The second European Running Business Conference saw more than 350 participants from 55 different countries gather in the Czech capital Prague for the opening sessions of the three-day event, which followed on from the hugely successful inaugural edition in Frankfurt, Germany two years ago.
As European Athletics Council Member Jean Gracia said in his opening address, ”the number of countries here exceeds the number of European Athletics Federation, which shows this conference has an appeal and relevance not just to Europe but around the world.”
The number of participants, most of whom are race organisers or commercial companies connected with the running industry, was more than 25 per cent up from two years ago
“There are an estimated 50 million runners around Europe, and this has been mainly due to your efforts,” added Gracia, addressing the audience.
“And they now have a colourful and diverse profile beyond what we used to call the ‘regular runners’ in the 80s and 90s. The traditional distances of 10km, half marathon and marathon and marathon continue to define athletics, remain popular and will do in the years to come but runners are now moving towards to less-formal ways of expressing themselves.
“Look at the great boom of Parkruns as well as the boost of apps and social media which bring people together to run. The ERBC is your event so expand your knowledge, contacts and business.”
Following Gracia, the keynote speech was delivered by the IAAF CEO Jon Ridgeon who touched on the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead for the running industry.
“The headline is the running industry peaked in 2016 with 9.1 million race entries, there are now 7.9 million. I could bombard with statistics but running not just a sober activity to keep fit it can help cities and government, it can have an economic impact and develop social cohesion,” reflected Ridgeon.
“The challenge we need to embrace is to look beyond ‘seasoned’ runners and attract new, younger, and more diverse participants But we don’t want to exclude our core market of middle-class runners. We need to expand on the benefits and values of being involved in sport,” added the 1987 IAAF World Championships 110m hurdles silver medallist who described himself now as “a regular 5km and 10km runner.”
The plenary sessions then commenced with three speakers addressing the issue of the Digital Running Revolution and Runner Experience.
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“We have to ask ourselves ‘What can we do to make running events more interesting?’ It is critically important to be talking to the next generation of consumers,” commented Infront Sports & Media AG Senior Vice President Claude Ruibal, who gave demonstrations of potential digital solutions to these issues such as virtual advertising and how it could work with running events, as well as automated clip production to connect with social media-savvy audiences.
Daniela Ivanova, VIBER Business Development Director, looked at the how messaging apps can connect with runners and communicate to them while Bernhard Escherich, SAP Global Head of New Markets & Strategic Customers, Sport&Entertainment, looked at data solutions for races which could then be utilised in terms of marketing their product.
Breakout sessions addressed the issue of new audiences and trends, asking the question, “Who’s Running Next?” This was followed by a series of nine 10-minute pitches from commercial companies connected with the running industry, a slot where they could effectively advertise and demonstrate their products to a receptive audience.
Want to know what the #ERBC2019 looks like?— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) September 6, 2019
Here's a snapshot from a distance of a couple of the 10-minute pitches.
If you are not here, this is what's happened so far on the 1st day and what is still to happen https://t.co/j7PWGdblz3 pic.twitter.com/3ajq3wOzOB
The first day was concluded with the awarding of the European Race of the Year, which went to the Zevenheuvelenloop – the NN Seven Hills race - in Nijmegen. The Dutch race beat of four other very strong short-listed contenders.
“The is s a special moment for European Athletics, as we celebrate the best of European road running,” said European Athletics Council Member Frank Hensel before presenting the award to Lotte Jacobs and Joan Merx from the Zevenheuvelenloop race organisation.
“I have to say, we are surprised but very proud as the other short-listed races looked very strong candidates,” said Merx.
The Zevenheuvelenloop was cited in a particular for their efforts towards sustainability and inclusiveness, including the likes of wooden medals, biodegradable water bottles and encouraging local asylum seekers to act as volunteers for the race as a way of integrating them into the local community.