Growing the sport of running across the Pacific
In our first Speaker Series interview for the 2018 Running USA Industry Conference presented by ACTIVE Network, we caught up with Chris Robb, founder and CEO of Mass Participation Asia. In Austin, Robb will present Think Global, Act Local, taking a look at organizing international events and some of the opportunities abroad.
Speaking with Robb, we cover a variety of topics, including how he first got into the sport, what his session at the Industry Conference will cover, what he's most excited for in 2018 and much more.
Running USA (RUSA): What's your current role in the industry? What does your day-to-day look like?
Chris Robb (CR): I currently wear two hats from an Industry perspective:
As the founder and CEO of Mass Participation Asia, I am working on plans for next year’s annual conference, as well as having discussions to take satellite events to other markets. We are also in the process of growing MPA into year-round industry engagement with some exciting announcements early next year.
I am also involved in consulting, which involves the likes of working with governments and brands to create new events, helping organisations to navigate some of the challenges of bringing their business to Asia, with the benefit of my 15 years of operating in the region, and also helping add value to existing events across the region.
In addition, my international speaking career is growing, both within the industry and in other sectors, especially through my “Gift of Disaster” keynote, so I also travel for speaking engagements, which I love.
RUSA: How did you first get into the running industry?
CR: I grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe and organised my first fun run at the age of 16 to raise funds to refurbish our school's cinder track. From there I went to the University in South Africa where our club organised a number of events and I also started running a small branch office for a local promoter in between studies.
RUSA: Where did the idea of Mass Participation Asia come from?
CR: In 2015, I recognised there was an opportunity to help facilitate collaboration and best practice within the fast-growing industry in Asia. I observed that there are many common challenges faced across running, cycling, triathlon and obstacle events, so I decided to involve all sectors in the inaugural conference in Singapore.
RUSA: You'll be presenting The Opportunities and Challenges of Delivering Mass Participation Events in Asia at the Running USA Industry Conference. What's one trend you're seeing in Asian running events right now, good or bad?
CR: There is still huge growth in most markets with many newcomers attracted to the industry without fully understanding the business models or the challenges. On one level this presents risk to the industry from a reputational perspective, but on another it presents fantastic opportunities for good concepts that are well executed.
RUSA: We're seeing more international interest for putting on road races. What's one thing a race organizer should know before putting on a race in a different country?
CR: In Asia, I believe one of the keys to success is working with a reliable local partner who understands the cultural nuances and has a reliable network which includes key government agencies and reliable suppliers. I have seen numerous concepts that are hugely successful in other markets fail dismally because they have not understood the importance of local partnership.
RUSA: What are you most excited about with the running industry in 2018?
CR: As the industry continues to consolidate and face challenges from other sectors, I believe one of the keys to success is authentic year-round engagement. I am excited by the opportunities that this presents to events and organisers that are sitting on massive databases of past and present participants that they have the opportunity to engage more deeply with and transform from participants to fans and advocates. Some events are already doing this well but I think large sections of the industry are still missing the opportunity.
RUSA: What's your favorite part about attending the Running USA Industry Conference?