The rise of extreme events

A record total of 253,930 people entered the ballot for the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon. With 50,000 runners accepted and, with a proportion of entrants dropping out due to illness, injury or other reasons before Race Day up to 45,000 runners finally completed the race.

There is no doubt that the popularity of this event continues to grow, and, in fact, since the event first started 36 years ago it is true to say that the profile of running as a sport has seen a huge evolution and has grown to be a mainstream form of exercise.

However, in recent years, it is not running in its purest form that has been attracting more and more participants – the sport of running and its industry alike have undergone a metamorphosis of sorts, where for many runners, the main goal of competing in events is finishing a race–and having fun doing it–rather than breaking records.This shift in the sport is due in large part to the growth of popularity of non-traditional races, such as the Tough Mudder, The Colour Run and Rat Race.

What’s driving the growth?

But what is driving the growth of participation in non-traditional running events?

On the one hand, the sport of running as a whole has experienced unprecedented growth. Sports Marketing Surveys Inc (SMS) estimates the UK’s running population has reached an impressive 10.5million runners with one in five adults running four or more times a year, while 25% of under-18s also qualify as active runners under these criteria.

Yet, leaders in the running industry are quick to note that it is not just the growing participation in the sport that is driving interest in non-traditional events. Many of these leaders believe that society’s shift toward a more localised lifestyle is at the root of the growth of non-traditional running events.

In the US, for example, Mikal Peveto of adidas America comments – “There is a seat change going on in the world, where we are embracing our smallness and local communities. Whether it’s fresh foods and farming or stores becoming a more vital part of the communities they’re in, we are seeing a natural reconfiguration of our values in terms of localness. The same applies to running. Today, the fastest growing events in the sport aren’t established marathons, but things like obstacle course races and the Tough Mudder, which are all very community based,”

Many market commentators also believe that there are economic reasons behind the growth of running and the associated Extreme Events.

Running is accessible. Equipment requirements are low. There is no coaching required, rules to learn, clubs to join. Simply put on your shoes and off you go!.

Certainly growth in running has accelerated since 2008 – perhaps directly influenced by the challenging economic period that has presided since that time.

More Women

Along with economics, another interesting aspect is the unique role that women’s growing interest in running has played in shaping the sport.

Many of the women signing up for ultra marathons and marathons today will take for granted their right to compete. But only 40 years ago, it was not an option.

As recently as the Eighties, it was thought to be too dangerous for women to run long distances. It wasn’t until the late Seventies that big city marathons began to allow women to compete. And women were not allowed to take part in the marathon at the Olympics until 1984.

Since then, women’s participation in marathons, ultra marathons, and adventure races has flourished.

There are likely a number of key reasons behind this evolution but certainly it does seem that a lot of women are using endurance races and events as a target to help motivate them to lose weight, or improve their fitness.

Social Media is undoubtedly a driver with many women using posts as a self motivational tool -much in the same way that those attending weight loss groups traditionally used their peer group within the circle to “compete against” they are now able to reach out to their wider peer group to help encourage them to achieve their goals.

It is also true that this “social” side has been the driver towards increased participation in non timed, but fun, events.

Impact and opportunities for the industry

With the growing participation of women in the sport of running and a shift in the types of events interesting runners our own industry is seeing some changes and some opportunities.

Extreme events have driven both the growth in specialist products (think innov8 and the cross over products from trail running) as well as more “informal” running apparel (think leggings, performance t’s etc).

In fact the latter category (in particular leggings) has seen the boundaries between street fashion and sport once again become blurred.

Brands such as Sweaty Betty and Lululemon have driven demand and several online retailers have launched sportswear verticals, such as Boohoo Fit, Missguided Active and Net-a-Sporter.

Likewise, as retailers recognise the “local/community” element to many of these events, the proactive dealers have created bespoke printed apparel options to further enhance both the fun and (often) team element of the race.

The future.

Given the fast and sizeable growth of participation in the sport of running recently and the non-traditional races facilitating that growth, where is the sport of running headed?

As we have already established, running isn’t an elitist sport in terms of costs. On top of that, research shows that most participants are of a higher educated, higher income bracket and professionally employed base. Therefore, they have the means to travel and pay entry fees and other associated costs with running.

The interesting shift is going to be watching and paying attention to the next generation.

How will millennials and their approach and attitudes towards life–whether it’s how they’re employed, where they live and how they spend and donate–impact the sport? Will the popularity of non-traditional events continue to grow with the millennials?

