Founded in 1989 by Joe Caputo, the Autumn Shoreline Classic, now referred to as simply the Shoreline Classic, is a 5k/15k road race held annually along the shores of Lake Decatur. After experiencing huge success in its first seven years, participation in the event slowly started to dwindle. While attendance hit a record high in 1994 with 942 runners, only 500 runners participated in 1996 and an even lower number of approximately 150 attended in 2001.
Part of the events drop in attendance in the late 1990s could have been due to the decision to eliminate the prize money. Caputo had always maintained that the Shoreline Classic is first and foremost a road race that caters to back-of-the-pack runners (Donley, 2004). Caputo did not feel that the prize money was benefiting the race nor making the race grow, so in 1994 he decided to drop the monetary awards.
Caputo stayed on as race director until 1996. The event then bounced around under various race directors until 2002 when a group of community leaders embarked on the challenge of re-energizing this event. Under the direction of Bruce Bennett, a 3-year plan was put in place to return the event to the premiere road race it once was. Their goal was to resurrect the monetary prizes and get the race back up to 500 runners by 2004.
Although they put forth a great effort, they missed their mark. In their first year, they doubled the previous years attendance with a total of 310 runners. In year two of their three-year plan they hit the 440 mark. Everyone had their eye on the 500 goal in 2004, but was disappointed when only approximately 400 signed up. Not only had they missed their mark of 500, but they had even fallen short of the previous years participation. The total prize purse of $3,250 offered in 2004, the most awarded since the drop of prize money 10 years prior, was not the answer to growing the event. Caputo was right.
In an effort to retain current runners and increase participation of additional runners, the board of directors of the Shoreline Classic has asked us to conduct a study measuring current participant satisfaction and identifying key factors that the running community feels are important in a road race. They plan to use the results of this study to re-evaluate their current long-term strategic plan they have in place and to hopefully set them back on track to return the Shoreline to an event attended by 1,000 runners.
As the nation focuses more and more on fitness and healthy lifestyles the running industry has been seeing a boost in road race participation and increased revenues in the industry as a whole. As reported in the USA Track and Fields Road Running Information Centers State of the Sport report road races have seen an increase in finishers of 60% since 1993 (2004). The report also cited data from the National Sporting Goods Association showing that sales of running apparel had increased 10% from 2002 to 2003, the largest increase of any sport, despite overall spending on sporting apparel being down. Despite these positive trends the USA Track and Field (USATF) found that from 2002 to 2003 road races actually saw a minor decrease in total finishers of 1%, the first decrease since the USATF started tracking attendance in 1987. The bad news in these findings for the Shoreline Classic is that the shorter road races are the ones being affected the most. The Shoreline Classic offers 5K and 15K runs and the USATF study found that participation in these two distances dropped off 4% and 7% respectively.
To increase attendance and continue to grow into a larger event, the Shoreline Classics organizers will need to analyze race trends, look at things that have made other races successful, and the demographics of runners they wish to attract. The USATF found that challenges to short race participation include training programs not affiliated with the event, too many events, and races that lack uniqueness. Directors can also use demographic information about runners to target parts of the population to try and draw to their event. Using data provided by American Sports Data Inc. and the National Sporting Goods Association the USATF found demographic information such as the number of women and men runners are about the same, running households use the Internet more than any other sporting household, and that many runners have above average income and education. This information could be extremely useful for race directors to use in marketing and promotion.
Studies have also shown that the types of individuals participating in road races today are very different than those who ran in the early 1970s, when running first became popular (Ferstle). Runners from the 1970s were former high school or collegiate athletes who wanted to continue participating in a sport at which they excelled. Todays runners are running for a variety of reasons. Whether its for the health aspect or the social aspect, their main driver is to finish the race. As this is becoming the largest segment of the running community, race directors would be wise to listen to what these runners want and try to cater events toward them. Not only would this keep current participants coming back each year, but it would also help the race grow as participants provide free, positive advertising for the event.
One successful way to determine if a race is meeting expectations is by asking participants to complete a survey about the event. Many races such as the Barr Trail Mountain Race are followed by a short survey to monitor runners satisfactions with everything from the course itself to the sponsors helping with the event. Once the surveys are complete the results are summarized and the event organizers make the appropriate changes or improvements to the race and race day events. In addition to surveying the participants, Road Race Management has found it very useful to survey race directors. The directors are involved with every aspect of the racing event and those who are successful can offer insight into what they to do make the race a success (Tinsley). To further the possibility of conducting a successful event, the Chicago Area Runners Association went on to create a race directors information packet. The creators of the packet took all of the pieces that made a race successful and broke them down into steps for directors to follow. Though there are no guarantees that following those steps will make a race successful, perhaps if the organizers of the Shoreline Classic review those steps and compare them to what is already being done, they can identify weak areas and improve upon them.
