source), which is a surprisingly lower rate than the National average of men in the same demographic, or because of it's current "Let's Pretend We Care About Women" campaign that was only started because they were backed into a corner after years and years and years and years of turning a blind black and blue eye to domestic violence ... no, it's over-exposed because there are just too many darn games on during the week. I mean seriously ... THURSDAY??? Their embarrassingly low mid-week TV ratings prove that no one is watching the NFL except for Sunday afternoon. And partly because of the NFL's greed, and an attempt to control viewership seemingly everyday of the week, I predict that we'll see a sharp decline in it's popularity in a few years. I say "partly" because the impending decline will also be related to parents taking their children out of football at an increasing rate, and thus youth football enrollment plummeting. But since I'm not a huge NFL fan, it won't bother me either way.
It seems that running has followed a similar meteoric climb in popularity over the past few years, at almost the exact same time-frame as the NFL. And as participation has grown, more and more races have cropped up. In almost every city in America, there is some sort of foot race every single weekend throughout the year. Heck, even in the relatively short 6-7 years I've been actively racing, it seems races have doubled.
While running is at an all-time height in popularity, it shouldn't be overlooked that the reason there are so many races is that charitable organizations view them as a great way to raise money. That may or may not be true, and definitely NOT true according to a study by Indiana University (source) which suggests that races only raise about $3.20 for every $1 spent, compared to upwards of $20 to $1 ratios by other traditional means such as phone solicitations and capital campaigns. But never the less, non-profit groups spend a lot of time planning, marketing, and executing races.
But with the ever increasing popularity of running, it seems to me that many races have morphed into something more than just, well ... running. Most local 5K's now feature some sort of gimmick like being sprayed with color, wearing fake mustaches, avoiding being tagged by zombies, and costume galas for every season. Additionally, I've noticed a growing number of races that highlight and advertise an "in race" challenge, such as fastest up the mountain, most miles ran at even splits, or veering off the race path for "the scenic route", which of course is accompanied by an additional medal. And at the risk of sounding like an old-timer or traditionalist, which I certainly am not, I can't help but wonder why it's not enough just to run ... and only run, in a race anymore.
To answer my own question, I think there are two reasons in play. First, I think races are trying to attract more and more "non-runners", in an attempt to generate more revenue. Races are increasingly marketing to people who typically would not spend their money to run a race with no frills. This is also why every race now has bigger and brighter medals, and more and more give-aways. I personally don't see anything wrong with this, but it's apparent that race directors are under the impression that if they don't make their race unique, or filled with free stuff, people might not show up, which ties into reason number two ...
... there are just so many races, everyone has to have a gimmick to stand out. Even if race directors were to seek only seasoned runners, there's just so much competition for household recreational dollars, and thus a borderline saturation of races every weekend. I know personally, as much as my wife and I like to run races, we often have to choose between runs that fall on the same day. And honestly, if it's between a race I've done before, and a new race with something that interests me, like an "in race" challenge, I'll choose the latter.
Most marketing studies show that just before a product begins to decline in popularity or revenue, it often reaches a saturation point, and thus looses appeal to it's target audience. With races seemingly "reaching" more and more out of the traditional running realm, I wonder if we're near the saturation point with these events. I just can't imagine that we'll continue to see the same kind of increase in race registration over the next few years. And accordingly, I think many of the upstart local 5K's will begin to fade a little as well.
There's an ebb and flow with almost everything in life. High points and low points. And accordingly, when a product or service reaches it's peak, there's obviously no where to go but down. And while I think we're probably a few years away from this decline in running, I think we're probably headed that way. But who knows, I'm not an expert ... it's just something to think about.
... be great today!