Until last year, Competitor Group Inc., a San Diego-based organizer of themed road races, made money off its Rock 'n' Roll Marathons, TriRock Triathlons, and Muddy Buddy adventure series in two ways: entry fees and sponsorships. Then newly hired chief digital officer Alex Baxter began noticing other ways to wring cash from the dashes. Here's how the ensuing "participant continuum" has helped boost CGI's digital profits.
The continuum begins when someone registers for a race. CGI acquired a registration engine, RaceIt.com, so it not only gets entry fees but also racer demographic info. Since RaceIt also serves more than 1,700 non-CGI events, it's expected to log 450,000 names in 2012. That provides "a larger audience for marketing our other assets," explains CEO Scott Dickey.
Once a person has signed up, she is taken down an online "registration path." The first stop is a screen that hawks training plans for $25 or $30. Says Baxter: "This is no PDF. It's a program that ties in to your watch and syncs with your computer." The 18-or 24-week plans vary based on runner experience level, and users are emailed daily workouts.
CGI noticed that its events give host cities an average tourism bump of $21 million. "We needed to get a bigger piece of that," says Baxter. In November, CGI partnered with Orbitz to launch RunnersTraveling.com, which sells flights, hotels, and rental cars to racers. CGI gets 10% to 20% of the booking revenue. Baxter believes it will soon be a significant revenue source.
Each race has an expo, so CGI provides an app containing coupons to encourage on-site sales. CGI's next step is to have users scan a bar code at booths so it can chart purchasing behavior. That data will be used to attract brands to the expo and to target ads on CGI's editorial site, Competitor.com.
"People want that finish-line photo," says Baxter, "but no one is going to get it with their iPhone." To immortalize the masses, CGI partnered with MarathonFoto.com, which takes pictures during events. In 2011, 15% of racers bought photos ranging in price from $14 for a finish-line shot to $100 for a plaque and CD of images. Next, CGI may add photo-prepurchase plans to the registration process.
During registration, CGI has racers join its new e-commerce site, GearBuzz.com, which sends emails offering deals on gear. CGI and the supplying partner split the revenue 50-50. "We wanted to get deeper into commerce without having inventory," says Baxter. "It's the anti-Groupon: Not only do users buy the product we're promoting, but our partners are seeing a 20% to 35% lift in sales on other items on their sites."
If runners traveled for one race, they may be willing to do it again. So CGI offers discounted entry to other destination events. One day it may use buying histories to offer tailored product deals between races, but not yet. Says Baxter: "There's a delicate balance between upselling and bombarding."
A version of this article appeared in the October 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.