Trends & Features

New events and opportunities for brands

Taking part in events, and challenges is ingrained in our popular culture with images of amateur athletes in competition used across the board in advertising, from financial companies such as Santander to mainstreamers like Spec Savers.

Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, big corporations offering events and challenges to their staff, all reflect a growing trend to help amateur athletes enjoy the experience of the event and notice the benefits they gain. We’re less concerned with how we look, it’s how we feel that counts, the bigger healthy body, healthy mind picture is about self-development and success in life and goes far beyond crossing the finish line. Sport, challenges, goal-setting is in.

Opportunities for Brands

With this appetite for adventure, for racing and for challenges, marketing teams from both sports and non-sporting brands are finding innovative ways to make events work for them from creating weekend or even week-long festivals. New on the horizon are, Rise – Snow, Music and Adventure festival which combines Annie Mac Dj’ing with adventurous skiing, yoga, and meditation in France’s coolest ski area, and yoga/fitness weekends such as Balance, coming to London in May 2019. And new events from grit racing in cycling to open water swims provide great opportunities for the right brands to claim ownership of the event, create products, sponsor or even create their own event.

Marketing’s Innovators

But what came first, it’s a chicken and egg question? Do the brand create events to support their marketing strategy – or does the consumer drive the change – or is it a combination of the two? Red Bull is the marketing trailblazer in this field, not only do they publish their own magazines and run an online community, they also sponsor events their customers loves, and even create and run their own events, all of which celebrate adventure, endurance and a challenge.

Direct sales and more!

The success of Red Bull’s Marketing has been identified as its ability to create a buzz, and by being at places where they can directly sell their product to their target market. They’ve also mastered content marketing with their customers happily sharing Red Bull tagged content of stunts and adventure on social media. Red Bull events include Red Bull Quicksand where runners take on a mile of racing through sand, Red Bull Hardline, the ‘toughest MTB downhill event’ and Red Bull Timelaps, the world’s longest one-day cycling event.’ (Check out more at https://www.


Swim Run is a good example of an event/sport that didn’t exist until very recently and clever brands are capitalising on this by providing bespoke equipment, sponsoring events, and leading the way with very shareable educational content.

The sport started in Scandinavia, with ÖTILLÖ, meaning ‘island to island’ in Swedish. In September the world championships took place with 160 teams. “The tennis brand HEAD have sponsored the event since the beginning,” says Ian Clarke, Orca Brand Manager for the UK and Ireland. But in the UK, Orca are leading the way. The company whose origins are in triathlon are providing the full kit. “We’ve created the entire package,” says Clarke. “Wetsuits from entry level to elite, race belt, calf guards pull buoy, bungee cords and belts.”

Until very recently competitors in Swim Run were quite happy to cut up their old wetsuit and drill holes in a pair of trail shoes. This is what Chris Roberts and Matt Cox, did when they entered their property company into their first Brecca Swim Run event in 2017.

The two seasoned triathletes were quick to notice how they were losing the competitive edge in 2018’s race by not owning the right kit, and for next year they plan to invest in new wetsuit, pull buoy and bungee cords.

Swim Run still attracts a hardcore elite group of athletes mainly from a triathlon background but things could change.

“In Scandinavia they’ve managed to tap into the mainstream market and don’t rely on triathlon,” explains Clarke. “As well as the obvious landscape, which is so suited to the sport, they also have a bigger range of events and distances, for sprint right the way up to the ultradistance. At Orca we see women as a growth area, with more and more taking part in open water swimming events with a preference for swimming and running to cycling.”

And although Orca aren’t creating their own events yet, the kit they provide, and sponsorship of the Brecca Swim Run Series means they can rightly position themselves as thought leaders and experts in the field, and this is reflected in their content marketing strategy where they provide a series of educational you tube videos.

The State of the Market

Running still leads the way. With flagship mass participation events, of parkrun and the London Marathon, it has easily spawned enthusiastic followers in novelty races such as tower and colour runs, and brands have jumped on opportunities. Cycling and swimming have further to go, with Sport England’s annual Active People survey showing almost 283,000 fewer people swimming regularly, and 93,000 fewer people cycling than in previous years. However, this drop off does present an opportunity for resurgence in interest. Cycling has the benefit offering more types of bikes and terrains to capitalise on, and mountain biking has created a sub-culture, with whole ski resorts transformed in the summer months with mountain bikes replacing skis on gondolas and lifts. And swimming is set to see a big change, too.

Reinventing Swimming – the Marathon Swim

Diccon Loy saw that swimming, as a sport, was underdeveloped when compared to other sports and he saw a commercial opportunity. Having ten years experience of the mass participation industry and in particular swimming events he went solo and launched his marathon swims venture with a goal of creating the ‘London Marathon of swimming’. ‘‘The marathon swim distance captured the public’s imagination when it first appeared in the Olympics in 2008. But although it is a growth area, most recreational athletes aren’t swimming outdoors. The public swimming pool remains the place for ordinary swimmers to go to enjoy their sport,” he says. “Bringing the concept to the pool was the challenge – how could you make 200 laps of a 50M pool appealing?”

Loy decided to create a unique format. “Rather than swimming lap after lap we’ve devised the event so that the swimmer covers 1K splits. They do this by swimming a lap of a ten-lane 50M pool, then moving into lap two, lap three, lap four and so on. It’s similar to the way triathlons are run in public pools. Once 1K is complete the swimmer gets out and starts again. It breaks the event up into ten laps.’

Location, Location, Location

The event (https://www. is being held at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – the London Aquatics Centre, on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, in November 2018 and its looking like it’s going to be a sell-out. “The plan is to go global. Ten-lap pools are found in Sydney, Singapore, Dubai – in iconic locations all over the world. The advantage of pool-based event compared to say running where local road closures are involved is that logistically it’s not complicated.” Loy has written a set of rules for the event and has created his own unique challenge which he hopes to replicate with the help of big brands sponsorship. Innovations include bringing tech into the pool with each swimmer’s lap recorded, as well as their total time, and he points out that as the swimmers get out of the water every 1K a story is being told. “The pictures we take share the swimmers’ faces, smiling, grimacing, however they might be, instead of a series of anonymous coloured hats – which helps to bring the event alive to participants telling a story of the challenge.”

What does the future hold?

Will we get event (and fund-raising) fatigue? Is the market saturated? Or is the growth in participation in adventure sport and challenges (as shown in Sport England’s 2018 survey – https://www.sportengland. org/news-and-features/news/2018/ march/22/figures-show-nationsactivity- levels/) a sign that we still want more from our leisure time. Not to speak of the entire business of virtual challenges with apps such as Zwift. For now, at least it seems that brands (and their marketing departments and industry of agencies) are set to continue to seek ways to engage their customer, not just with their product – but with a lifestyle, a dream, a challenge.

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