With more than one million annual race participants and an annual roster of 250-plus events, Spartan Race has rapidly grown from humble beginnings to become the world's largest obstacle course race, endurance, and lifestyle brand.
Some 500 competitors assembled at the first Spartan Race in Vermont in 2010, with a total of ten events held in the organization’s first year. Less than a decade later, Spartan races host up to 10,000 competitors per-day at some of the world’s iconic sporting arenas – Boston’s Fenway Park, Wrigley Field in Chicago and the home of the Dallas Cowboys, among others.
“We have large marquee events where we’re putting tens of thousands of people through the doors. At the same time, we have events in the backwoods of Texas where we’re putting 7-8,000 people through in a weekend, so there are always challenges,” says Ian Toof, Spartan’s Director of Festival.
On top of those massive raw numbers, the logistics of each event rely on an intricate bump-in process – Spartan events typically include barbed-wire crawls, inverted walls and monkey bars among a host of other obstacles. Between the intricacy of the Spartan courses and the sheer numbers of competitors, what has been the secret weapon to Spartan’s impressive growth in recent years?
Volunteers underpin rapid growth
“Our volunteers are pretty much the lifeblood of what we do at Spartan Race,” he says.
“They do everything from building the obstacles, marking the course, helping us with our festival operations, manning the start and finish line, supporting our sponsors, training tours and events… Ideally, we’re looking at 400 volunteers per-day,” he says.
While volunteers are so crucial to event operations, Spartan Race’s exponential growth meant that for a long-time staff were playing catch-up, simply not having the time to get their internal systems set up to handle an ever-growing number of volunteers.
Annie Towslee, Spartan’s Director of International Volunteers, says that in recent years Spartan Race’s volunteer base has ballooned to some 80,000 people, with about 30,000 volunteers actively helping out in any given year.
“A few years ago we were using a timing platform that was definitely not ideal for volunteer management or registrations at all. It worked for a while because we didn’t have as many events or as many staff. But as we grew as a business, we needed a platform that could really do all the heavy lifting for us from a technological perspective,” she says.
Spartan Race is also committed to a strong platform of engagement and retention, rewarding its volunteers with free races and other perks, meaning the majority of its volunteer base are also regular participants and advocates for the brand. Towslee says Spartan Race was particularly keen on putting a platform in place that incentivized its volunteers and made registering and training easier.
The gargantuan task of consolidating data from old systems, spreadsheets and various different departments began with the onboarding of Rosterfy eighteen months ago. The workforce management program is now fully integrated with Spartan Race, which uses Rosterfy for volunteer recruitment, training, safety checks, registration and a host of other tasks. In particular, Toof highlights the automation of background checks as a “massive” time saver.
“From an organizational standpoint we’ve grown so fast in the last five years that it became imperative to put safety front of mind – we have a high mass of volunteers in a high-risk industry and Rosterfy and [safety partner Safety One] provides all those tools to allow us to manage and automate that,” he says.
“Prior to Rosterfy the training communication to our volunteer was an email in amongst dozens of other emails so it was all getting lost in the mix. Now we can have safety and training modules as a qualifier for an event and al the checklist items have been ticked before they’re able to volunteer. Now that it’s automated we have our thumb on the pulse, we have plenty of children’s events so the background checks are incredibly pertinent and a real priority for us,” he says.
Spartan Race now has 27 licensees in more than 40 countries – a figure that is set to rise to at least 42 by the end of 2019. Toof says Rosterfy’s ability to change, adapt and grow across borders means it will be a key part of the organization’s global aspirations.
“We’re now a global company and Rosterfy has allowed us to scale. Previous solutions we’ve used haven’t operated in every country we had a presence in so there were language issues and when our licensees and partners would look to us for the support we weren’t necessarily in a position to be able to help,” says Toof.
“Something we would like to do in the future is to use Rosterfy globally. They have so many features that make it so easy to do that at scale – in the past I would work with other regions and there would be a language barrier. Rosterfy already has a translation feature in place for the entire website. There are a lot of really good features like that which can help us expand globally, and the support they offer is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” says Towslee.
The goal, Toof says, is to create the foundation to be able to offer Rosterfy to all Spartan Race licensees and have a global database of volunteers and data under one roof.
Spartan Race has also started to use other elements of Rosterfy operationally, such as creating efficiencies across different marketing teams and disciplines. The demographics data and segmentation provided by Rosterfy’s technology allows Spartan Race to “dig deeper” when marketing, says Toof.
“With all the information and data Rosterfy can provide we are able to be smarter with our targeting if we’re having a struggling race we can target particular markets and tailor our messaging. We haven’t utilized it to its full potential yet but in our process of scaling we’re going to be able to market more effectively.”