My own conclusion is that, as todays consumer continues to search for experience based events these sorts of activities will indeed grow. Perhaps we will end up with a sliding scale of events from the very extreme (think multi-day/multi discipline) through to the more traditional 5/10k as the consumer continues to demand more choice.

It does seem that participation numbers look set to continue to grow and thus, as an industry, the opportunities will continue to become available.

I’m off to get my old running shoes on and get dirty……


Waffle Trainer

Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman was having breakfast with his wife one morning in 1971 when it dawned on him that the grooves in the waffle iron she was using would be an excellent mould for a running shoe.

Bowerman, who was a track and field coach at the time, had been searching for a way to make shoes lighter and faster and was inspired by his waffles!

Several ruined waffle irons later, and after much experimentation, the Nike Waffle Trainer launched in 1974.

Nike was on the way to becoming the multi billion dollar company that it is today.

Nike Air

When one looks back at the history of the brand there are various sign posts along the way when it comes to product development.

The Waffle Trainer indeed sits in the category, however it is perhaps the Nike Air that is the true legacy product.

Back in March 1977 a former NASA engineer, Frank Ruddy, and his business partner Bob Bogert sat in the Nike conference room presenting their new idea – to inject air into a running shoe.

Phil Knight recounts the story in his autobiography – Shoe Dog – “I set down the shoes and gave Rudy a closer look, a full head-to-toe. Six-three, lanky, with unruly dark hair, bottle-bottom glasses, a lopsided grin, and a severe vitamin D deficiency, I thought. Not enough sunshine. Or else a long-lost member of the Addams Family”

Perhaps not the image one thinks of behind one of the worlds best known shoe technologies, but nevertheless in 1978 the Nike Air Tailwind was launched.

As the 1980’s progressed and the global trainer market gained momentum so Nike continued to develop new technologies and, combined with shrewd athlete endorsements, grew to the force it is today.

Many of you, of course, already know this.

So what? I hear you say.

Well maybe, just maybe, the next major chapter in this story is upon us.


As a part time runner I became intrigued recently by the news coming from Nike HQ that they had embraced the challenge to break the 2 hour marathon mark – “Breaking2”.

A huge barrier that, with the world record currently standing at 2:02:57, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya in 2014, is no easy task to break.

To put this into perspective, to break the magic mark would mean running at an average of 4:34 per mile for 26.2 miles!

The athletes have been chosen – after more than two years of research, preparation and testing, three top distance runners—Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea—have officially started their Nike-backed build-up.

The track has been chosen – the Autodromo Nazionale Monza complex, a racetrack outside Monza in northern Italy, where the surface is asphalt and speed is certainly king.

But what about the shoes?

For months there have been rumours about a Nike shoe being created for the event, with suggestions that its sole would contain a special spring, which would circumvent the rules of the athletics governing body, the IAAF.

However, having now been unveiled, its now clear that the new Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite will instead have an internal gently curved carbon-fibre plate to minimise energy loss without causing cramping in the athlete.

Along with Flyknit, Flywire and other established Nike design features, the major advance comes from a patented carbon fibre insert that is reported to dramatically change the performance and profile of the shoe. The plate acts as a ‘stiffening element’ according to Nike’s design team, yet its impact on the shoe as a whole is perhaps more important. The curve of the plate changes the foot shape in the shoe, placing it more in the toe-off position and this does a couple of key thing; it helps improve on running economy due to reducing the strain on the lower leg thus delaying the onset of fatigue and it allows for increased cushioning in the shoe without a loss of performance.

The foam that covers this increased cushioning in the midsole has been improved too, as Nike’s Zoom foam becomes ZoomX. What does this mean? Well, apparently an 85% energy return compared to the typical 60-70%. This makes a big difference over 26.2 miles.

And then there’s the heel shape. This is the result of aerodynamic testing where a design driven by data has shown the tapered heel is there to improve the way the shoe cuts through the air.

All these elements, Nike believe, will give the athletes maximum assistance in the record breaking quest.

Other factors

Of course, if this barrier is to be broken it wont just be the shoe technology that makes the difference.

Other factors have to be taken into account:

  • Athlete selection:
    No matter how perfectly everything else is planned, there are probably only a few people on earth who have a chance of breaking two hours.

