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The commercial world of mass participation and fitness sports

6 min read

An overview of the dynamic and continuously growing landscape of mass participation and fitness sports and its marketing strategies.


Navigating the dynamic landscape of mass participation sports and marketing strategies

In an era where fitness trends are rapidly evolving, participation sports have emerged as a cornerstone of contemporary sports marketing strategy. These events represent a symbiotic fusion of community engagement, sports sponsorship, and corporate social responsibility. As we delve into the intricacies of sports event management and the burgeoning wellness industry, this blog explores the current landscape of mass participation sports. From sustainable practices in sports events to the integration of digital technologies in sports marketing, we're witnessing a paradigm shift. This shift is not just altering the way brands connect with audiences but also redefining the experiential dimensions of fitness.

The growing business of mass participation sports

Mass participation sports are athletic events that encourage broad public engagement, often with thousands of participants at a single occasion. These events are characterised not only by their scale but also by their capacity to foster an active lifestyle among a wide demographic. From marathons to cycling tours and obstacle course races, fitness industry trends are opening avenues for professional and amateur athletes alike to indulge in the spirit of sport.

The industry witnessed a burgeoning expansion with the wellness economy, inclusive of sectors like physical activity, projected to reach $8.5 trillion by 2027, according to the Global Wellness Institute. This expansion was particularly notable in the running industry, which experienced a 'second running boom' in the early 2000s. Fuelled by growing health consciousness and the social aspects of running events, the active lifestyle market grew 5.5% to $40.5 billion in 2020 as reported by the 2021 Active Lifestyle Report. The widespread participation in these events is not merely a testament to their accessibility but also to the human desire for communal activities, collective experiences, and the overall wellness economy.

Through the years, mass participation sports have developed into a substantial segment of the sports industry now valued at more than $1.5 trillion with an annual growth rate of 5 to 10 percent as estimated by McKinsey. Today, these events are not just about the sports themselves but also about the experience and the community. They offer a unique platform for sponsors and advertisers, providing them with a broad, engaged audience. As a result, mass participation sponsors have found fertile ground in these events, aligning their brands with the positive values of sport and an active lifestyle.

Sponsorship and sustainability through mass participation sports events

Fitness events offer a unique opportunity for brands to develop sports sponsorship strategies. This approach hinges on both broad visibility and fostering a deep connection with communities and participants.

These events are inherently community-centric and involve participants of various demographics, often with a common cause or interest at the heart of the event. A brand that aligns itself with a charity run could resonate with community values and individual motivations, creating an affinity that is less about the overt display of a logo and more about the genuine support of the event’s cause or ethos. It therefore builds on corporate social responsibility efforts in sport.

The integration of sponsorship into mass participation events can be both subtle and impactful, enhancing the participants' journey and tying the brand to positive personal milestones, be it completing a first 5K or achieving a personal best in a marathon.

Sponsorship can also pivot towards sustainability, a growing concern among consumers, especially within the context of mass participation events where the environmental footprint can be significant. Brands can invest in sustainable practices for the event, like reducing waste or offsetting carbon emissions, which in turn fortifies their commitment to corporate social responsibility.

Sustainable running events is something that the Acea Run Rome The Marathon has been looking to incorporate over the last few years. The marathon has made significant strides in sustainability, achieving notable early successes. In 2023, a partnership with Associazione Banco Alimentare Roma ODV allowed the event to donate its food surplus to those in need. This effort saw the recovery of 43.57 tonnes of beverages and food, including 18,000 litres of water and 20,000 litres of isotonic drinks, as well as 1,280 kg of food and snacks, 90 kg of thermal blankets, 240 kg of race bags, and 210 kg of t-shirts. The initiative also led to a reduction in emissions, saving an equivalent of 11.72 tonnes of CO2.

This approach calls for creativity and a willingness to go beyond traditional sponsorship metrics. It requires an understanding that the return on investment may not be immediately evident through direct sales or conventional media exposure but through the cultivation of brand loyalty and alignment with community values.

UPS's Integration in B2Run for enhanced brand visibility and community engagement

UPS has been an official supplier for B2Run since 2019. As the official shipping partner, the cooperation showcases UPS's service quality to the approximately 10,000 companies participating annually in B2Run. With 260k participants across the DACH-region, the B2Run series reflects the biggest running series in central Europe. UPS has seamlessly integrated its services into the B2Run customer journey by offering participating companies the option to have their team materials conveniently shipped directly to their offices with UPS Express Saver®. For select events, UPS delivery of start documents to all teams is required.

