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The business insights of Spartan Race in China: targeting middle and high-end users

By Andrea Huang 06 Jan 2019

As the middle class grows in China and people across China start to value sports and fitness, the Chinese middle-class population have developed a taste for sports events that provide better participation experience, richer brand concepts and higher cultural value. Sports events that are different from ordinary grassroots sports exercises.

Because there was a lack of participation sports events in China, Spartan Race was brought to China in 2016. This sport’s property focusing on participation, team spirit and family has become a naturally appealing event for middle and high-end individuals, groups and families. 

So, what insights can Spartan Race offer to the development of other running events in China? 

Spartan Race became well accepted in China

Spartan Race was founded by Joe De Sena in 2010. It was positioned to be able to be enjoyed by the mass public, to enrich people’s choices in exercises and help change people’s life styles. 

Joe De Sena said in an interview with Yutang Sports in 2016, “I’d already done a ton of traditional triathlons, eco challenge events and ultra-runs, but I realized the masses are not going to do 300 hundred-mile events, they are only going to participate in something that is digestible, doable. I’m excited about transforming lives, so it had to be something people could cope with.” 

In the same year, the Chinese sports marketing company SECA landed Spartan Race in China. By then, it had been two years since the No. 46 Document was released by the State Council of China driving development of the sports industry and sports consumption in China. There was a lack of diversified sports events to meet people’s demands. 

The public, especially middle and high-end consumers who often lead trends, were ready to embrace different lifestyles. So Spartan Race was instantly welcomed among the middle and high-end population. 

One of the representatives of this group of people is the Vice President of Mission Hills, Tenniel Chu who ran the Spartan Race Shenzhen. 

At the beginning, he just wanted to do it for fun and to give it a go, but was gradually attracted to it because of the challenging competition formats and the spirit to overcome oneself. 

Talking about the future of Spartan Race in China, Tenniel Chu said, “Obstacle races are becoming more popular all over the world with around 20 million people participating in it every year. Although it is at a starting stage in China, more than 1 million people participate here each year and the number is rapidly growing. As one of the best obstacle races, Spartan Race is a good fit for the Chinese market. The competition designs, the spirit and the healthy and fashionable lifestyle make the future of the event very promising in the Chinese market.”

Meet the demands of the middle class

Spartan Races are mostly participated by the middle and high-end population in China, which is different from the American and European markets where a high percentage of the runners are the general public. 

Take participation fees as an example. The price to register for a Spartan Race is 500 yuan, but the majority of road races in China cost approximately 100 yuan to register. The 200-yuan registration fee of the Beijing Marathon is already among the most expensive. 

The difference in the demographics is partly because of the unique economic status and market demands in China. As the average GDP per person in mainland China grew over $8000 and the government started to drive the development of the sports industry and public fitness, the Chinese middle class hope to have unique, positive, young and fashionable lifestyles and want to have an active voice in sports exercises. 

On the other hand, Spartan Race can provide an impressive experience compared with normal road races. The complete system of honors and match hierarchies can satisfy high-end users’ desire to conquer obstacles. 

Spartan Race also emphasizes healthy and trendy lifestyles and provides a system centered around their races, including fitness training, healthy dieting, mental guidance and its social element. These meet the urban middle class and white-collar worker’s wishes in terms of lifestyles. 

The former CEO of NBA China and the current CEO of Canadian Olympic Committee, David Shoemaker, is a loyal fan of Spartan Race, having participated in Spartan Race Beijing in September 2017 and May 2018. 

The reasons that many corporate managements like David Shoemaker value Spartan Race is because the race can develop their teams’ challenging spirit. These corporate leaders also often light up their teams’ passion in taking part in Spartan Race. 

Both David Shoemaker and Tenniel Chu have mentioned this point. 

“Spartan Race is very good for team building. I hope that my team can experience the spirit of Spartan Race and be equipped with a dare-to-challenge spirit when they face their demanding work day.” said David Shoemaker.

Appeal to gym-goers and young fashion followers 

After running the event in China for a few years, SECA find that the users of Spartan Race in China have to a large degree matched with high-end gym goers. These people are young, have strong consumption abilities and desires. 

