51. The Critical Importance of Virtual Events
We've been doing it all wrong for so many years.
For thirty years of my life I was watching TV incorrectly and I never knew it.
Then I bought a TiVo.
Since getting my first DVR, I've never watched TV the same way again. What I never realized was broken, was suddenly fixed. It didn't alter the fact that I watch shows on TV, it just changed how I did it. Suddenly I could watch on my time, in my way, at my pace.
I never realized my massive record collection was insufficient.
Then I got Spotify. And suddenly I own nearly every song ever recorded.
Spotify didn't alter the fact that I listen to a lot of different types of music, it just changed how I did it. I could listen to anything I want, whenever I want, wherever I want, with no obstacles.
The History of Virtual
Virtual events initially became popular out of economic necessity.
While the endurance industry was just beginning its meteoric growth during the 2008 recession, trade shows and conferences were struggling. In order to boost engagement at these gatherings, virtual experiences - a concept first introduced in 1993 - started gaining in popularity.
Peloton launched in 2013 and that is when we first started seeing virtual athletic events being offered. Disney launched their first virtual race in 2016. So did Ragnar. They were two of the earliest of the big event companies to lead the charge. By 2018 virtual runs were gaining traction and when we hit 2019 they were becoming a central topic of discussion.
I've been hearing from a whole bunch of event organizers with events scheduled in the future and they don't know if they should do a virtual event. And if so, when they should plan to launch it.
Let me make this easy for you: yes, you should have a virtual event and you should've launched it two years ago.
Virtual events are not a stop gap measure to only be used during a global pandemic. Virtual events are - and should be - a separate tactic to attract new participants and retain others.
Virtual events are not new and they are not going away. The trend has been growing and now the increased gravitational pull is drawing you in faster than you may be willing. But trust me on this one, your company should always - always - offer virtual event options.
What We Can Learn from TiVo
Take this back to the DVRs.
Prior to their onset, if I wanted to watch a television show, I was confined by certain boundaries. I had to show up on the appropriate day at the appropriate time and have the appropriate access in order to participate. The DVR allows me to practice the same behavior (watching tv) but without the constraints of day and time. It gives me more freedom. It lets me perform the same behavior on my time, at my pace, with less pressure.
That is the very definition of the benefits of virtual runs. In fact, let me repeat the paragraph above with a topic you can better understand.
Prior to their onset, if I wanted to participate in an endurance event, I was confined by certain boundaries. I had to show up on the appropriate day, at the appropriate time and have the appropriate access in order to participate. The virtual event allows me to practice the same behavior (run a race) but without the constraints of day and time. It gives me more freedom. It lets me perform the same behavior on my time, at my pace, with less pressure.
Get it now?
Listen, not everybody wants to wake up at five am, battle race traffic and pay for far-away parking, in order to run, bike and/or swim with a lot of other strangers.
Some people are intimidated by that experience. Some people perform better later in the day. Some people just can't show up - they have other plans that they can't break.
Virtual events are the TiVo solution: it lets people still have their experience but allows them to do it on their time without the riffraff and frustrations.
Heck, I'd rather get together with my 8 running buddies, all of us wearing our event shirts, to run our virtual 10k together - then don our medals and go grab coffee and breakfast in our usual haunt.
I don’t need bananas at the end. I don’t need to walk a half mile back to my car. I just need the sense of accomplishment that led me to training for the event in the first place. I just need to get to the finish - wherever and whenever that finish works best for me.
(Editor's Note: Don't get him wrong, the author doesn't believe in-person events are going away post-pandemic. Heck, he still watches sporting events on TV in real time, without a DVR. So there's that.)
Oh, and by the way, you make a heckuva lot higher margins from virtual events than you do in-person events. For in-person events, a decent profit margin is 35%. With virtual? We're talkin' 60% margins, yo.
Let's look at the numbers.
Virtual Event (1,000 people)$40 - virtual entry fee
($5) - shirt
($3) - medal
($4) - postage
($4) - pack and ship
$24 - Gross Profit (60% margin)
$24,000 - Gross Profit on 1,000 person virtual event
In-Person Event (1,000 people)
$40 - entry fee
($5) - shirt
($3) - medal
($3) - timing
($13) - operations (cones, barricades, permits, police, etc)
($2) - finisher amenities
$14 - Gross Profit (35% margin)
$14,000 - Gross Profit on 1,000 person live event
Taking those numbers, you only need 583 virtual participants to make the same Gross Profit as you would with 1,000 in-person participants.
In other words, virtual events are 42% more profitable than in-person events.
Plus, you get to sleep-in.
There are a variety of ways to manage a virtual event. Suffice to say, it doesn’t have to be difficult. For instance, over at EnMotive we help your virtual events by streamlining registration, providing results posting, participant photos (yup, participant photos for virtual events), packet mailings, merchandise procurement, marketing and more. You just basically come up with the idea and then count your money. (I’m exaggerating…. a little. But not really. But maybe a little. But you get the idea.)
Virtual Best Practices
A couple of months ago I did a whole webinar around best practices for virtual events. But this email is already too long and you probably are ready for me to shut my virtual trap. So I’ll leave those best practices for a different note, when you’ve maybe slept more or liquored up or did whatever you have to do in order to get this far in one of my missives.
Let me know if you have any virtual questions, would ya?