Why Do Races Give Out So Much Stuff?

As long as the event market remains saturated and competitive, don’t expect to see a return to minimalism.

Robert asks: Do you think the trend of races giving out more stuff (medals, swag, and so on) will continue? Or will race minimalism return?

As the number of races continues to grow, attracting participants is becoming more and more competitive. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: it forces race directors to provide a quality experience and to “think outside the box” to make an event the event in a given area on a given date.

There are certainly many factors that determine the level of interest runners have in a particular race. Some of those factors include:

  • When the race is held.
  • Where the race is held.
  • The history of the race.
  • The race’s charity beneficiaries or the cause it supports.
  • How well managed the race is.
  • The distances offered.
  • The likely weather (a factor of when and where the race is held).
  • The cost to enter.

However, if there are two or more races in a given area that are more or less equal on these fronts, what do runners look at next? In many cases, it’s the stuff they get with their entry: the quality of the T-shirt, what comes in the race packet, what’s offered at the expo, what kind of awards are available, and of course, the size and design of the coveted finisher’s medal.

Far more runners aim to finish an event than to be competitive in it, and those runners like to be rewarded for their effort. Sporting a shirt or hat from an event and displaying its medal helps tell the world about a runner’s accomplishment.

It is my opinion that S.W.A.G. (“stuff we all get”) will be around for a long time and will receive even more attention and more interest in future years. Races that ignore this popular aspect of the runner experience may end up losing participants to other races that offer these perks and put a lot of emphasis in their promotional campaigns on what they give away to all finishers.


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