The OCR Numbers Game

How many racers do you need to have a profitable event?

How many non-profitable events can a race series weather, before they have to close their shutters, and call it a day?

These are the pertinent questions you have to ask when looking at the OCR landscape today.

I think at this point in the game, it’s clear that Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash are staying above water. They aren’t struggling to put on events or get mind share in the marketplace.

On our local scenes, most events are put on with a considerably lower budget – they don’t have head offices, paid staff or brand names behind them. Some make money and donate it to charity, others sink it back into their business.

What about the middle ground? Traveling, “national” series that need to move obstacles and staff across state lines every weekend.

Battlefrog and Atlas Race both held highly anticipated races this weekend – for different reasons. All eyes were on the two events.

10007498_747579035260261_758193702_nPeople wanted to know if Battlefrog was on plan. It’s no secret that they have struggled to get bodies across the finish lines at previous events, and for a series spending as much as they are on marketing, course build out, sponsorship, prize money – they need more, and they need more quickly. If you read between the lines, check the tea-leafs at the bottom of cups and make a few speculative conclusions you may imagine Battlefrog is feeling the pinch a little – they let go their chief course designer (edit: Director of Race Operations, thankyouverymuch) this winter, and after making a production of having two day races at every venue, some found their Sunday race quietly get cancelled.

It’s not proof of anything, of course, and the company line continues to be that they have a plan, and they’re executing their plan.

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But, with Miami being their home race, and little in the way of competition going on that weekend, how many people did they get? According to their finish results (pulled from Chronotrack 3/2/15), they had a total of 2,805 finishers, for all series, both days. I’m fairly certain thats a record turn out for them, and with heavy rains it’s possible they had more register, but not come out.

Is this enough? Is this going to be a trend for the future events they hold? Can they break 3k at events not in their home town, possibly up against other races? Time will tell, and race reports from Miami were generally singing Battlefrog praises. It’s certainly a move in the right direction, and proof that what they do works, and people love #froglife.

If you want to analyze these – it’s interesting to note that MORE people did the 5k, than the 15k – despite the longer format being the signature event, and when you consider that BattleFrog Extreme participants were running multiple laps of the 5k, could that have artificially bumped those? Let the speculation commence …

BattleFrog finishers

Saturday Feb 28th
15k Elite – 76
15k Elite Masters – 23
15k Elite DQ – 21
15k Open – 609
5k Open – 1,141

15k total – 729
5k total – 1,141

Sunday March 1st
15k Open – 437
15k Competitive – 40
5k Sunday Competitive – 22
5k Sunday – 436

15k total – 477
5k total – 458

Weekend totals
15k – 1,206
5k – 1,599
Total – 2,805

10552381_750691804968317_6401273341272183271_nAtlas Race made its much awaited re-birth this weekend. Making an impact on the west coast, Atlas have a rocky past and some bad blood – but with new investors, new backers, new sponsors – they promised to make good and provide a solid series that is already hoping to go on the road, with their second event planned for San Antonio TX in just a couple of weeks.

But, is it time? In total, over two days and all waves, Atlas had 1,071 finishers. Thats a great number for a local event, sure, but with a pro-team to support, marketing to do in remote regions, travel and transportation budgets …. things are starting to sound like the early days of Battlefrog again – well funded, with a plan and a goal – and a long road ahead of them to get there. Can they weather that?

10930854_791622077541956_4503205021932302567_n

Reports from Atlas this weekend have also been positive, something they desperately needed as they rebooted. (Numbers pulled from J-Chip 3/2/15, updated to correctly reflect Saturday Ranger numbers)

Atlas Race finishers
(Boss = short course, Ranger = long course)

Saturday Feb 28th
Boss M – 275
Boss F – 217
Elite M – 70
Elite F – 26
Ranger M – 262
Ranger F – 148

Boss total – 588
Ranger total – 410

Sunday March 1st
Boss M – 124
Boss F – 87
Elite M – 28
Elite F – 17
Ranger M – 92
Ranger F – 40

Boss total – 256
Ranger total – 132

Weekend totals
Boss – 844
Ranger – 542
Total – 1,386

Of course, numbers are not the whole picture – but they are a measurement of growth and success (or not) and as participants who spend considerable money on tickets, sometimes more frequently than we should, we need to be aware of these things. Last weekend we saw two very ambitious events, put on solid race weekends – as they move through their calendars this year, lets hope they can pull in more people.

*Photos courtesy Atlas Race and BattleFrog Series.

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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11 comments
  1. Interesting figures! Down Under, Spartan Race have found themselves in the same boat as these, amalgamating two day events into one day events, and pulling a mere 1784 finishers in Perth – our fourth largest city with a population base of 1,897,548 peoples. Our largest city Sydney (population 4,667,283) had a 10% drop last year from the Sprint in March last year of 4143 to the their follow-up event later in the year which was a Sprint plus a Super plus had hundreds flying in from other parts of the country to earn their trifecta medal, and which only drew 3763. It will be most interesting to see how many their Melbourne event draws this weekend, and whether it’s an increase on the 3592 they had last year in our second-largest city of 4,246,345. Perhaps this is why they haven’t opened up any races for registration after May.

    At least they are still hanging in there. The local event company that owned the Warrior Dash licence handed it back after running five events down here.

  2. The toughest part of this for the consumer is that, even though I’d like to support the smaller races, I can’t register for something six months in advance if I don’t have some kind of confidence the event will actually happen.

  3. While registration numbers are definitely important to any event business I think you need to include other factors in your consideration of whether turnout can be used as a prediction for an organization’s success. The industry as a whole seems to be retracting a bit with almost all players (including the big three cutting back on both the number of race days and event locations). Also important are the numbers acceptable to the respective organizations’ internal growth plans. Only the organizations know this – what is reality and what they project (or believe) can obviously be substantially different. BattleFrog’s investor(s) seem committed, and more importantly, capable of continuing to grow the brand.

    Sure, there will be a time when even they need to decide when they need to reach black or call it a day. Along with some prerequisite lessons learned, so far they have handled everything professionally. Let’s not scare people away from new events because other smaller series (who successfully marketed themselves as bigger than they were) failed to deliver on promises. I think, at least in BF’s case they are actually bigger than their marketing. Win for the consumer.

    1. Paul, these aren’t registration numbers – these are *finisher* numbers. This isn’t about income, it’s about participants. I have no insight into how much each participant paid, what groupon, discount code or comp entry they got.

      What other statistics can we use? This is a measure of how many people crossed that finisher line at each of the events, and we all know Battlefrog has MASSIVE cash outlays per race (and other income streams than registration tickets, too) – but we can’t measure those or judge those.

      I also hope it comes across that this isn’t a negative article, and I don’t discourage people from running Battlefrog. I’ll be running their New England event, and expect it to be excellent, I’ve seen nothing less than excellence in their courses and race day operations to date.

  4. Thanks Paul. A lot. You can’t imagine how much I wanted to know how both events fared last weekend. Thanks for doing the research and sharing. ORM is a pretty incredible resource for fans of OCR. We need it.

    And good luck to both Atlas and Battlefrog. Both companies have a *steep* hill to climb, but overcoming seemingly impossible tasks is kind of the whole point of OCR, right?

    SK

    1. Absolutely, and your welcome – I wish them both well and look forward to running both their courses!

  5. Dang. I’ve been feeling disappointed with the numbers I’m getting at our local race, but they seem on par for what everyone else is getting at this point – and we don’t have a huge production team or marketing budget.

    When these events started, we thought we’d missed the boat on whatever the magic is that gets big crowds, but it looks like stuff is starting to even out to more sustainable and realistic numbers.

    Something to consider, however, is Seth Godin’s “dip”: a concept of laying low and getting really good and it paying off over time. I know BattleFrog is in it for the long run and they have the funds to whether it if they’re playing a long game. Fascinating business study.

    Great article.

  6. I know there was a bit more participants then the chronotrack numbers at Battlefrog…They got some problem with the participants that were dq…should be more peoples in that list!

    1. I just went back today, to compare the numbers to the day I pulled them for this article, and while they changed, it was by one or two athletes – nothing more.

      Specifically, Saturday only

      15k Elite – 75 (down 1)
      15k Masters – 21 (down 2)
      15k DQ – 22 (up 1)
      15k Open – Wouldn’t process at time of writing
      5k Open – 1,141 (no change)

      While it’s possible the Opens suddenly spiked (for some reason, Chronotrak wouldn’t pull them up today), I’d be amazed if it was by a significant amount.

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