Spartan Race runners are younger than general runners too. According to the report “2015 Chinese Runners Survey” by Hupu and, female runners in China are mostly in the 20-29 years age bracket and male runners are mostly above 30 years old. However, according to a 2017 report on Chinese gym-users produced by Zhongtai Securities, the average age range of gym members in China has expanded to 25-45 years old. Spartan Race adult users are mostly from 26 to 35, accounting for 60% of the total users which matches with the gym population and are to some extent younger than some running populations. 

Spartan Race users have more consumption abilities as well. According to the report by Zhongtai Securities, going to the gym is more costly than running. In addition to annual membership fees which range from a few thousand to around 20000 yuan, gym-goers also spend their money on individual coach sessions, equipment, a healthy diet, travel and other relevant consumptions. 

YANG Yanjiao, a hard-core runner of Spartan Race, participated in three different-level Spartan races in 2018. She is a marketing director at a German company in China. She has tried a number of fashionable and exciting sports such as yoga, boxing, diving and sky-diving. For her though, Spartan Race is “a sport full of challenges, but at the same time a cool and fashionable event. To be able to forget everything and unleash the young power within your body is very enjoyable.” 

A passion for middle-class families 

As middle-class and high-end individuals in China develop more interest in sports exercises, households in these groups have also developed a higher demand for health and fitness, as well as more demands for education. 

According to a report by Taikang and the Hurun Research Institute, the “Retirement Planning and Healthcare of Chinese HNWIs 2017”, fitness, care for old-age parents and offspring education are the three emerging core considerations of high net-worth Chinese people. 

Fitness and family fitness is the No.1 ranked consideration among these groups (61%), followed by caring after retirement (57%) and children education (55%). 

Therefore, the function of Spartan Race in improving fitness and health meets very well the demand of Chinese high net-worth people. 

Spartan Race is also welcomed as a way to educate children among middle-class parents. The parents of Spartan children race participants are aged between 30-45. 89% of the parents are college graduates or have higher degrees. 51% of households have an annual income of over CNY500000. More than 67% of Spartan Race families spend over CNY100000 annually on one child’s education. Over 40% of children who participate in Spartan children races go to International Schools or private elite schools. 

A good match with high-end sponsors 

Because Spartan Race is a participation event, not a spectator event, the event can reach high-end participants directly, build its brand image and brand value among these people, and bring the sponsors of the event closer to their target consumers. 

It has been proved that there is a high transformation from participants of the event to consumers of the sponsors. 

The title sponsor of the event, the high-end automobile brand Infiniti, enjoys a high match-up between its customers and the events’ participants. Among Spartan Race users, over 87% of them have a budget of over CNY200000 for automobiles. Many Infiniti owners or other similar level automobile owners quite often have formed groups to participate in Spartan Race events. 

Another sponsor of Spartan Race in China, Kerry Center, is also able to reach their target consumers through Spartan Race. In 2018, as the official hotel of Spartan Race Beijing, Kerry Center offered Spartan Race theme rooms, special fitness courses for Spartan Race hotel guests, free access to the hotel’s gyms and other services. The Spartan Race rooms with fees ranging from CNY1100 to CNY1588 per night were sold out very soon to runners of the event. The fitness courses generally attract over 100 people and are very popular among its members. 

In 2018, Spartan Race reached an exclusive financial media partnership with, a leading business and finance information provider in China, targeting people working in the finance and business sectors. By reporting and posting ads for Spartan Race on its PC, mobile applications, WeChat, Weibo and other channels, it brought many participants to Spartan Race. 

The final words

Highly educated and high-income groups tend to have a strong desire to realize individual value and are more willing to face challenges in work and life. 

Spartan Race goes after challenges, self-discipline, team work and family love, and offers a sporting way to decrease pressures for Chinese middle and high-end people. That’s why there are corporate managements, academics, fitness experts, middle-class families and special teams such as BMW Spartan Race groups taking part in the events. 

SECA Chief Marketing Officer YU Lei said to Yutang Sports, “Spartan Race is not a simple game or party. It is a competition with a complete honor system. Although some other obstacle races look similar regarding the honor system, they don’t have a global ranking system. Spartan Race enables the participants to feel they are a part of a global running community and to have clear goals in the system. This means that runners are more likely to continue to participate in the events.” 

Spartan Race has become a very special and important event in the Chinese sports market where there is a lack of similar sports in this category. 

Like the Spartan Race, for an event to develop in the long term in China, it needs to work on its brand, identify target users, work on related services and develop good sponsorships. 

Proofread by Raymond Fitzpatrick

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