SpartanThree years ago, the common weekend warrior likely had no idea what obstacle racing was. However, with the exponential growth of organizations like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder, which are holding events in more than 20 countries, it is now very likely that the common casual athlete does know of this category’s existence. The same goes for potential sponsors.

One of the sport’s premier entities, Spartan Race, recently signed Reebok as its title sponsor for their global race series. As part of the deal, Reebok is the official apparel, footwear, and accessory supplier for what is now known as the Reebok Spartan Race series. Spartan Pro David Magida sees this new partnership as Reebok’s attempt to elevate awareness of obstacle racing. “Reebok is trying to make obstacle racing a legitimate mainstream sport by helping move it to television, just like they did with the CrossFit Games,” said Magida. “They want to take the Spartan Pro team and use them as fitness celebrities.” Noting that obstacle racing is an adult sport meant to get people off the couch, Magida thinks sponsors like Reebok is definitely looking to earn dividends by designing new consumer products specifically built for obstacle racing.

In a press release announcing the partnership, Matt O’Toole, Chief Marketing Officer at Reebok, cited the communal aspect of obstacle racing as a major draw for his brand. “At Reebok, we recognize that the fitness landscape is changing,” said O’Toole. More and more, people are beginning to see fitness as part of their lifestyle rather than simply an activity. “Spartan Race is at the forefront of this movement. It enables people to come together to experience fitness with a community of like-minded people—to take part in something that is challenging and daunting, but at the same time, inspiring and fun. This is what makes it so rewarding, and is a large part of what is fueling the incredible growth of the sport.”1

With the addition of more high-dollar sponsors, obstacle race participants have felt a great impact on the events themselves. “The increase of sponsors has been huge for events to run more smoothly, with better quality obstacles,” said Magida.

In addition to Reebok, Spartan Race has also partnered with the Navy Federal Credit Union, Weetabix, the Air National Guard, Concept2, Geigerrig, and SNAP Infusion. With on-site exposure to around 500,000 event participants this year (plus spectators), it is easy to see why these sponsors are gravitating towards Spartan Race’s fitness-minded, largely adult audience.

Tough Mudder, Spartan Race’s biggest competitor, also has a big name official apparel sponsor in Under Armour. “The demographics match up really well for us,” said Scott Taylor, Director of Golf and Apparel Licensing for Under Armour, which, like Reebok for Spartan Race, is developing a shoe to handle the mud and water of obstacle racing.2 Other Tough Mudder sponsors include Dos Equis, Camelback, ClifBar, Wheaties, Bic (razors), and Degree.

The obstacle race events are also broadening their venue selection as the events continue to grow. Both Spartan and Tough Mudder have hosted events at Major League Baseball stadiums in the past year, in addition to other events held at sites from ranches and farms to motocross venues and ski mountains.

With the sport’s popularity growing at exponential rates, how can the organizations behind obstacle racing events continue to leverage their audiences to increase sponsor dollars?

Data.

By collecting information from both participants and spectators, and then appending those individuals with robust consumer data, race organizers will be able to profile and identify specific participant and spectator segments. Doing so will enable their sponsorship sales teams to seek out partners for open categories with specific and targeted data regarding customer sub-groups. For example, neither organizer referenced above has a sponsor in the banking category. However, after running their databases through an append process, one race organizer might be able to boast that 95% of the event’s participants and spectators have credit cards, and 80% of those who have credit cards have more than two. Having such information broken down between participants and spectators will allow sponsors to target what to provide in event packs and on-site, further adding value for partners.

Additionally, the organizers can offer sponsors the ability to develop targeted marketing campaigns geared towards specific customer groups. For example, Tough Mudder could pull a list of race participants identified as males 14 and older and send promotional information about Bic razors to that list. The possible uses of such data are infinite, and more valuable to sponsors than a blanket, non-targeted approach might be.

As obstacle race companies consider the above, cost will undoubtedly be a factor. However, growing a successful business requires smart investments, and the purchase of data and research (at a small, incremental cost) is certainly one of the many smart investments obstacle race organizers like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder could – and should – make.

1“Brands Launch New Collaboration with ‘Reebok Spartan Race Times Square Challenge’ in New York City; a Celebration of American’s Newest Sport: Obstacle Racing.”  Spartan Race Blog.  Jan. 17, 2013.  http://blog.spartanrace.com/tag/reebok-crossfit-games/.

2 Pete Williams, “Down & dirty.” Sports Business Journal. Sept. 24, 2012, page 1. http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2012/09/24/In-Depth/Obstacle-races.aspx?hl=%22spartan%20race%22&sc=0

Other Sources:

Dina Kraft, “Obstacles Test Athletes’ Grit.” New York Times. Nov. 18, 2012, page D1. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/19/sports/spartan-race-at-fenway-park-tests-athletes-grit.html?_r=0.

“Events.” Tough Mudder Online. http://toughmudder.com/events/.

“Spartan Obstacle Racing Events.” Spartan Race Online. http://www.spartanrace.com/spartan-obstacle-racing-events.php.

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