Case Study: The Social Distancing 6k
Amidst the ongoing global pandemic, more event organizers than ever are looking to virtual events to generate revenue. Whilst mass gatherings are currently on hold, as early as mid-March events such as the Nagoya Women's Marathon chose to pursue virtual options as opposed to postponement or outright cancellation. With the right tools, virtual events can allow organizers to survive these uncertain times, as well as diversifying participant bases - potentially allowing for a global reach in future events.
Let's Do This chatted to Gavin McKiernan, director of Mercury Events - a California-based organizer who recently teamed up with Let's Do This to power their first all-virtual event, the Social Distancing 6k. Previously Mercury Events had only ever offered virtual participation alongside physical events and had seen only minor interest in virtual options. However, the Social Distancing 6k saw an exponential increase in the number of virtual sign-ups for Mercury Events. An analysis of the Social Distancing 6k provides valuable insight into what makes a successful virtual event for both organizers and participants.
Needless to say, COVID-19 has been tough on the endurance events industry and the main drivers for launching the Social Distancing 6k were to generate revenue and engage customers. As previously stated, virtual participation options were not as popular as physical participation - usually drawing in between 5 and 20 participants. However, in the new landscape, the Social Distancing 6k sold 1,241 tickets and took over $37,000 in sales
Fig. 1 demonstrates that the vast majority of traffic to the Social Distancing 6k was direct traffic - most of these were customers who came in via email. Mercury Events were in a strong position here, with a 155k strong mailing list and an engaged following. Fig. 2 also shows that in the week commencing 30th March, direct email traffic was also the main driver of traffic to the event page. However, by the week of 6th April, social and organic search figured highly as well.
With the vast majority of people socially isolating, social media is being used now more than ever to facilitate long-distance connection. Not only did Mercury Events notify their mailing list, they also shared the Social Distancing 6k through their social media channels which proved highly effective.
The vast majority of bookings made for the Social Distancing 6k were made in the week of 6th April, that is, the week of the event (Fig. 3). Fully one third of all bookings (400) were made on the weekend of the event itself (i.e. on or after Saturday 11th April). Whilst there was decent interest during the week of 30th March, both bookings and traffic peaked in the week of the event. A sense of immediacy and urgency is a major driver for booking virtual events, and events that launch around 1-2 weeks before the event date - like Social Distancing 6k - fare better than counterparts that let the registration window drag out. There is a sense of immediacy and instant gratification around virtual events that isn't as evident in their physical counterparts, something which is reflected in both booking and traffic data for Social Distancing 6k.
Coming Together, Whilst Remaining Apart
Virtual events have proven a great way to foster a sense of community amongst participants, even whilst many of us are physically distanced from one another. Race Director Gavin McKiernan highlighted Social Distancing 6k's links to nonprofit organization Direct Relief - who are providing medical aid not only to US healthcare providers, but also globally - as one of they key reasons customers chose to sign up for Social Distancing 6k.
Virtual events powered by Let's Do This feature a gallery of finishers' photos (Fig. 3) for each event - as of 24th April, the Social Distancing 6k has 376 finishers' photos uploaded by participants - and customer feedback showed that the ability to post finishers' times and photos was a draw for participants. Whilst individual races are being run separately, the ability to share times and photos fosters a greater sense of collective participation and connectedness.
Virtual events also appeal to participants of all abilities. Whilst Fig. 4 shows verified times for the Social Distancing 6k between 00:45:42 and 01:39:37, Fig. 5 shows times between 00:25:40 and 00:26:45. The virtual event's finishers' times can be sorted by both age category and time (and time within age categories) allowing hardcore runners to pit themselves against the rest of the pack - which can potentially be global.
Race swag is almost always a hit with participants; themed race swag doubly so. This is an area in which Mercury Events really excelled - not only were all participants mailed a t-shirt and a medal (fig. 6), but both were social distancing-themed (laughter is, after all, the best medicine). Gavin again told us that the humorous, topical medal and shirt were a key reason why customers chose to sign up for the Social Distancing 6k and, according to feedback, were major contributing factors to a great virtual event experience.
The Bottom Line
Would Mercury Events consider running a virtual event again? Yes.
Virtual events provide a lifeline for event organizers during these uncertain times, allowing them to continue generating revenue by producing high-quality virtual experiences for their customers. The Social Distancing 6k is an excellent case study of a successful virtual event; marrying the creativity and community connection of Mercury Events with the streamlined customer experience provided by a Let's Do This event page.
Our team is passionate not only about connecting people through sports but also supporting event organizers in these tough times. Tired of the traditional, often laborious, virtual events experience, we reimagined the entire experience by making it more dynamic, more engaging, and bringing some of the best parts of real life events online.