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).
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.
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."