you considered doing a scavenger hunt? This would be a great sponsorship collaboration opportunity as well. You could put on a physical scavenger hunt for anyone fairly local to your location, or you could put on a VIRTUAL scavenger hunt, and involve your sponsors websites and products to get your virtual runners to engage and visit their sites. Your goal is to spark interest in as many participants as you can. By adding fun activities that they can engage in, it will only help you with meeting your virtual event goals.
If you have the ability to use radio broadcast, this is a great option as well, since radio stations track listener demographics as well that you can use to help you know which stations to advertise on.
It wasn’t until the beginning of 2020, however, that there was significant adoption of virtual races from the majority of running events and participants. This change in adoption rates was out of pure necessity and absolute survival for live events caused by mass cancellations due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Even world-renowned races like the Boston Marathon have recently announced that due to the current situation with mass gathering restrictions they will be looking towards a virtual race as well.
Many race organizers still think that virtual races are dumb, fake, or not a real event. However, what they miss with this opinion is the financial advantage as well as the extremely large and growing demographic of runners that love participating and supporting virtual races as well as the cause the virtual event is being held for.
Race Entry has helped put on and support virtual races for almost a decade. Virtual races are not new to our team. We have the expertise to help you with the success of your virtual race, no matter what the size is or the cause it is supporting. Whether you are putting on a private 10-participant virtual event, or a 60,000-participant virtual event, Race Entry has been there, and done that.
If you would like to learn more about what Race Entry can do for your virtual race, please click here to get in contact with one of our highly trained representatives. Our support is one-on-one. Race Entry’s goal is to make sure that your virtual race is a huge success!
Alternatively, you can learn how to organize an in-person race here.