The team started with a pool of the hundreds of distance runners that Nike sponsors—a large group, but one that notably omits the three most recent marathon record-setters, Kimetto who are all sponsored by Adidas. The final selections were then based on a huge variety of parameters following extensive trials and testing.

  • Course and environment
    The Monza race track is relatively flat, relatively sheltered and relatively dry.

There are suggestions that a “drafting” approach where runners are constantly changing positions (much like a peleton within cycling) will also be an approach that could yield rewards.

  • Training and 4. Nutrition/hydration:
    hese are the basic areas that most of us worry about when preparing for a marathon. Nike has a huge scientific staff ready to offer every possible support in these areas; still, over the coming months, each of the three athletes will continue to train with his own coach and in his own environment. Getting this balance right, so that the athletes benefit from extra support without disrupting what has worked so well for them in the past, will be a delicate task.


It remains to be seen whether the goal is finally achieved – it looks like Spring 2017 is the anticipated target date – and it also remains to be seen whether the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite will join the Waffle Trainer and Nike Air as an iconic shoe.

One things for sure technology will continue to evolve and records will continue to be broken…all thanks to a waffle iron!

Wearable Tech


I have a confession to make. I’ve joined the wearable tech movement!

First it was my wife with a Fitbit, then one of my work colleagues with his Apple Watch and finally, after a little research, I took the plunge with a Garmin.

It felt, during the run up to Christmas and during the post festive season, that the “lets all lose weight and get fit” marketing messages finally wore me down.

On social media my friends have started posting the number of steps they have achieved that day, the press has a running commentary on whether counting steps has any benefit whatsoever, and the sporting goods and tech industry continues to drive the development of these devices towards more user friendly models.

The global fitness wearable market, which includes fitness wristbands, sport watches and smart garments, is now at over 68 million units sold per annum, according to a November 2015 report from analyst firm Gartner, and certainly at the recent ISPO the prominence of brands such as Samsung and Garmin underlined the impact that this is having on our own sporting goods industry.

Pro Level

At pro level wearable technology is playing a growing role in sport all over the world, from the UK’s football Premier League, worth more than £5bn ($7.1bn; €6.3bn) in global TV rights alone, to Aussie Rules Football, the first to pioneer the use of location-tracking GPS devices in 2004.

Wearable technologies and big-data analytics are enabling coaches, trainers and general managers to analyse previously unquantifiable aspects of athletic performance in fine detail.

Indeed some would argue that part of the success of the Leicester City side of last season was their use of technology in monitoring players personal performance and health with them coming in as the Premiership side with the fewest injuries during the season thus allowing them to play their strongest selections on a regular basis.

Scott Drawer, formerly Rugby Football Union’s performance manager and now with cycling’s Team Sky, says: “It may be that they have been using the data in a much smarter way to rest, rotate and recover players appropriately.

With such headlines it is absolutely clear then that it’s the athletes and the people on the frontlines that will help define the industry – much as in many areas where the “pro model” eventually becomes affordable for the mass market consumer.

The future

But what of the future the wearables market?

There is evidence to suggest that the technology will evolve from being a singular system (for example a watch) to a system where there are multiple sensors around your body at any point in time.

As already discussed, this is already being seen at pro athlete level with systems gathering motion-sensing data through the accelerometer and gyroscope inside. Technologists are working on ways to derive meaning from multiple sensors on the body at one time, to give a person a holistic view of how her body is moving or performing across multiple devices and sensors.

The most likely evolution here will be the wearable garment that is able to track multiple points and provide this type of feedback.


Of course technology is not just evolving within the sporting world and perhaps it is here where things start to get really interesting.

We continue to see advances in technology within the home allowing us to automatically turn on or off our heating, remotely control our TV’s or “talk” to our fridges.

Jen Quinlan, VP Marketing at the gesture recognition company Rithmio, imagines a world where “wearables converge with connected homes to drive efficiencies without having to tap a button on a screen. Imagine approaching your home’s door with groceries in hand, and the heartbeat signature via your wearable signals the door’s smartlock to unlock. While crossing your living room, a sensor on your wrist wearable notices your core body temperature is above average and automatically interacts with Nest thermostat to trigger the air conditioning. Your wearable also includes a sensor to detect hydration levels, and it triggers your smart refrigerator to automatically pour a glass of water for you as you enter the kitchen to unload your groceries”

The retail opportunity?

So are there opportunities for sports retailers?

