Before you base your racing business on any niche off-road sport, you first need to apply some market force thinking to your real world business strategy.
If you’re not sure what market force thinking is, please take a look at my article Look before you leap into race promotion.
In that article, I introduce the concept of market research, and how you should use it to inform you business decisions based on three market forces:
The idea is to use research as a tool to inform us about the potential — or lack of potential — that exists in each fringe sport.
In particular, we look at how the real world views our sport’s market, competitors, and customers, to figure out if the sport is growing, or is just a fad.
Ideally, before you promote any sport, you need to ask yourself these three questions:
- #1 — Is there a market supporting this sport?
- #2 — Are there already competitors promoting races for this sport?
- #3 — Are there enough customers paying to participate in this sport?
These are not easy questions to answer.
However, when it comes to understanding market forces, nothing works better than an example!
To help us apply market force thinking to your real world business strategy, we’re going to take a quick look at the up-and-coming endurance sport called “snowshoeing”.
In particular, the market viability of snowshoe racing.
Defining the sport
The first thing you need to do when conducting market research is to define what you are researching.
So we first need to define what snowshoes are.
According to Jim Morrison at smithsonian.com in his article The History of Snowshoe Racing, snowshoes were a creation of the American Indians to help them travel acrossed tops of deep snowfields without sinking.
Each American Indian snowshoe tribes had their own shoe design based on how they used it.
One tribe had developed a bear paw shape snowshoe — short and wide — that worked well in forested areas.
While another tribe had developed a canoe shaped snowshoes — long and thin — that would be good for cross country travel.
Then there is the one we all know: The Michigan snowshoe.
Many of us think still think of The Michigan — a webbed, tennis-racket looking snowshoe — when we think of snowshoes.
However, today’s modern snowshoe used in racing is a distant cousin to the snowshoes used by American Indians.
These snowshoes are designed with speed in mind and built with lightweight frames with metal cleats.
Plus they come in an assortment of neat colors and sizes, all designed to attach to just about any trail shoe.
The rise of snowshoe racing also parallels the rise in popularity of snowshoeing.
According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, over 3-million Americans traipsed through the winter wonderland on snowshoes in 2009, a 17.4 percent increase over 2008. That was 7 years ago.
Does that data still hold up?
The closest I could find on that was The Outdoor Recreation Economy 2012 and the Outdoor Industry Recreation Economy Report 2012 [DOWNLOAD PDF].
This report helps put this spending in perspective by stating that Americans spend nearly as much on Snow Sports ($53 billion) as they do on Internet access ($54 billion).
What about snowshoe racing?
Morrison points out that the forerunners of snowshoe-racing associations were the snowshoe recreation clubs that began in Canada and the northeastern United States in the late 18th century.
These snowshoe clubs would conduct major snowshoe outing events in places that including Montreal and northern New England towns.
Then it happened.
Someone challenged someone else to a race in their snowshoes.
And snowshoe racing was born.
Now, it appears that snowshoe racing has become an increasingly popular sport in the United States, Canada, and in Europe, with the creation of national and international snowshoe racing organizations.
In the United States, a season can begin with a race in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Truckee, California in December, and ends in March with the National Snowshoe Championships in places like Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Europe has races like the La Ciaspolada Snowshoe Race.
In this race located in the Italian Dolomites, more than 5,000 people compete in a ten-kilometer event where former Olympic marathoners show up on the podium.
So, using our example, let’s ask our first Market Forces question:
#1 — Is there a Market for Snowshoe racing?
One of the Outdoor Industry Association’s members, the Snowsports Industries of America (SIA), completed their own Snow Sports Participant Study in 2014.
They saw growth in retail sales of snowshoes from 2008 to 2011, but in 2012, that growth has started to decline with a 10-percent drop in sales going into 2014.
This validates Morrison’s article from 2011, where he noted the rising interest in snowshoe racing.
Unfortunately, the snowshoe industry started showing a decline in sales in 2012.
Although the snow sports industry on a whole still takes in approximately $53 Billion a year, the decline that started in 2012, has continued into 2015.
Why is this an important trend to take note of?
Because this could mean that snowshoeing peaked in 2012, is any investment in snowshoe racing could be a risky venture as a result.
But it could also be due to some seasonally warm winters and a lack of snow.
You would certainly need to find the data from the last two years to make any solid judgments.
For now, there are still snowshoes being sold and snowshoe races being held.
This all points to surviving snowshoe market, despite any decline in product sales and participation.
That leads us to your second Market Forces question:
#2 — Is there competitors producing snowshoe races?
Clearly, there are competitors.
In the United States, the United States Snowshoe Association (USSSA) is the governing body for snowshoe racing.
The USSSA reports dozens of races still being held in most regions of the country, including both snow or no-snow races, with courses that vary from 10-km to half and full marathons.
Some of the bigger events include the Granite State Snowshoe Series held in New Hampshire, from January thru March since.
This race claims that snowshoe racing is one of the fastest growing winter sports in the northeast, starting with only 3 races in 2009, and now growing to 9 races in 2017.
With each of these races averaging between 50 and 200 snowshoe racers per race, the Granite State Snowshoe Series does appear to be an example of an active customer base.
Additionally, the race promoters Granite State Snowshoe Series have used snowshoe racing in the Winter, to augment their trail racing in the Spring and Summer months.
The parallels are obvious.
Their snowshoe races just happen to occur on the same trails that are used for trail racing on from April through December.
What’s the difference?
The same is true for races in the Southwest in States like Arizona.
When Flagstaff, Arizona does not get snow for their snowshoe races, they quickly switch their race into a trail run.
Snow or no-snow, these competitors have figured out how to adapt to an unpredictable Mother Nature.
But they have also figured out how to maximize their race schedule to allow them to host races year round.
Now the most important Market Forces question to ask:
#3 — Are there customers paying to attend snowshoe races?
What about customers?
The Granite State Snowshoe Series shows some good demand with races averaging between 50 and 200 snowshoe racers per race.
But that’s only in New Hampshire!
What about where you live?
Here in Virginia, we’re not exactly known for being a snowy place; at least not a place that gets the kind of snow you need for a snowshoe race.
Well, that’s where the media helps us out.
Now this is not exhaustive, but just some quick research and we find the following articles:
- Runner’s World — 12 Snowshoe Races to Run This Winter
- Outside Magazine — Snowshoe Running 101 – Everything you need to get started in winter’s most underrated endurance sport.
- Outside Magazine — The Best Snowshoes of 2016
- Trail Runner Magazine — How in the World Do You Train for a Snowshoe Marathon?
- Snowshoe Magazine — The Running Shoe You Need for Snowshoe Racing
What did you discover?
With a minimal amount of research and some basic analysis, we’ve determined that:
1. There is a market for snowshoes and snowshoe racing. The sales part might be declining, but we know the racing part is still very active
2. We know there are competitors who are promoting races, we know there is a governing association, and we know there is a National Championships every year. And a quick search found The 2017 World Snowshoe Championships that will take place Adirondacks of Northern New York in February.
3. And there is a growing customer base of racers that are interested in reading about snowshoe racing, are paying registration fees, and showing up to races.
What does your research tell you?
Based on this research and this research alone, you might conclude that promoting snowshoe racing might be a good experiment for your business.
Unless you live in Florida, where snowshoeing might be too fringe for a racing business in the Everglades.
However, if there a chance that snow could fall, even a snow/no-snow race could be interesting to your customers when paired with trail running as a fallback plan.
Does that mean those areas that don’t ever get snow are out of the snowshoe racing business?
But snowshoe racing is not the only Winter sport to work in a no-snow environment.
Other sports like the biathlon can equally work with a little imagination my article (check out Principles of the No Snow Biathlon).
If you are fortunate enough to live in an area that gets reasonable snowfall for at least part of the year, you could safely add a snowshoe race to your racing portfolio.
Just remember to start small, stay simple, and do more research.
Follow your passions, but trust your research
Do not assume your passion for building a certain kind of race, will be carried by those whom you want to race in it.
What you think is not always what the market thinks.
But do not think that your love for a fringe sport will always steer you wrong either.
Your passion is an advantage, that will help you keep going when the building of races becomes hard.
It could also be the one thing that inspires others to find the same joy in your fringe sport as you do.
Think about it.
Inspiring others in weird sports describes just about every famous sports success story there is.
You can be the catalyst that gets a race discipline from out of the shadows and into the mainstream.
Just ask the race promoters who were the first to pitch a 100-mile trail run or challenged mountain bike riders to do five downhill events in one day.
They could have easily quit when only 20 racers showed up to their first race.
But it was their passion, just like yours, that helped them discover what kind of market forces their fringe sport had.
Nobody really knows until you experiment, and create something for others to experience for the first time.
If they like it, they could ask for more.
And that could be just the thing to push your race business from the hobby you do in your past time, to the race promotion business you do full time.
And now you know!