We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Nathalie Marquet, the CEO of MetaSport. MetaSport is a Singapore-based endurance event management company. Since its launch in 2004 it has evolved to become one of the most established triathlon, cycling, running and duathlon event organiser in Singapore and in Indonesia.
Below you will learn about Nathalie’s top tips and advice on how to succeed in the business of endurance sports event management. So if you’re thinking of starting an endurance event company – keep reading!
What was the main challenge that you encountered when you started MetaSport?
In the early years, when we launched our first events, the main challenge was definitely cashflow. From our experience it takes at least three years for an event to become profitable if the main revenue stream comes from registrations. So in those first three years you need to be able to sustain the event financially. And without big investors or sponsors that can be a challenge.
MetaSport not only organises events but you also offer triathlon coaching services. What are some of the benefits that you’ve seen from combining event management with coaching?
MetaSport actually didn’t start as an event company. At the very beginning we were a triathlon training squad. After a while we launched our first event and over time the events have become the main part of the business. This is mainly because it is the part of the business that is the most scalable.
So now the coaching part of the business is very small in terms of revenue but strategically it is still very interesting. First of all, our training squad members create a sense of community around the MetaSport brand. They are definitely our best ambassadors. The squad members are also a very good representative sample of the event population. Getting feedback from our members helps us better understand what event participants are looking for.
MetaSport runs events in a number of different locations. How do you select the venues for your events?
Before choosing a location, we first look at market trends and at types of events that are growing in popularity. Based on that we develop an event concept. Then we look for the most suitable location for this particular concept. So we don’t choose a location first and then decide on the type of event to hold there but we do it the other way around.
In order to select the best suitable location we take into account a number of criteria like for example accessibility, scenery, road or trail quality, safety, existing network of partners etc.
There are a lot of people involved in the execution of an endurance event. Can you give a brief overview of the structure of a typical race organising team?
Typically we have an event director and under the event director there are seven to eight managers who are each responsible for different parts of the event. This includes competition management, venue management, athletes services and entertainment. The teams that work under each manager are composed of a mix of MetaSport staff members, contractors and volunteers.
At MetaSport you outsource the specialist services like for example registration, timing or equipment rental. What are the main advantages of outsourcing versus keeping these services in-house?
I believe in staying focused on what we do best, which is organising the event. As an event organiser, if you decide to develop your own timing system or registration portal you’re going into technology. And if this is not your core business the risk is that you can’t keep up with specialist technology companies out there. I would rather hire the best timing service provider in the region than trying to manage a lower quality system in-house.
Based on your experience, what are some of the most effective techniques to promote endurance sports events?
What works best for us is our email database. Over the years we have managed to build up a big database of past event participants. Using that to create very targeted, personalised email campaigns has been very effective.
We don’t send out the same emails to our entire database. Instead, we segment the email list based on the type of events that people have attended in the past and also based on their main motivations for participating in events. Based on this information we provide them with targeted content that will help them step up and reach their next goal.
Of course, we also do what everyone else does in terms of social media marketing, digital campaigns, roadshows, etc. But we’ve found that to be harder to measure and also less effective than email marketing.
With so many endurance events out there, securing sponsorships can be a challenge. Can you share any tips on how to best approach partnerships with sponsors?
I think it’s important to think of sponsors like customers. That’s why we don’t send the traditional sponsorship decks with the typical ‘gold, silver, bronze options’. Instead we focus on really engaging with potential sponsors. Through one-on-one conversations we try to understand the exact needs, requirements and budget of each sponsor. Based on that we then create a fully customised proposal.
Taking a more personalised approach to sponsorship also means that sponsors are much more engaged in the event. And that is important because they need to help us create an emotional bond between their brand and the event. If they’re not truly engaged they will probably not invest any resources in activating the sponsorship even though they need to do so to increase their ROI.
What are some initiatives that you have started implementing to make MetaSport events more environmentally friendly?
This is something that we’ve really started getting into this year. It’s going to take us a few years to fully implement it across all our events but we’ve started to implement some initiatives in our most popular events. So for example for some of our events we’ve stopped giving out plastic cups at the finish line. Instead, participants get a re-usable cup that they can keep. We’re also giving participants the option to decide whether or not they want a finisher T-shirt and a medal and we will then pass on the savings to environmental charities.
Based on everything you have learned from starting and growing MetaSport in the last few years, what would be your top three tips for entrepreneurs looking to start an endurance events management company?
First, I would say make sure you start your business for the right reasons. Money or passion for the sport as reasons to start your business are likely to lead to failure as a lot of research have shown. Of course being passionate and loving your product will help but during tough times the passion may fade. The sport that you loved to practice as a hobby becomes a 15-hours-a-day and 7-days-a-week commitment. So, it is crucial to have stronger and deeper reasons to persevere through tough times, being the joy of creation, making the world a better place, achieving meaning in life, etc.
My second tip would be to stay lean and minimise overheads. A common mistake when starting in the event business is to underestimate the cost of organising an event. The margins tend to be small as sponsors are hard to get and there is plenty of unanticipated hidden costs that arise.
Lastly I would say focus on customer experience. Remember that people don’t just do sports just to do sports. There are a lot of underlying motivations behind wanting to complete a 100km running race or an IronMan triathlon or a first-ever 5k. So making sure you understand what people want deep down and adapting the experience accordingly is very important.