Follow the money

One of the great appeals of running is its accessibility. Most of us can run – at least for a minute or so – and most own a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

Really the only thing you might need to buy before you can get started is a pair of trainers, although barefoot runners would argue that even that isn’t really necessary.

Unlike sports like golf, tennis, cycling or swimming, running has virtually no financial barriers to participation. In terms of material constraints alone, running must be one of the most open and accessible of sports.

But of course a sport as popular as running is bound to attract commercial interest. Runners are a huge potential market. And lots of companies have developed products and services to sell to them, from trainers and GPS watches to dietary supplements and adventure races.

So whilst running can be free, it can also be expensive, and for some the annual running bill can really start to add up.

As part of the Big Running Survey (BRS) we asked runners how much money they spend on running in a typical year. Of course this could only be an estimate, but the results can help shed some light on how much we’re spending, what we’re spending it on, and who’s spending the most (and least).

So first of all, let’s take a look at the spread of spending across the BRS data.

Figure 1

As you can see in figure 1, few runners spent less than £100, and the majority say they spent between £101 and £500. About 18% of runners fall into the ‘Big Spender’ category that we’ll have a look at next. They are runners who remember spending over £500 in the last year.

So who are running’s Big Spenders? There are lots of ways we can answer this, including by demographics, motivations or activities. Let’s try to construct a profile of the highest spenders based on all of these factors. First, demographics:

Figure 2

So gender, age and income level are all relevant here. Young runners, women and lower income runners spend less than older, male and high income runners respectively.

Next we’ll look at motivations. In figure 3 silver bars represent spend of £500-£1000 and gold indicates spend of over £1000. I’ve picked out groups based on their expression of a strong level of five distinctive motivations. For each I have calculated the percentage of runners with high spending.

Figure 3

Putting the data depicted in figures 2 and 3 together we’re beginning to build a tentative profile of the ultimate high spending runner. It looks like they could be a middle-aged man with a high income who is competitively minded.

But what kind of running is our big spender interested in? In figure 4 we explore this by examining the proportion of high spending runners across a variety of forms of the sport.

The data suggests that ultra marathon runners are most commonly high spenders. So let’s put all of these attributes together into a single profile and see how its spending compares to the groups we’ve looked at so far.

To recap, our profile suggests the top spenders tend to be:

  • Male
  • 30+ years old
  • High earners (£50k+)
  • Highly competitive
  • Ultra marathon racers

Looking just at runners who fit this profile, we find 46% spend at least £500 per year, so only a little more than ultra runners per se (43%). And as it turns out, the best single predictor of high running spend is indeed involvement in ultra marathons.

This makes sense given the social profile of ultra marathoning. The BRS suggests that ultras attract a disproportionate number of middle-aged men, particularly those with high personal incomes. And we know these attributes are all individually related to spend level.

Ultra racing also demands a very high level of commitment in terms of time spent training, so may attract more highly engaged runners than other forms, on average. This may well also help push spend up.

So, if ultra runners are the biggest spenders, who are the smallest?

The answer appears to be women who never race and who run to manage their weight. Only 4.5% of this group spends over £500 per year, and none at all spend over £1000.

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