When I was in Walt Disney World for the runDisney Princess Half Marathon in February, I had the privilege of sitting down with Faron Kelley (director of marketing and communications for Disney sports), in his office to talk to him about the booming popularity of runDisney races.
At first it was hard to focus on the interview because his office is filled with fun runDisney and other Disney sports memorabilia and photos. I probably could have looked around forever, but thought that might be rude.
me and Faron
Disney has been hosting a series of endurance events for many years, but it seems the past couple of races in particular have really shown a sharp increase in participation. I had my suspicions as to the cause of this upwards trend, but I wanted to confirm them and who better to ask. As it turns out, there is no one particular reason that these events have become highly coveted, but instead a web of factors that keep people coming back for more. These are the main reasons for the boom Faron and I discussed in our interview:
The vacation component: Disney is the epitome of a destination race. What better place to bring the entire family to cheer you on as you run, then spend some time together playing in the parks? runDisney decided that the one overarching factor that makes a race an official runDisney event would be the fact that it runs through the theme parks. Some would think running would just be for adults, but runDisney does a fabulous job of including the kids, too. From the kids races to the 5k family fun run, these events are not just for mom and dad.
Social Media: Being a social media junkie, this factor is the one I was most interested in, and the one that I thought had a huge influence on runDisney’s popularity. Not only did runDisney create a beautiful website, but they also opened up a YouTube channel, Facebook Fan page, and Twitter account. Faron did agree that he thought social media was the most effective tool runDisney was using to reach its fans. He commented that it is so much easier to communicate and send out messages to runners through these mediums, and in a quick and effective way. It also allows runners to “talk” directly with runDisney as well as give feedback on its Facebook wall or by tagging it in a tweet. The website gives a lot of useful information from race tips to travel to registration. Having details readily available is no doubt driving the social media boom for the brand.
Faron loved when I mentioned the social media meet ups as a driving force behind race popularity. These social media events are held in conjunction with most races, and offer the most passionate runDisney fans a chance to have a back stage, up close and personal encounter with the brand. He loved it when I told him stories I have heard about the lengths people have gone to in order to try to secure a coveted spot at one of the meet ups. The amount of tweets and blogs posts that are brought about because of one of these special events shows just how loyal runDisney fans are.
What’s included: When you runDisney, you don’t just get a t-shirt and a boring medal. Instead, you are treated to a one of a kind entertainment experience that can only be described as magical. A big reason I run (as well as many others I am sure) is the amazing organization runDisney has at every race. You never hear about them not having enough bathrooms or running out of water. The races start on time, and have plenty of volunteers. They are constantly striving to make a better race experience for all. I have also been told runDisney is making strides to make sure the race course is not too crowded. I was so happy to hear this and love that they take feedback from fans seriously. On top of smoothly organized races there is of course the bling. Disney medals are heavy, and amazing. Their bling is well thought out and beautiful, and the perfect reward after a race. Runners also have access to a great health and fitness expo, tech shirts, and on course entertainment. runDisney merchandise that is sold at the expo is also very popular, and a tangible reminder of the race. Faron even told me that New Balance said runDisney races have a higher demand for merchandise than even races such as the Boston marathon! (Think: runDisney/new Balance shoes).
Pricing Structure: The pricing structure for races has changed in recent years, motivating people to sign up for the races more quickly. Tiered pricing is used and dates are given for price increases. Everyone loves to get the best value for their money possible, so this is part of the reason why the races are filling up more quickly than in years past.
Atmosphere: runDisney races are amazing races for beginners and running veterans alike. It’s a fast course so you can PR, and it’s also very non-intimidating for newer runners. Jeff Galloway, the official runDisney training consultant, teaches the run-walk-run method to help get beginners across the finish line. He is very supportive and encouraging, motivating people to give running a try. These events have a fun light atmosphere, and make for a great first big race.
With the Walt Disney World marathon weekend registration opening in a matter of days, there has been a lot of speculation as to just how quickly the events will sell out due to the factors mentioned above. Will there be another record sell out like for the Dumbo Double Dare? That is yet to be determined. However, I CAN give you some percentages, given to me straight from runDisney, about how they are pacing with Wine and Dine registration. These numbers are as of March 14th, when Wine and Dine registration had only been open for 72 hours:
-Registration for the Wine and Dine half was already pacing 71% ahead in number of registrants than at the same time last year.
-The 5k is pacing 130% ahead in number of registrants than at the same time last year.
-The kid’s races are pacing 37% ahead, for a grand total averaging out at 76% ahead for the whole weekend.
WOW! I would say runDisney gained some major popularity in the past year. Here are a couple of other numbers to knock your socks off:
-The post on runDisney’s Facebook Fan page announcing Dopey has been shared over 2,529 times, which runDisney believes is a record number of shares for the Facebook fan page.
-The runDisney YouTube video announcing Dopey’s Challenge has almost 65,600 views!
**If you are wanting to sign up for the currently open races such as the Tower of Terror 10 miler or the Wine and Dine Half, don’t wait! Sign up before the price increases and before these events are sold out due to popularity!
QOTD: Why do you think runDisney races are so popular? Will you be running one this year?