Color Run Is New Type Of Sports Experience
By Marty Conway
Until recently, the business of sports has always seemed like a simple proposition: win more games and titles, produce a popular product or stage a great event, and your fans and followers would respond, cash in hand, to purchase what you had to offer.
That simplicity is what drew the interest, and dollars, of some of the most successful business leaders to invest or own sports properties, products and events. Through the years, the sports consumer was drawn to the competition, tantalized by an unknown outcome and backing the win-at-almost-all-costs mantra.
This simple model has held up for as long as there has been media coverage of sports.
That is, until now, because of the relatively new U.S. consumers of sports, the millennials, and their new favorite event, the Color Run.
Since the early 1970s in the United States, there have been labels for certain subsets of the population, from baby boomers, to Generation X, and now millennials. Those born from approximately 1985-2000 describe the millennial segment, and they make up approximately 30 percent of the U.S. population.
The labels are used to identify the cultural similarities within a demographic group, based on inherent traits or movements. For the sport industry, icons, traits and events have been associated with each new wave. With baby boomers, it was "Broadway" Joe Namath (and his women's pantyhose endorsements) and winning an early iteration of the Super Bowl. For Generation X, it was Tony Hawk popularizing the skateboard craze, leading to the creation of the X Games, a generational alternative to the Olympics. Each successive segment of the population leaves its mark on the sports scene.
A new nationwide series of events called the Color Run has swept through the area. The Color Run is a 5K with a unique brand statement, "The Happiest 5K on the Planet!" Fueled by legions of social-media-dependent millennials, the May 11 event in Baltimore and upcoming May 19 event in Washington, D.C., both sold out, with more than 25,000 participants each.
More than just being happy, this 5K is unique in that runners are not timed, there aren't any trophies awarded and race organizers thrust clouds of colored cornstarch on runners as they pass every kilometer on the course. By the time participants in the Color Run complete the course, their bodies are a kaleidoscope of colors, looking as if they have just come from Woodstock, the 1969 music festival event that underscored the hippie culture of the 1960s and early '70s. The Color Run has only two rules, and they are not hard to follow: wear white at the start line and finish plastered in color.
By contrast, on the same day as the Color Run in Baltimore, the Preakness 5K was held at Pimlico Race Course and a little more than 400 people signed up to run. In D.C., the Komen National Race for the Cure had more than 21,000 participants, down nearly 50 percent from the 40,000 the event drew in 2011.
Why are the traditional running events that include time and awards declining in participation, while the non-traditional events such as the Color Run are surging? Marc Goldman, marketing manager for the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C., cited the word "experience."
"More individuals were registering for the marathon for the experience and fewer and fewer were running for an ever-improved finish time," he said. "Since then, we've mostly removed the word 'race' from the language of the MCM. It isn't a race. It is an event."
This cohort of millennials has another characteristic, in addition to seeking experiences, that sets them apart from their parents and draws them toward sports events like the Color Run. It's called "expression." While baby boomers were known for their conspicuous consumption, of houses and cars, for example, the millennials want to express at every turn, or in the case of the Color Run, at every kilometer.
Millennials are living their life in a timeline of sorts, with photographs and short videos that can be described as continuous expression. Events like the Color Run are conceived to target that behavior. Instead of grinding away the miles to finish with a personal best, Color Runners are stopping to pose for pictures and instantly upload them to their favorite social-media outlets.
"Once a very closed community based on speed," Goldman said, "running is now open to all who want to share in a good time, be active and employ the benefits of social media to trumpet their participation."
The popularity of events like the Color Run is not lost on brands that sponsor traditional sports properties, seeking a connection with those that follow sports, teams and certain events. It even brings together an odd couple in terms of products. Automaker Chevrolet is a major sponsor of the Color Run, as is a mega brand in lingerie, Victoria's Secret.
The landscape of sports business is shifting, as the Color Run illustrated. It's moving away from a simple combination of venue, competition and awards and toward the new proposition of non-competitive and experiential, with a touch of collective-expression opportunities built in.
If you are a running enthusiast, you should be careful in selecting your next event to enter. At the halfway mark, when you are parched and reach for that needed cup of water, instead you may be dusted with a burst of colored cornstarch. Although that circumstance would ensure you are happy, it would still leave you thirsty.
Posted May 17, 2013