It's Live! Go! Go! Go! Disney Strikes Gold With the Avengers Half Marathon

by Lani Teshima, staff writer
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When Disney announced last month the introduction of a brand new Avengers Half Marathon Weekend (with its accompanying 5K and kids races) at the Disneyland Resort November 14–16, response in the Team MousePlanet forum on our MousePad discussion board was mixed. Some were excited with the brand new superheroes theme. Some were perplexed that the event was for November rather than early spring (since Disneyland announced a move of its women-focused Tinker Bell Half Marathon from January to May next year).


The official full-page ad Disney used to advertise the Avengers Half Marathon Weekend. Photo © Disney.

When Disney opened early registration for annual passholders last week, however, something unexpected happened: The 5K filled up in less than an hour. The half-marathon wasn't too far behind, filling up later that afternoon.

The Internet (and MousePad) quickly filled with chatter. Could an Avengers-themed race be that popular? Why did the 5K race fill out before the half-marathon?

...and then regular registration opened this Tuesday.

The 5K sold out in less than an hour.

The kids races were next, and by two hours after registration opening, it was all over—with everything sold out except the pasta party. Even that is selling briskly, 97 percent full as of Wednesday evening and likely sold out by the end of today. [According to MousePlanet reader Melissa Mayorgas, an organizer of a charity fundraising group, her Disney contact told her that race capacity for all the weekend's events are 17,000, which is comparable to Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend.]

The only other runDisney races to sell out that quickly are the Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare Challenge (which sold out in an hour), this year's Disneyland 10K, and the inaugural Walt Disney World 10K. Even the highly anticipated WDW Dopey Challenge still took seven hours to fill.

What could have caused this registration frenzy?

In the world of running events, there are a couple of concurrent movements going on right now. One is the popularity of hallmark endurance events—which I believe are boosted by a combination of many factors (widespread acceptance of female participants thanks in part to Title IX and the general idea in the U.S. that fitness and sports are good for women; generous pacing times that allow even slower runners and walkers to finish races; the rewarding of medals to all finishers, and so on). You don't even have to look at the explosive growth of the 13.1-mile half-marathon distance in the past decade—just look at the insatiable demand for the larger marathons that caused registration servers to crash, and which led to many of them moving to a lottery system (New York City Marathon, Chicago Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon to name just three).

The other movement is that of the growing popularity of themed or "gimmick" races, like neon night races, color races, mud races, and so on, which are typically short in distance (often a 3.1-mile 5K), but which are designed to be experienced as a social event for friends.

And so it is, that with the Avengers races, Disney found the perfect sweet spot, the untapped gold mine. MousePlanet reader cstephens best sums it up this way:

"Yep, registration went as I expected. 5K sold quickly and sold out first. Kids races are selling out quickly too. The Avengers theme is sucking in a lot of people and kids who wouldn't otherwise have signed up for a race. I know we talked about this when the race was first announced, and while some of the runners here didn't express any interest in the new theme, it seems to have sparked in the general community, which I presume is what Disney expected and why they came up with this new race in the first place."

A few weekends ago, I joined some friends to participate in a 5K obstacle race that used inflatable challenges like the ones you see on the Wipeout TV show ("Oh, big balls!"). Many of the participants were there in large groups of four or more, and the majority of them chose to walk (rather than jog) in between the obstacle stations. Most notably, many of them were dressed up in costume—superhero costumes were quite prevalent. If Captain America outfits are popular at a local 5K, I cannot imagine what a cosplay extravaganza it will be this coming November at Disneyland's race.


In the days leading up to the start of race registration, the runDisney Twitter account retweets photos of race outfits. Photo by Faith Dority (@FaithDority).

Disney was really smart to schedule the 5K for Saturday—it probably would have sold out much slower had it been scheduled for Friday (which would have required participants to take time off from school or work). That said, the Friday expo will be a madhouse (this should serve as advance warning if you're planning to attend). It will be just like trying to buy souvenirs at the San Diego Comic-Con.

With the Avengers races, Disney has completely turned the race world on its head—by A) grabbing the attention of nonathletes, and B) creating a unique nexus of runners and geeks (and if you don't think that nexus exists, you need to know that another recently announced race, "Beat the Blerch" by The Oatmeal comic creator Matthew Inman, sold out in 29 minutes). While there are half-marathons that are held near National Parks, vineyards, beaches, zoos, baseball fields, and football coliseums, these provide an attraction to the endurance athlete. The popular Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series also takes it a step further with high entertainment value... but it's no Avengers. Nope; no Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America anywhere else but at this runDisney event.

A lot of smart cookies work for Disney and I'm sure they're busily trying to figure out how to leverage their intellectual property to tie in with runDisney. With the jaw-dropping, record-setting registration pace of the Avengers races, I suspect we won't have to wait long for Marvel Half Marathon Weekend, either. It's just a matter of when, not even where (we know it will be at Disneyland, due to legal issues with the use of Marvel characters in Walt Disney World, which is too close in distance to Universal Studios).

