A dedicated dad who founded a non-profit supporting research and support for babies with fetal syndromes, Lonnie readily admits that the running industry wasn’t on his radar when he started his career
In an industry known for its friendly and pleasant personalities, Lonnie Somers stands out. A dedicated dad who founded a non-profit supporting research and support for babies with fetal syndromes, Lonnie readily admits that the running industry wasn’t on his radar when he started his career.
“I used to truly be Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties. I wanted to be all about big business and have that corner office on the top floor of the building,” laughs Somers, who started his professional life in investment banking and venture capital. His numbers expertise is one reason he’s served as Running USA’s treasurer for many years.
But when his wife Michelle was pregnant with the Somers’ twin daughters, things changed dramatically for Lonnie. Now 14, Ashley and Aspen’s lives were saved by in-utero surgery at 21 weeks gestation. You can read more about that here.
Their survival motivated the Somers’ to start the Fetal Health Foundation, “and thus led me down the path into the sport and industry of running,” says Lonnie. “Being part of so many great events for good causes is all about making things better. Those in the industry truly have the best jobs. We help become better humans or do amazing things like find cures or support families in need. How great is it to say that your profession is all about touching lives for the better!”
Based in Colorado, Somers’ race production company is named HAL Sports, an acronym that stands for Healthy Active Living. “Our motto is: ‘What is your HAL?’ Mine is family, running, cycling, fitness, microphones, and 80’s trivia,” shares Lonnie.
Like his career, the company has transitioned over time, from focusing primarily on production to now being a partner to the events it works with.
“We practice a concept I developed called LLS: Learn, Listen, and Solve. With every client our goal is to learn all we can about them, listen to all their needs and challenges, and then solve those directly with us or with great partners we bring into the mix,” Lonnie says. “We realized from working with numerous events, all most all are charity or community-based events managed by someone who is not a professional mass participatory sports director. We partner with them and solve their challenges so they can focus on what they do best and we can bring in what we do best.”
Read on for some additional great insights on the running industry from Lonnie Somers – and don’t miss his excellent tips on race announcing:
You handle all kinds of races, from trail runs to kids events to triathlons. As an event producer, what are a few of your best practices to meet the needs of a wide variety of clients and participants?
Lonnie: From the client perspective, it is about LLS as I mentioned prior. Our goal is to be the number one advisor and resource to the client. We are there to advise and consult with them from everything from sponsorships, participant experience, courses, marketing (especially social media), etc. For HAL Sports, it is important that we are there for our clients before the event even occurs, and mostly as part of their organizing committees. For the participants, it comes down to another concept that I have developed called the PERR effect. The PERR effect is three important factors to keep focus on participants and really all stakeholders (sponsors, volunteers, spectators, etc.) P stands for Personalize. Be sure your event allows a participant to personalize their experience. Allow them to get out of it what they value, not what you feel is valuable. The E stands for Engagement. Your event has to allow your participants to engage with your event/brand pre, during, and post event. Your event may be just one day or one weekend, but it takes months of planning leading up to it and many opportunities to engage post, so it is important to do just that. The last factor, RR, stands for Remarkable to be Re-Marketable. While an event may have many great ideas, it is important that whatever you do, that is remarkable so that it becomes re-marketable. One of my favorite examples of this is Coca-Cola and their brilliant marketing strategy by putting names of people on their cans and bottles. They had a $1 billion jump in sales in the U.S. alone. Why? It allowed people to personalize their experience with them. Like me, you probably searched for a name you could “share” a coke with on the bottle. This hit all three of the factors in the PERR Effect. It allowed personalization, it was engaging, and it was remarkable that it became re-marketable through social media in the millions of viral engagements.
As far as participation and registration trends, what are you seeing on the ground and hearing from others in the industry?
Lonnie: I believe that the trends are not just in Colorado, but nationally. We are seeing some longtime events struggle with numbers as new competition and new events arise. The difference seems to be that the newer events are able to reach and engage more on social media as well as they have been really good about switching up what they do and keeping it fresh from year to year instead of being the same experience year to year. We see a rise of small community events now that are gaining attention their communities, whereas just even five years ago many events had to be in the city rather than suburbs or rural areas to succeed. Some long-standing events are suffering and need to focus on the participant wants and experiences. From a planning perspective, we see that suburbs and rural areas are struggling in getting a handle on how to administer event permits, how to ensure balance between events and the public access to streets and parks on race day. This is why I believe HAL Sports has had good success — because we work to bring fresh and engaging ideas to our clients.
You’re also an event announcer, a space in the sport that often goes underappreciated. What do you like about announcing and what personal touches do you apply to the races where you’re on the mic?
Lonnie: I love love love announcing. You are correct, it goes underappreciated. Being a good announcer is more than just being a good voice or personality. You are an extension of the flow of the event. You have responsibility for keeping things on schedule, keeping things engaging and fun, and most importantly (the reason I love announcing) you are there to bring people’s story out. Everyone that lines up on event day has a reason they are there. They might be the elite athlete going for placing for the first time, they might be there to run in memory of someone, they might be there to get fit, they might be a cancer patient who just received radiation and is going to still live life despite their challenges. All of this is truly what makes announcing so rewarding. I see myself there to bring these stories out of the participant. To make their day magical as they run and unfold their story. Creigh Kelley, who is one of the best announcers ever, always said to me, “It isn’t about you, it is about them, so highlight their accomplishments, high five them, hug them, make each person the star.” He is 100% right and I work to do that for the participants, the spectators, even the volunteers. My goal is to wear myself out announcing at an event. If I have, then I know put my all into it just as the participants have done too. They deserve that. One of my own sayings that I always remind everyone before the start is: “The finish line is not the end, it is the beginning of what is possible.”
You’ve been in the industry long enough to see a lot of change. What do you think has changed for the better, and what should we be concerned about?
Lonnie: Funny, despite being now in the industry for a long while, I still feel like I am learning something new every day and working to better everything HAL Sports does and that I do personally (from consulting to announcing). I think what has changed for the better is the advent now that participants want more out of their events than just a standard cookie cutter event. They want an experience. I was fortunate to work at Disney in their college program. The experience of guests is the key driver for everything Disney does. Experiences from events is what is the driver now. Many events are doing that has helped us grow the sport. We have had some ebb and flow, but all in all, more people are getting wooed because of the fun experience and my hope is that they have fun with it and they get the benefit of getting fit at the same time or staying in shape. The running community is arguably the most charitable, supportive, and active in social change, than any other. Running is powerful for the individual and for society.
In regards for what we should be concerned about, it’s really to realize that no longer can you just have your event and then not engage with your participants for many months and then start up a few months prior to your event. Your event should be engaging all year long with your participants and potential participants. With social media and technology, you can become forgotten about in an instant, so we have to ensure we stay engaged. I see a lot of events and those that serve the industry struggling with that.