A four-day weekend of running events that ended Nov. 15 at Disneyland Resort capped a year of growth for an increasingly important approach it takes to marketing its two parks and 2,400 hotel rooms in Anaheim.
The runDisney unit of Burbank-based Walt Disney Co. has doubled its local offerings to four over the past 13 months—adding Star Wars- and Avengers-themed racing events here.
A second Star Wars weekend will debut in April at Walt Disney World in Florida—joining three existing events at the property where the race weekends began in 1994—and the first race at Paris Disneyland is in September.
The local lineup also includes a Tinker Bell-titled race weekend in May aimed mainly at female runners, plus the Anaheim resort’s flagship Disneyland Half Marathon in September that launched in 2006.
A weekend can draw more than 20,000 runners and their families and guests to the resort.
A Disneyland Resort spokesperson estimated that each participant or observer spends $1,200 at a single weekend event, including hotel stays, souvenirs, other spending, and the race itself.
Race fees for the Avengers event, to take one example, began at $20 for early entrants in the kids’ events and rose to $230 for later buyers of the half-marathon. Prices started escalating as early as April for the November races, and nearly all events had sold out before the race, according to the event’s website.
The Avengers event, held Nov. 12 through 15, pulled 25,000 runners for three races—a half-marathon, 10K and 5K—and a health expo that began Nov. 12, twice the number at its inaugural edition last year.
The Disneyland Half Marathon drew 30,000 for its three races and expo in September. Shorter distances are sold for kids, including babies who crawl the course of a “diaper dash.”
Disney’s Faron Kelley, who markets runDisney, said “the vast majority of runners” are from the U.S.
Anaheim races draw 40% of entrants from Southern California, 25% from the rest of the state, 30% from other states, and 5% from overseas—mainly Canada, Mexico, Australia and Japan.
The numbers suggest that about two-thirds of runners spend at least one night locally, many at Disney properties in Anaheim: the Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian & Spa and Paradise Pier Hotel.
Individual runners stay longer if they run multiple races. Disney markets the two longest runs as “Gauntlet Challenge” at the Avengers event and the “Dumbo Double Dare” at the Disneyland Half Marathon.
Four thousand of the 25,000 at the latest Avengers event ran the gauntlet—the two long races—the resort spokesperson said.
A Walt Disney World weekend race that includes a full marathon amps that up with the “Dopey Challenge” for runners buying all four races over four days—and staying three or more nights to do so.
Kelley said runDisney extends race packaging to individuals doubling down on two full weekends on both coasts—meaning runners take part in events in California and Florida.
The Star Wars-themed event in Anaheim in January—unofficially the “light side,” Kelley said—will be matched in April by a new race in Florida that will have “Dark Side” in its name.
The Tinkerbell race here joins a “Disney Princess” event in Florida.
Disney doesn’t own the rights to the Avengers characters in Florida, so runDisney holds the recently concluded event on the West Coast only. A food-and-wine-focused race weekend completes the year in Orlando.
OC events take a direct route to sales.
“Every race runs through a park”—and are held in the early and latter parts of the year in both states to avoid an already busy summer season, Kelley said.
The first event, the full marathon in 1994 at Walt Disney World, “was really about getting people to the parks,” Kelley said.
Some events started small and added races—and days—over the years.
The company at the time was getting more involved in sports entertainment and marketing—think “Disney’s Wide World of Sports”—in an effort that has continued to today, he said.
The Disney Co., for instance, owns TV sports broadcaster ESPN.
Today, Disney is involved in about 250 events a year that include the running races, high school soccer tournaments, youth football’s Pop Warner Super Bowl, and cheerleading competitions.
Kelley said a “second running boom” after the growth jag from the aerobics craze of the 1970s is under way.
“Youth sports is a big industry,” Kelley said, and “our races are very fun and nonthreatening.”
The runDisney division launched in 2010.
Races include an exposition for vendors selling products to runners.
The Avengers event and September’s half-marathon had about 40 vendors each. Several were sponsors of Disney entities, including one for its time-share division and another for its Downtown Disney retail and food stores to showcase wares.
A separate area sold race-themed apparel and souvenirs.
Exhibitors in September said they paid about $4,000 to $6,000 for a 10-by-10-foot space and that there’s a waiting list for space.
Local vendors included Apex by Sunglass Hut, a Mission Viejo-based performance sunglass retailer with 21 locations that’s affiliated with Foothill Ranch-based Oakley Inc., and SnuggBuds Headsets LLC in Laguna Niguel, which sells high-end “in-ear headphones” for smartphones and other products.
Snuggbuds co-founder Marivic Schaeffer said the company exhibits at Disney events on both coasts.
“The earbuds don’t fall out, and runners like that,” she said.