I think you're looking at a whole new genre of road races, and Disney could really be the one that starts it all. There's a reason Disney is the King Midas of the entertainment world.

Oh, but it gets even better:

Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend.

Registration for that will be... well... like trying to buy tickets for Comic-Con.

 


"The Big Bang Theory - It's Live! Go! Go! Go!" An episode of the "The Convention Conundrum." Video © "The Big Bang Theory."

Howard: "T minus 60 seconds."
Raj: "Oh it all comes down to this."
Leonard: "Ohh I've got butterflies."
Sheldon: "Don't get soft on me, Hofstadter; I will slap those glasses right off your face."
Penny: "What's going on?"
Leonard: "Hey. We're about to buy tickets for Comic-Con."
Howard: "T minus 45 seconds."
Leonard: "They sell out incredibly fast. But as long as one of us gets in..."
Sheldon: "Good lord, this is no time for flirting, keep it in your pants."
Penny: "...Whole lot of weird before coffee."
Howard: "T minus 30 seconds!"
Raj: "Oh I have to go to the bathroom soo bad."
Sheldon: "Every year. I told you, wear a diaper."
Raj: "I told you I get diaper rash!!"
Howard: "15 seconds!"
Leonard: "Oh this is it. This is it! [Uses an inhaler.] This is it."
Howard: "5... 4... 3... 2... 1"
Sheldon: "It's live! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!"
Raj: "Anyone in?"
In unison: "No!"
Sheldon: "Do not stop refreshing your screens."
In unison: "Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh."
Penny: "Yeah, this is not gonna be enough coffee."

Comments

  1. By DisneyGator

    Call me selfish, but I'm not happy to hear about this. Why? I was planning on arriving for a family trip on Nov 16. This stinking running event will probably fill up every hotel within a 2 mile radius. If I didn't know better, I'd say Disney bought controlling share in a running shoe company the way their turning the parks into the LA Colliseum. I suppose if I thought running was remotely fun, I might be happy, but I hate running. It's taken us humans thousands of years to invent bikes and cars so that we DON"T have to run everywhere - but leave it to our crazy minds to revert back to running for "fun".

  2. By RunningFool

    Quote Originally Posted by DisneyGator View Post
    Call me selfish, but I'm not happy to hear about this. Why? I was planning on arriving for a family trip on Nov 16. This stinking running event will probably fill up every hotel within a 2 mile radius. If I didn't know better, I'd say Disney bought controlling share in a running shoe company the way their turning the parks into the LA Colliseum. I suppose if I thought running was remotely fun, I might be happy, but I hate running. It's taken us humans thousands of years to invent bikes and cars so that we DON"T have to run everywhere - but leave it to our crazy minds to revert back to running for "fun".

    Hate to say it but I've heard many of the area hotels are already booked and have been since the race announcement. Sorry...

  3. By olegc

    nice review of the current state of Fan races

    BTW - It would be VERY interesting to keep tabs on sweepers and gate keepers during the 5k. If this race truly drew so many fans and not fan/runners or runners in general, you can imagine how slow some people will be to finish the race - as well as all the other problems with the 5k I heard from the Tink race (blocking the paths, etc.) They will need triple switchbacks at guest relations.

    Its my first half ever and I admit I only did it for the Avengers theme. I had toyed with the idea of Disneyland half but the time between now and then was short and I did not want to chance any heat temps. My goal, though, is to finish so I can get some bling. and - as I said before -I am keeping an eye on whether there will be a morning event on the thursday or friday so we can get into the expo early.

  4. By RunningFool

    What is interesting is while runDisney event registrations continue to go crazy and they add more capacity each year, I've seen a big drop in RnR race attendance at many of their races as well as cancellations of several of their events. RnR Seattle, which used to sell out fairly quickly, no longer does. Most of the RnR's even offer registration at their expos which never used to happen.

    Given the cost of races today, do you think that RnR is starting to lose their 'have to do' status?

  5. By olegc

    Quote Originally Posted by RunningFool View Post
    What is interesting is while runDisney event registrations continue to go crazy and they add more capacity each year, I've seen a big drop in RnR race attendance at many of their races as well as cancellations of several of their events. RnR Seattle, which used to sell out fairly quickly, no longer does. Most of the RnR's even offer registration at their expos which never used to happen.

    Given the cost of races today, do you think that RnR is starting to lose their 'have to do' status?

    so - i am not as familiar with the run event history - but could you say the RockNRoll marathons (which I believe you are alluding too) became popular with the runner crowd who were looking for new incentives to run races? or was their popularity more similar to what Disney is experiencing with their themes first, runners 2nd (well, at least with Avengers). If my premise is correct, then I think the point made earlier in the story about themed runs being targeted to a general person (a fun run if you will) are the growth point.