The brand's visibility is further amplified at events through prominent placements, such as environmentally friendly UPS vehicles on display at event entrances and course branding.

Additionally, B2Run serves as a platform in Germany and Switzerland for hundreds of UPS's own employees who take part in the runs across the two countries which promotes team building, motivation, internal networking, and physical activity. Notably, the active participation of UPS employees in B2Run events has increased over the years, reflecting growing engagement and enthusiasm.


Zespri Kiwi catering to health-conscious consumers through schauinsland Muddy Angel Run & XLETIX Kids

The collaboration between global fruit supplier Zespri and schauinsland Muddy Angel Run began in 2019 as a regional partnership through two events in Germany. This expanded a year later in 2020 as it was named national partner in Germany before growing further in 2021 to include Switzerland also. Zespri also joined the XLETIX Kids series in 2021, which showed an enormous growth from its initiation in 2020 to more than 100k participants in 2023, including the Official World Record for the Largest Obstacle Course Event for Children counting 6,617 participants at a single event this year.

Zespri supplies participants with fresh kiwis on the course, creating a vibrant atmosphere at events. The sponsorship includes product sampling, directly targeting a highly relevant audience. Unlike many other sports events, participants spend time at the refreshment station as there is no timing involved and no pressure on runners.


The sponsorship has achieved increased brand awareness through on-site activations, with an average recall rate of 83%. Extensive and authentic digital integrations, including highlight videos and albums with approximately 30K reach each, have also contributed to higher brand recognition. The partnership has strengthened the brand's association with movement and healthy eating as part of the shared mission of promoting health, supported by the XLETIX GmbH.

Columbia Sportswear building brand awareness through Megamarsch

Columbia Sportswear was named Presenting Partner, and thus the largest sponsor of Megamarsch in 2023. The partnership aims to promote responsible nature conservation through hiking whilst raising awareness about high-quality outdoor clothing and sustainability. Columbia's products are showcased digitally across all channels, displayed at events, and integrated into the official Megamarsch logo.

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The brand also aims to highlight the durability of its products and establish itself among the enthusiastic hiking audience in German-speaking countries. Through discounts and collaborations with influencers, Columbia encourages participants to engage with their products and expand their presence in the DACH region. The partnership emphasizes a shared vision and values between Columbia and Megamarsch.

The Growth of Fitness as an Industry

Fitness industry trends are burgeoning, and currently positioned at the heart of a health-conscious revolution. The World Health Organization's warning rings clear; a quarter of the global population isn't engaging in enough physical activity. In response, the wellness economy, with an estimated worth of nearly $100 billion, is innovating at a rapid pace, catering to the diverse needs of modern consumers. 

The experiential economy

Today’s fitness enthusiasts demand more than a mere space for exercise; they seek immersive experiences that blend physical activity with social engagement and personal fulfilment. In response, companies are crafting opportunities that foster memorable experiences, leading to the rise of experiential fitness.

Events like HYROX and Megamarsch are at the vanguard, curating challenges that transcend physical benefits and offer an enthralling narrative to fitness. With its explosive growth from 43k participants in 2022 to more than 120k participants in 2023, HYROX is a perfect testimony for that. Urban exploration apps such as District harness the appeal of technology, guiding participants through interactive city adventures, weaving the fabric of fitness with the threads of discovery and play.

These offerings resonate because they're synchronous with the prevailing winds of the market.

Participants: A growing tribe

The Infront Active Lifestyle business centres around creating unforgettable and emotional experiences, allowing to build a unique IP portfolio of events, and supporting Infront’s vision to achieve global leadership in participation sports/active lifestyle while also surfing a noble business purpose by contributing to a more active and healthier world.

Infront's events have become a focal point for this burgeoning fitness culture. The graph below illustrates the rising number of participants at Infront's events over the years, a testament to the company's alignment with industry trends and consumer demands.

Infront Active Lifestyle 2023 (3)

This trajectory is more than just numbers; it encapsulates the shift in societal norms, where fitness is as much about community and experience as it is about health.