The American Trail Running Association was a rights holder attending for the first time the US Sports Congress. We shared our message with attendees, participated in networking activities, and enjoyed informative speakers on timely topics.
Listening to the keynote address given at the 10th annual US Sports Congress by Dave St. Peter, president of the Minnesota Twins, I wondered about the similarities between baseball and trail running. Maybe not in the traditional sense of sport, but rather those related to the sports environment and the ways in which to build community.
Managing through change was the title of St. Peter’s talk, and he’s witnessed lots of change in his 26-plus years with the Twins having started as an intern in 1990, and being named president in 2002. He spoke about players, fans, and partners. He discussed relationships, delivering an experience – which by the way, goes well beyond winning a game – building trust through strong communication, and leadership skills.
There were quite a few takeaways that led me to comparing our two – seemingly – very different sports.
Become a steward for your brand and develop a strategy that works to fulfill your goals. For the Twins, this means aligning with the winning tradition that is baseball. Focus has been on family and community in and out of the ballpark. That focus has included shaping and developing the stadium experience.
As a trail race director…what is your brand? What is your strategy to fulfill your goals? Draft a plan and act on it. As a runner, consider how you can give back to your community.
Capitalize on changing dynamics and be relevant to your audience. The Twins’ management realized that millenials had more interest moving around the stadium and not sitting in a seat. So, they targeted different parts of the stadium by offering food and drink, tables and areas for the wandering ticket holders to experience the game beyond their seats. Additionally, the “driveway to driveway” experience has been a focus including the needs of those who walk, bike, take light rail, or drive to the stadium.
How has the way trail runners choose events changed? As a race director, be relevant with the tools you use to reach out to your audience. Think about how people get to your event and where they stay if it is a destination event.
Consider pace of play. “Baseball games last too long,” says St. Peter. “We need to find ways to shorten the game, keeping it between two and two and a half hours is a goal.” Some of the ways to speed up the game – which all require rule changes – are to reduce the amount of times one can visit the bullpen, the amount of times a catcher can go to the mound, and pitch clocks. St. Peter envisions some changes (from the MLB), within 12-24 months and said there has been mixed feedback from the players. Another concept bandied about is to reduce the number of games in a season. According to St. Peter, there were 154 games in the early days of baseball, which changed to 162 in the ‘70s.
You can’t shorten your 100-mile race distance, but you can provide activities throughout the day to keep your audience engaged and informed. Should you add events, or make the few events you have better?
Understand how people enjoy your brand and deliver the experience to match the needs of your audience. People consume the game differently today, most notably with the digital offerings of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, as well as streaming.
What can you do as a race director to keep runners, spectators, and brands interested in your event from registration to the awards ceremony?
Develop players at the youth level. Baseball is losing kids as they get older. “We need to get the kids back playing Wiffle ball and T-Ball,” says St. Peter.
Don’t wait to include youth in your events and when you do, make it a fun experience. As a trail running parent, research programs for your kids in your community, or start a youth trail running program.
Create heroes. “We also need to do a better job of marketing our stars. We have become more of a regional brand in baseball,” adds St. Peter. “Ultimately we need good players, those that will become stars.”
Trail ambassadors and heroes are just as important to the future of trail running as they are to baseball. Consider how you can develop heroes, or become one.
Lead. Be a good, effective, and positive communicator. Inspire. Be energetic. Be a visionary. Be a strategic thinker. Be transparent about your decisions. Be of high character and integrity. Be humble – ego can derail a career. Identify the next generation of rising stars; recruit and retain that talent. Invest in your people, and mentor them. Furthermore, trust and delegate. And remember, “You don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room…you need to listen and breathe once in a while,” offers St. Peter. “And consider what we can do every day to get better.”
Consider the aforementioned tools to become a good and effective leader whether you are a race director, a runner, a coach, or a camp director.