RunSignup’s Annual RaceTrends Report for 2020 shows a 48.1 percent drop in participation amongst the cohort of races that were on the RunSignup platform in 2019 and did hold an event of some type in 2020.

RunSignup said that if new events on RunSignup are included in the participation numbers, the downturn from 2019 to 2020 falls to 35.5 percent. Much of the discrepancy between the 48.1 percent and 35.5 percent can be attributed to new events on the platform that were built specifically for the pandemic, such as virtual challenges and themed virtual races.

Socially distant virtual events and challenges exploded in 2020, with virtual races making up 33.4 percent of all events, compared to just 2.8 percent in 2019. Virtual challenges (multi-activity events with long term goals) comprised another 6.3 percent of 2020 events. The influx of virtual participants changed the overall profile of endurance event participants, leading to demographic shifts, lower prices and fewer repeat participants.

RunSignup Founder and CEO Bob Bickel said in a statement, “As staggering as some of the numbers may seem, it’s important to think of them in context. Nearly 40 percent of races this year were virtual, a testament to the innovation and determination of race organizers and timers around the country. We know that endurance professionals will use their fresh virtual race expertise and new protocols for safe in-person events in 2021 and 2022 to restore the industry.”

Other significant takeaways include:

  • 56 percent of virtual challenge participants and 53 percent of virtual racers are over the age of 40, compared to 46 percent for in-person event attendees;
  • Repeat participation in the same event fell from 18.4 percent in 2019 to 10.1 percent in 2020;
  • Average prices dropped across all race distances, including an 18.2 percent decline in price for half marathons, likely because of the lower overhead costs of most virtual events;
  • Mobile devices continue to dominate, with 72.9 percent of website views and 55.1 percent of transactions taking place on a mobile device or tablet;
  • Referral rewards, one of the most affected marketing programs for races, accounted for 17 percent of transaction dollars in 2020, more than double the 7 percent they represented in 2019;
  • E-mail marketing was key for logistical communications and marketing from afar, with more than 258 million emails sent from the RunSignup platform in 2020;
  • Races that enabled fundraisers for their event raised an average of $5,733, more than five times as much as races that allowed only donations without fundraising;
  • Facebook helps nonprofits raise more. 49 percent of runners who connected their RunSignup | GiveSignup Fundraising efforts to a Facebook fundraiser via its free API reached their fundraising goal, compared to 30 percent for races that fundraised via RunSignup | GiveSignup alone; and
  • RaceJoy had a record-breaking year surpassing 1 million lifetime users with a 168 percent increase in races using the GPS-based runner tracking app.