Well, certainly those specialist stores who have a strong performance and/or individual sports angle do appear to be riding the wave, however stiff competition does exist from other channels such as department stores, electronics retailers and, of course, amazon – all of whom are looking for a slice of a global market worth approaching $2.8bn!

Anyhow, now I’m “in the club” I, for one, am excited about the future of wearable technology, so I’m off to ensure I reach my 10,000 steps for the day, climb at least 10 fights of stairs, hit my minutes of intensity target and get an adequate amount of sleep tonight!.

Direct Marketing in the Sports Trade.

We’ve all seen first hand the impact of eCommerce on our industry over the past fifteen years and the continued theme of the big getting bigger.

But where does that leave the local independent sports retailer and his approach to the web. To go eCommerce or not to go eCommerce…that is the question.

Or is it?

Perhaps the biggest issue that I come across when retailers are considering a site is that they concentrate more on the design and look and feel and often spend virtually no time on planning how they will actually get traffic.

And of course traffic is key.

For many the oversight is the fact that they already have an audience that they can very quickly turn into core traffic without having to consider spending google adwords cash. In fact this traffic can be built before a website is even constructed.

Its called a subscriber list (or customer database.)

Subscriber List

Building a subscriber list is a super important first step to take when you want to start getting the word out about your business.

You don’t need a website to start building your subscriber list. All you need is a hosted sign up form.

If you already have your web address (URL), or even if you don’t, you can build a sign up page before you even begin your website.

There are many companies that offer this service and set up is often less than 5 minutes.(search “web sign up forms” for a list of suppliers)

A hosted sign up form lives on its own, with a unique URL that you can share anywhere – Facebook, Twitter, your email signature – wherever! It gives you a quick way to start building a subscriber list today without a website.

Social Media

But how do I build this database?

Traditionally the most successful way to collect customer data through, for example, a customer loyalty scheme. The customer completed their details (name, address, email etc) and the retailer communicated special offers etc through mail or email.

In the world of Social Media this whole data collection process is simplified. All you need is Facebook Fans or Twitter followers and these mediums can be used to communicate directly with the end user e.g Special offer this weekend on X.

To collect the data is also relatively straight forward – a sign at the till that says “Like us on Facebook and/or Follow us on Twitter”can be all you need.

Since more and more social networking is being done through mobile devices the consumer can be promoted to “like and follow” whilst they are standing waiting for, for example, their credit card transaction to go through.

No filling out of forms. No production of loyalty cards. No pressure.

Get your followers excited to sign up for your list by telling them about all the great stuff they can expect to get in their inbox. If you write regular blog posts, tell them that by signing up, they’ll never miss a post from you.

More importantly, with your sign up form in place, you can begin to migrate this audience and gather their email addresses.

Once you have the followers and subscribers this becomes your core marketing database.

It is extremely targeted (as the consumer has bothered to like/follow) and its local (since they came into the store.)

Once you have this information begin to engage your customers with regular news, competitions etc.

You have a powerful targeted marketing tool that costs nothing and that is likely to return a much greater level of revenue generation than a local newspaper advert.

Once you are comfortable with building the likes/followers in this way you can become more proactive and begin searching facebook and twitter for local users and their likes.

This requires a greater understanding of the way in which the sites are constructed however the results can be very exciting.

Its important to remember that before “social” became the buzz word we talked about “community” and at the heart of most communities is sport.

If the local sports retailer can tap into this community directly through social media then the results can be extremely beneficial.

Continue to build the list.

Another way to share your hosted form on social media is to reach out directly to friends and influencers who you think could benefit from being a part of your list. Don’t overdo it, though – sharing your form with a bunch of random people will make you look like a spammer.

Add a link to your hosted sign up form in your email signature. You don’t have to go into great detail explaining the value of your email list here, but do make it clear that you are linking to your email list.

If you regularly send emails to business associates, colleagues or anyone else in your industry, make a list of people who you think would be most interested in your email list, then message them directly to personally invite them to sign up for your list.

Keep talking.

If you follow these simple steps you will, in time, begin to build a well qualified and targeted database at minimal cost.

By this time you may, or may not, have constructed a website and begun to consider eCommerce solutions, however the big advantage that you will have is that you have grasped the basics of database marketing and will have a core audience with which you regular communicate.

If you link your list to software such as MailChimp you can easily (and cheaply) maintain the list and, more importantly, drive you customers back into store with special offers and news by regular email communication.

