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3// The UTMB 2022 Media Impact Report
How did the Polleti’s do?
As the dust settles in Chamonix, the Ironman group will be cracking open their powerpoint decks and excel spreadsheets to start assessing the media impact of UTMB.
Being the generous person I am I thought I’d help them out and help you out, dear reader, for its very unlikely we’ll see anything of those decks.
I know some of you just want to know the juicy headlines about the media impact and others want to know alll the detail, so I’ve split it up for you – I’ll start with the ‘Executive Summary’ (Oo la la) and add my comments on the key takeaways from the event.
Then, for those that work in the industry and these numbers are useful for your job, I’ve created a deck of all the data I could get my hands on that you can download here
This was the biggest UTMB week ever – there was a 33% increase in global search interest, 11% increase in global twitter mentions to 25K and a 21% increase in global reach to 51.8M people
More people engaged with UTMB 170km on Twitter - UTMB 170km saw a 42% increase in Twitter mentions
The national news is taking notice – in 2021 16% of the reach of twitter posts came from iRunFar. This year iRunFar made up 2% of the reach, diluted by VilaWeb, l’Equipe, Ouest France, AFP, Matichon and RTVE
Increased international reach – UTMB mentions reached 10 new markets and European reach on Twitter grew by 104% to 26.8M, North America 62% to 5.7M and Oceania by 151% to 92K
Spain and France took notice – Driven by the French news coverage and Killian’s victory, Twitter reach in France and Spain grew to 21% of their total respective populations (13.8M in France, 8.5M in Spain)
Meanwhile, OCC & CCC are still struggling for exposure in the shadow of UTMB - whilst numbers were slightly up over last year, they are below 2019 and combined they had less than a quarter of the size of UTMB’s reach
UTMB’s growth is partly due to its focus on its product
The global rise of UTMB is undeniable. With a new 25 race series across the globe, expanding online reach to 51M people, broadcast deal with L’Equipe, and national news coverage in multiple markets, the Polleti’s are on a very successful trajectory.
Knowing that the vast majority of fans would not be able to see UTMB in Chamonix, the Polleti’s have focused on making their media product as entertaining as possible during and outside the races.
No perspective on the races was missed. The fleet of mountain bikers and trail runners brought a continuous livestream to the events. The army of photographers and videographers dotted across the course created a plethora of social content. And the work by LiveTrail allowed those at home to dot-watch athletes across the course profiles.
To demonstrate the effort the Polleti’s went through, you need to look at the quantity of their social output. Over the course of the week, UTMB posted 444 pieces of content across Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok with content ranging from three minute highlight videos to images of Peter Engdahl’s perplexing ankle roll.
This effort didn’t go amiss - UTMB gained 54K new followers across their social accounts, a 70% larger impact than last years efforts
As any long-time fan of the sport will tell you, what makes UTMB so exciting is that it’s one of the only times of year you can actually watch the sport you love, live, and nerd out on it the same way you can do any other sport. You feel as engaged with the sport as you do when watching a Rugby or American Football match (whatever your cup of tea is, you get the picture). Simply put, the seemingly endless livestream of content around UTMB made keeping up with the storylines and performances of athletes entertaining, exciting and easy.
Cultural issues around female representation prevail
The absence of female athletes from the livestream was stark. It wasn’t just that they missed many of the key events, it was that they simply didn’t give an equal exposure to female athletes as they did men.
Corrine Malcolm was most vocal about this on Twitter claiming it was a cultural issue that needed to be overcome, not a logistical one. Unfortunately this has been the case for media coverage of women in sport across multiple disciplines.
As Digiday reports:
A USC/Purdue study found that women’s sports was severely underrepresented in television news and online media coverage. The study found that 95% of TV coverage focused on men’s sports in 2019. Coverage devoted to women’s sports in the study’s sample of daily online newsletters and social posts from publishers on Twitter was 8.7% and 10.2%, respectively.
There’s a business case for trail running brands to be the drivers of change here since their athletes are the ones that are having their exposure diminished. For the brand that means less time in view, so less coverage of their brand being seen on the top female athletes and less ROI. Hopefully its not just economics that changes the Poletti’s mindset, but if thats what it takes, so be it.
This is France’s race.
The biggest media impact of this race was felt in France all due to the Polleti’s focused media strategy.
The whole media operation is very similar to the setup of the Tour De France. There’s the L’Equipe broadcast and print deal that expanded the viewership of the race to a potential audience size of 42M people in France. The French livestream and all UTMB social posts being in French and English. The livestream footage contained long interludes that swept across the rugged mountains and cerulean lakes of the alps with the commentators giving anecdotes about the history or architecture of the landscape. We already have the Chamonix tourist board sponsoring the event, i wouldn’t be surprised if the Polleti’s have a grant from the French Government to boost the tourist industry, just like the Tour does.
Understandably, the French public and news publications responded. France had the highest amount of social posts and searches for UTMB, and three national papers tweeted and wrote about the event. When you’re bombarded with news about the event, you’re bound to at least search for it.
Unfortunately the execution of the coverage didn’t quite live up to the promise with both the start of the race and Killian’s victory being missed because of overrunning programming, something I’m sure the Polleti’s will use as leverage in next years deal. I haven’t seen the final viewership figures for the race (if anyone does, send them over!) but by the vitriolic comments on L’Equipe’s social posts scorning them for not giving the fans what they wanted to see, it looks like it made quite an impression.
The future of the UTMB media operation will undoubtedly focus on capitalising on this new interest by broadening their broadcast deals. I expect they’ll continue with L’Equipe for their reach amongst the French population, but the big question is whether the Poletti’s have done enough to attract bigger deals from other broadcasters or OTT platforms? And, do the Poletti’s want to relinquish some control of their product to other media companies?
Where does OCC & CCC go from here?
OCC & CCC are meant to be the world championships of the 50k and 100k distances, yet media coverage of them is minimal and they both get lost in the froth of UTMB excitement.
Do the Polleti’s continue to keep the races all in one week, or make them one weekend after the other?
If set over consecutive weekends, you give each race space to build up its own hype cycle, narratives around partcipants to form, rivalries to play out and a post race analysis to dive into the individual race performances. This give sponsors more exposure and another unique product for the Polleti’s to monetise. However you could also expect less fans attending in-person to each and there won’t be the same festival atmosphere as the current week structure.
The current model allows them to build up hype for all events simultaneously and concentrate their efforts all in one week of intense activity - the UTMB week. But thats resulted in neither OCC or CCC having a distinct proposition and feeling like warmup acts for the big event.
World championships should feel like world championships. They should have equal attention and effort dedicated to them to develop their profile and become events the best in the world want to compete in and that brands want to be seen at. An easy fix to this current issue is to dedicate the same media operation they do to UTMB to OCC and CCC, but with significantly lower income for the Polleti’s compared to UTMB there is less incentive to do this.
Developing one world class event is hard, making three is a mammoth challenge. The Polleti’s have demonstrated that they have the experience to craft one with the UTMB, lets see if they can strike gold three times.
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