Increasing participation at the Shoreline Classic has many benefits including giving exposure to the community and allowing the Decatur Running Club to attract new members. The biggest benefit, though, is the money that the event can bring into the community. Several studies have shown the economic impact running events can have. The Crim Festival of Races brought an estimated $8.5 million to the Flint, Michigan area (Michiganrunner.net), the 2004 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon/10K brought in about $6.8 million (Runnersweb.com), and the SBLI Falmouth Road Race brought around $5 million to the local area (sblifalmouthroadrace.com). Although these races are larger than what the Shoreline Classic currently is, this shows that a successful road race event can benefit both the runners and the local community.
The proposed study seeks to find what factors draw runners to races and how the Shoreline Classic can use this information to implement these factors to increase participation. Although the study will look at all aspects of a race, close attention will be paid to three areas that the researchers believe have contributed to the decline of participation. First will be the effect of too many other running events close to the time of the race. The 2004 race took place around the same time as the St. Jude 5K in Morton, IL, a trail run in Danville, IL, and the Chicago Marathon. Second will be a possible lack of uniqueness. With the increase in the number of races, a successful event must find a way to set itself apart from the others and attract runners. Lastly is a lack of a proper level of marketing and promotion. The study will find the most effective methods of marketing the race. Much of the research will give us information on what the 2004 participants think of the race, and this will be important data to have as the Shoreline Classic tries to maintain its current participants. The main purpose of the research, though, is to find how the race can tap into a new participant base and get the levels back up to 1,000 or more runners.
A questionnaire will be utilized to survey approximately 900 runners mainly located throughout Central Illinois. The survey will include approximately 100 runners from each of the following clubs: Decatur Running Club (Decatur), Lake Run Club (Bloomington/Normal), Second Wind Running Club (Champaign), Springfield Road Runners Club (Springfield), and the Illinois Valley Striders (Peoria). Four of the five running clubs listed above participate and share in a point-system circuit series of races. The survey will also include the approximately 400 runners who participated in the September 2004 Shoreline Classic that was sponsored by the Decatur Running Club. There will be some overlap between the Central Illinois running clubs and the Shoreline Classic participants, however, this overlap will be minimal and not greatly affect the results of our survey size. The research will also contain comments and insights from Joe Caputo, founder of the Shoreline Classic, Bruce Bennett, current race director of the Shoreline Classic, and Mitch Hobbs, storeowner of Often Running in Bloomington. The Decatur Running Club has decided to give the ten random survey respondents free entry into the 2005 Shoreline Classic.
The questionnaire will serve two purposes: assess participant satisfaction with the event and measure sponsorship awareness. It will contain approximately 30 questions, some of which will be multiple choice and some that will require comments. The questionnaire will contain questions that are specific to each participant such as sex, age, and training regimen. It will also contain questions that deal with each aspect of a race from the beginning to the end. The race questions will be related to the entry process, course, amenities, awards, and post race ceremonies.
(2004, August 8). Economic impact survey concludes runners spend more than time in Falmouth. Retrieved October 5, 2004 from Web site: http://www.sblifalmouthroadrace.com
(2004, August 30). Athletics: 2004 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon/10k generates more than $6.8 million economic impact. Retrieved September 28, 2004 from Web site: http://www.runnersweb.com
(n.d.). 2004 Race Director Information & CARA Race Application. Retrieved October 2, 2004 from http://www.CARAruns.org
Ferstle, Jim. (n.d.). Events Grow; Runners Slow. Whos Behind the New Boom in Running? Road Race Management Newsletter. Retrieved October 2, 2004 from http://www.rrm.com/rrmsamplej00.htm.
(2004, December 17). Crim Boosts Flint Area Economy by $8.5 Million in 2003. Retrieved October 6, 2004 from Web site: http://www.michiganrunner.net
(July 2004). USA Track & Field. The State of the Sport-July 2004. Retrieved October 8, 2004 from Web site: http://www.runningusa.org
(n.d.). Barr Trail Mountain Race. Retrieved September 29, 2004 from Web Site:
Tinsley, Harold. (n.d.). RRM Survey. Retrieved September 29, 2004 from Web Site: