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How can events cater for generational trends?
9 December 2013

In my last blog (Endurance events and an ageing population) I talked about how endurance sports are full of the older generation, sometimes referred to as baby-boomers or generation X-er’s. I surmised that the younger generations aren’t attracted to traditional endurance events like the seniors are.

It made me think about the key differences in generational expectations. From personal experience I’d say pre-baby-boomers had very limited choices in the sports available to them and expectations on participating into older age were low, unless you count golf and lawn bowls as sports.

Baby-boomers live longer and have better health and more leisure time, which has led to expectations quite different from those of the previous generation. This group, now entering or nearing retirement age, is filling the fields in our endurance fixtures. Events like marathons, triathlons, ironman events and mass participation bike rides.

Sports that baby-boomers are interested in need to cater for their expectations; triathlon has done a great job of this with a national network of clubs, age group divisions split into five year age groups and age groups for national representation. As a result, including the baby-boomers in event promotion and event production is essential for most endurance events.

Bad music and day-care: Gen-X

So now to the generation I more closely identify with: generation-X, also known as the ‘missing generation’ (and one linked to some of the worst popular music; what’s wrong with the Doors, David Bowie and Duran Duran?)

This is a generation sent to day-care and the parents of which have the highest divorce rates in history. It is also apparently a generation disconnected from issues around it and the most apathetic when it comes to voting.

This lot is likely to be parents of older children and less likely to be involved in clubs. These folk have both parents working, meaning that leisure time is hard-won and both Mum and Dad expect time off in the weekend to pursue their hobbies.

Right now, this generation is busy - but not too busy to get stuck into exercise, as many will participate in endurance sports for health. Women in this age group are showing their colours by entering en-masse in all sorts of endurance sports. A good example of that is the ‘all girl adventure race’ in Hokitika, an event which takes just hours to fill its places when entries go live.

What can endurance sports organisers do to cater for the varied needs of different generations? Catering for women is a good start. Gen-X women expect to be rewarded for hard work, so make sure that there are great prizes for the top contenders and appropriate spot prizes. Forget a unisex T-shirt, make sure it’s a women’s specific item in stylish colour - and prizes don’t need to be sports-oriented. For example, most ladies would consider jewellery a winner.

Sophisticated and in the moment: Gen-Y

From gen-X, it’s time to look at the next lot now entering our events as they move into their late twenties and early thirties. Sometimes called millennials or eco-boomers, generation-Y is the regular recipient of slightly disparaging labels from those who precede them. Terms including ‘lazy’, ‘gone by lunch’ and ‘me-centric’ are not uncommon; however, look a little closer and you’ll find plenty of positive characteristics.

Gen-Y is thought to be the best-educated yet and sophisticated technology- wise. This is an incredibly cause-driven and flexible group. This generation is also very last minute so don’t expect sign-ups to your event months ahead. Members of this lot expect everything to be done on-line and they expect to be involved in the event via all forms of social media.

This group, mentioned in my last blog, is less interested in the ‘longer is better’ mentality.

What can event promoters and organisers do to meet the needs of this tech-savvy and ‘extremely unmoved by traditional marketing methods’ group? Start by making sure what you are offering actually appeals to them. Cater to the fun quotient (like the mud runs) and look at what is popular, like mountain biking gravity-only races.

Changing generations, changing tactics

Once you have your offering sorted, look outside traditional marketing approaches. An advert in a magazine may not do the job; getting creative and really targeting the audience is where the effort should go.

Making the call to action convincing and compelling is much more important, especially for the generation seemingly impervious to offers and specials. Linking your event with a social or environmental cause will also appeal to their need to be part of something bigger and contributing to the greater good.

More change…enter the Zed

Of course, just when you think you’ve got it all sorted, from baby-boomer to gen-X and Y, along comes…a whole new kettle of fish. Those born after 1994 and up to 2004 are (unsurprisingly, perhaps) bundled into generation-Z.

This lot doesn’t know life without technology. They were born with PCs, mobile phones, tablets, gaming consoles and the internet. Think gen-Y knew its way around a computer? You ain’t seen nothing yet, and the Zeds also want to share their lives online via social media.

Will this generation actually want to participate in endurance sports when they can stay indoors and live in an electronic world? That’s one that’s out to the jury – but multi-tasking is common and shorter attention spans are predicted.

It may be that those from this generation who turn up to endurance events will want to share their experience as they participate. Ideas include making Wi-Fi available so they can text, tweet, Facebook and stream their experience via a go-pro helmet; there’s probably a lot more to it than that - which brings us to the good news. Catering for this generation will probably be the job of someone in generation Y.

Keeping all generations interested

While there is always the notion that ‘numbers are falling off’ with each successive generation exponentially more addicted to the cyber-world, there will always be a subset who are attracted to the outdoors, competition and adventure.








However, their expectations from an event may be quite different: shorter sharper and more extreme is my prediction. And only those event organisers and event promoters who understand what each generation requires will get it right. Whether you do it intuitively or simply by accident doesn’t really matter. What does is staying in touch with each generation to set your event apart.


- MV

Comment on this post


10 Dec 2013

Posted by: Jim Robinson

"I agree Mike. Just gotta adapt, adapt, adapt, evolve, evolve, evolve. Sport has always reflected society of the time, and has changed continually. Heck, even the classic era of harrier running was really no more than about 1930-1985. There will always be