    Its all about the $$ and not necessarily about the running as the popularity grows.

  6. By Lani

    Quote Originally Posted by olegc View Post
    so - i am not as familiar with the run event history - but could you say the RockNRoll marathons (which I believe you are alluding too) became popular with the runner crowd who were looking for new incentives to run races? or was their popularity more similar to what Disney is experiencing with their themes first, runners 2nd (well, at least with Avengers). If my premise is correct, then I think the point made earlier in the story about themed runs being targeted to a general person (a fun run if you will) are the growth point.

    Its all about the $$ and not necessarily about the running as the popularity grows.

    I think the RnR races were highly commercialized and offered brand recognition. I also think part of the problem is that they great too fast and added too many races (I think they are up near two dozen a year). I also think all of their various extra medals is just too much; it's confusing at this point, and frankly, think it devalues their earned race medals. That's just my opinion.

  7. By RunningFool

    Quote Originally Posted by Lani View Post
    I think the RnR races were highly commercialized and offered brand recognition. I also think part of the problem is that they great too fast and added too many races (I think they are up near two dozen a year). I also think all of their various extra medals is just too much; it's confusing at this point, and frankly, think it devalues their earned race medals. That's just my opinion.

    When RnR really started up, there were much fewer half marathons to choose from so they got a lot of attention. They had a great theme (music at every mile). Their early medals were kind of 'meh' but that was before the big 'I run for bling' craze took off and medals were part of the selling point.

    At current count they have 26 half marathon / marathon events world-wide and that doesn't include TriRock (8 events), Women's Running Series (4 events), Muddy Buddy events, and several other smaller hosted events. That is a lot of events. They used to be unique - now they are everywhere.

    RnR also had a few very public missteps (the first night RnR Las Vegas debacle, fewer and fewer bands out on the courses, cutting (then reinstating) Elite runner support, purchasing and then giving back Lexington Half marathon) that have made more than a few folks say 'never again' or even 'not interested'.

  8. By Disneyphile

    Quote Originally Posted by DisneyGator View Post
    It's taken us humans thousands of years to invent bikes and cars so that we DON"T have to run everywhere - but leave it to our crazy minds to revert back to running for "fun".

    I actually commend Disney for getting people interested in physical activity, given that as a society, we have become very sedentary. I hated running, ever since I was a child, until I decided to do my first race - the Neverland 5K in 2013. Why? Because I could run through the park. It encouraged me to try something that I would never have thought of doing before. And, it turns out that I love it now. It gives me an incredible sense of accomplishment, and also helps clear my mind. So, quite literally, RunDisney helped change my life for the better. However, I do respect that it doesn't do that for everyone. But, I think it's a good thing when Disney can encourage healthy activities rather than just stuffing our faces with churros and Dole whips. It really balances that out.

    As for being more crowded and hotels being occupied, that is happening more often anyway, due to the increase of conventions and other events now. I live pretty close to there and just driving down the street can be insane, depending on what/who is in town.

  9. By *Nala*

    Quote Originally Posted by Disneyphile View Post
    I actually commend Disney for getting people interested in physical activity, given that as a society, we have become very sedentary. I hated running, ever since I was a child, until I decided to do my first race - the Neverland 5K in 2013. Why? Because I could run through the park.

    This. Exactly.

    I hated running too. I played other sports as a teenager (though none very well) and I hated when the coach would make us run laps or miles or to the bottom of the hill and back. I signed up for the Disneyland half marathon as a goal to try to get somewhat back in shape after having two kids... and I found that I LOVE races. I'm an extremely goal oriented person, and it seems I just needed the goal of a finish line to motivate me. I love the atmosphere, the music, the people cheering, the volunteers, the medals, the mile markers. I love watching the elite runners appear to fly down the course and somehow being a part of that even though I'll never be as fast as them. I'll never get excited about a 3 mile run around my neighborhood, but I will do it and keep doing it because it helps me get ready for my next goal race, whatever that may be.

  10. By cactusgirl

    You know, I ran my first half because I couldn't think of anything other than Disneyland that would inspire me to actually run 13.1 miles. All my friends did Rock and Rolls--there are a lot of them in Texas. Somewhere in the training I fell in love with distance running. R&R holds no real desire for me. I'm not sure why. I do enjoy unique and small races. There is something to be said for sitting in your car until 5 min before the start. I also love history and a feeling that you really are helping someone--like MCM or local charity races. I think it's the big business approach of R&R and Mellew that turns me off. However, I do realize it is a double standard when I say I love the Disney races. .

  11. By Drince88

    Quote Originally Posted by cactusgirl View Post
    I think it's the big business approach of R&R and Mellew that turns me off. However, I do realize it is a double standard when I say I love the Disney races. .

    What races does Mellew do? (I've kind of come to the same conclusion about R&R)

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