Think Obstacle Course Racing is just for die hard fitness enthusiasts? Think again. UK operators are using OCR to engage new audiences and drive additional revenue.
For most people, the term OCR instantly conjures up images of hardcore fitness enthusiasts pushing themselves to the limit as they attempt a gruelling assault course. Indeed, most of the better known OCR events are marketed in this way so it’s no surprise that the majority of OCR participants are already engaged in fitness and physical activity.
However, operators are starting to exploit OCR to attract new audiences while generating that all important revenue.
Infact it is now one of fastest growing mass participation activities in the world.
Urban Attack - a comprehensive OCR service
Founder Rob Edmond launched Urban Attack in 2013. He is a former S.A.S soldier, best known as the resident trainer and presenter from ITV1's The Biggest Loser TV Show and trainer to sports professionals as well as celebrities and even royalty.
As well as putting on OCR events, the company provides obstacle set ups and event services to other obstacle race brands, corporates and charities. In 2014, Urban Attack introduced the UK’s biggest indoor stadium obstacle race at Manchester Velodrome and has been involved in a growing number of OCR events in the UK, Ireland and Middle East ever since.
Ethics Leisure are the official and exclusive distributor and partner of Urban Attack. A multi disciplined business specialising in helping brands grow and develop. They have more than 20 years’ experience working with some of the biggest global brands from equipment providers and facility operators to mass participation events and obstacle course races.
In 2015/2016, Ethics Leisure worked with Reebok Spartan Race to establish the event in the UK.
“OCR was a lot smaller back then, but we could see a big opportunity to bring OCR to UK fitness operators. We’ve been working within the OCR sector for six years and now that it’s gone mainstream in the UK it really is big business,” says Andy Gill, founder and director of Ethics Leisure.
A one-stop shop
Edmond and Gill held 18 events last year providing a one-stop shop for all things OCR, from concept to completion. Working with clients, they design a suitable OCR race, develop a brand for the event and then assist with marketing, sales and sponsorship to launch the new brand. They also supply the OCR equipment and manage the race on the day.
“In essence, we are helping leisure providers to exploit the boom in OCR and make the most of their facilities by putting on their own races,” says Edmond.
Flexibility of concept
OCR events are designed to suit each client’s location and facilities – outdoors, indoors, in green space or urban settings.
This was evidenced in the 2018 Hull-timate Challenge, a full-scale obstacle course through the centre of Hull. The race comprised more than 30 obstacles over a 5km course, with options to extend to 7.5km or 10km.
Participants were able to experience the city in a new way, for example viewing Hull Minister from the top of a giant inflatable slide (Humbergeddon a.k.a. Take Off) and the city’s aquarium The Deep from a skip full of ice, and swinging through the Museum Quarter on a set of monkey bars.
The three-day event attracted over 3,000 competitors and 10,000 observers. Approximately, 1,200 school children also took part in the event on the Friday as part of the School Games.
The race was organised on behalf of The Living with Water Partnership (Yorkshire Water, Hull City Council and The Environment Agency) to raise awareness of the flood risk in Hull, which is second only to London in UK.
Bringing people together
One of the least recognised attractions of OCR events are their very low barriers to entry. There’s no need for expensive equipment – all participants need to take part are a pair of trainers – and you don’t need to be ultra fit either. Many participants walk around the course.
It’s also an activity which brings people together, says Gill. “It’s very rare for participants of other events like distance runs or triathlons to start and finish together, but OCR is a team experience. Participants tend to stay together during the race to help each other over the obstacles.”
Children and families - a big growth area
“A lot of races are aimed at the elite end of the market and only allow entry to over 18s. We want to make OCR as fun and inclusive as possible to encourage families to enjoy the events together.”
And this is the attraction for leisure providers. OCR can be a great way of engaging both children and adults in physical activity in a fun way. All OCR races have kid’s elements from the age of four and the adult courses are suitable for children aged 12 and over.
OCR ticks so many boxes for operators
“It’s affordable, accessible and allows them to engage with new audiences,” says Gill. OCR events have the potential to open up new revenue opportunities. Aside from the income generated by the event itself, leisure providers can sell fitness programmes or PT sessions in the run up to the event to help people prepare for the race. The event also opens the door to potential new members.
The critical role of Health & Safety
Edmond prides himself on Urban Attack’s impeccable safety record. That’s no mean feat when you consider the logistics involved in organising last year’s Hull-timate Challenge, which involved 300 staff, marshals and paramedics.
“We are used to running events anywhere, from stadia and race courses to mountains and roof tops. Safety has to be paramount,” he says.
Exciting times ahead
More events are planned for 2019 including one for the Dubai Tourism Board. Talks are underway with a growing number of leisure providers who want to develop their own brand OCR events.
It is also working with operators to transform dead or under-utilised space into functional training areas with an OCR element. These new training zones – say in an old storage shed or green area by the side of a car park – can help generate additional revenue streams and attract new members.
“OCR and it’s training spin offs are really enjoying a boom right now and it’s something operators should definitely consider if they want to get engaged with new audiences and get more people more active” says Gill.