Integrate this within your social media activity and you will begin to access your customer though multiple touch points and benefit from increased brand exposure and increased footfall.

Good luck!

Trade Show hangover

This time last year I wrote an article discussing the future of sports trade shows, how they are may evolve over time and what place they may have in the sporting good industry of, say, 2020.

Twelve months on and, following the recent STAG and Intersport Shows, some of the answers are beginning to emerge and some questions still remain.

The conclusions are still a little raw but, on reflection, my own view is that things need to change, and already are changing.

Something old something new

I write this article sitting on a train meandering its way through Europe from Stuttgart to Ljubljana. Its a landscape that will change over the next eight or so hours, taking me from a modern efficient Germany with an economy that is still driving the Eurozone, to a more traditional, some would say old fashion, world that is Slovenia.

In some respects these same difference are reflected in our own sports trade – the modern retailer embracing eCommerce, social media and appealing to “today’s consumer” versus the old, perhaps even tired, sports shop struggling to find their way in an ever changing landscape.

Nowhere are these differences more evident than at the trade shows.

The show itself

There are those retailers that plan their trade show activity with military precision. Trade manuals and supplier offers are embraced and a “plan of attack” formulated to ensure they gain the very maximum from whats on offer.

Conversely there are those that, sadly, appear to embrace a weekend in the Cotswolds rather than an opportunity to develop their businesses with new products and new ideas – despite the intervention of the buying groups to ensure that this is not the key driver behind their appearance at the event.

There are those that hunger for knowledge attending, as nearly half of the STAG members did for example, seminars to develop their knowledge of a particular subject.

There are those that find it hard to change and take on board this new knowledge – as many Intersport members found following their three hour show introduction.

Time for change.

But what is clear is that we all need to change.

Suppliers and retailers alike.

The way we work together needs to be reassessed.

Trade Shows are a big investment for suppliers in financial and emotional terms and its no longer acceptable to be told “I have run out of time to place an order with you” or “that all looks great can the rep come and see me”.

There are very few independent business owners that like to be told what they should and should not buy, however the whole principal of a buying group should be, in my eyes, to embrace this concept for the “greater good”.

Sure, we all know that it is dangerous to have too many eggs in one basket – to be heavily reliant on one major supplier – however if that supplier is driving the global sporting goods industry, and one is able to trade profitably with the lines on offer, then I can see the positives in the argument.


In the (nearly) twenty five years I have had in this trade one of the major shifts has been the way the retailers buy.

Remember the days when they wanted to swing the racket, try on the glove, or pick up the bat?

Now, in my experience, many are happy simply to buy “off plan”. A CAD or an image will suffice.

Are there reps out there still taking 6 sample bags into each call?

Take this to its logical conclusion and the buyers are, effectively, self selecting their lines, driven as much by the marketing collateral surrounding the product as to whether or not the product is any good.

As a buying group member should I therefore rely on the experts within the group to pre select for me? Take many of the buying decisions away from me? Select my core lines on my behalf leaving me more time to find the elements that will give me a point of difference?

I think thats exactly what we will see.

Certainly if we look to Intersport in many European countries suppliers are not present at the show itself.

The core “pre selected lines” are presented in a core Intersport area (much as we seen evolving over the past few years in the UK) whilst the suppliers simply set up their show stand but are not present during the show itself.

Talking to many colleagues across the continent it appears the general consensus is that this works.

What is clear is that it prevents the negativity of suppliers moaning that nobody has been on the stand and focusses them, firstly, on working more closely with the group to gain a “recommended buy/mandatory buy/core selection” (or whatever the criteria may be) and, secondly, to focus on working with their key partners within the buying group to further enhance their offer.

But what about the STAG environment? Can this work in the same way?

The answer is probably not, not least because the nature of the members is different and there is not the ability to tie into international deals/SMU’s etc in the way that Intersport members can.

So what chance there?

Different venue? Different time of year? More guidance? No show at all?

The questions, I know, are constantly being asked internally – but thats the easy bit!

To find the solution is much harder.

Times are a changing

What is evident is that things are changing and will continue to change.

Market commentators often quote “the cycle of trade shows” and, in conclusion, its safe to say that we are in a part of the cycle where, certainly based on the trade shows of the past, shows are on the decline.

More accurately they are probably evolving.

And as the trade continues to evolve so will the format.

So. Until such time as I suddenly have 2 new weeks to enjoy back in the office every December Ill see you next year.

Same time.

Same place.