Event Concept Analysis: Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend
Number of words: 5211
This report is an analysis of how the event design of the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend 2020 supported the characteristics of the event. The Princess Half Marathon Weekend is a part of a wider project, runDisney, and took place on 23rd February 2020 at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
The event host is runDisney, a segment of the Walt Disney Company. RunDisney aims to attract people to the Walt Disney Parks by offering them a unique running experience, a storybook adventure. They work with a spotlight charity, Children’s Miracle Network Hospital, but runners are given incentives to also run for a host of other charities too (RunDisney Blog, 2020a). Throughout the weekend there was a range of events to suit the whole family, with races of 5km, 10km and a children’s 1-mile dash. runDisney hosts a range of running events throughout the year, each with a different theme.
Image 1 The calendar of run Disney events.
This report will first discuss the event characteristics including its typology, whether this event is best designed as a sporting event, a fundraising event, or an entertainment event, and
conclude it is a blended experience. It will then identify the characteristics of the event, an analysis of the business environment and the market segmentation of the guests. There will also be an explanation of the event design in reference to the 6 programme elements of Rossman and Schlatter (2008) and the 7 I’s of event experience design from Masterman and Wood (2007), then the findings will report the extent to which this event design supports the event typologies and characteristics. Concluding this report are recommendations to improve the event design.
Event Characteristics, Content and Design
If events are to be categorised through content, this event appears initially as a sporting event, as it centres around a running race. According to Berridge (2007), a sporting event is “a spectator or participatory event involving recreational or competitive activities, scheduled alone or in conjunction with other events.” However, the UK Sport (1999) definition of a sporting event involves a competition between individuals or teams representing nations, gathers significant interest both nationally and internationally, and has international significance to the sport and is a key event in the sporting calendar (cited in Bowdin, 2010). This definition does not apply to the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend, and neither of the aforementioned definitions considers the entertainment and experience elements of the event. An alternative is to define events by their size as opposed to content (Bowdin 2010). This event could be considered a community event as they contain the subsection of charity events such as BBC “red-nose-day.” This definition could fit this event, as participants are encouraged to sign up through a participating charity, offering discount park tickets, guaranteed race entry and specially priced rooms (runDisney, 2020b). However, again this does not fully capture the design elements of the event, so one may conclude this event has a blended typology. Getz (2011) argues there is a trend in blurring event types to create the exact experience they wish to achieve. This event can be defined as a family community event with sporting and fundraising elements, designed in a way to capture the magical experience associated with Disney.
Nevertheless, it is crucial to consider the perspective of all stakeholders (Bostock 2014), and while the above definition may be true for the participants, it fails to capture the whole picture of the host’s aims. The Walt Disney Company aims to bring people to Walt Disney World for what they call a ‘runcation’ (runDisney, 2020a). This involves staying at the parks for the weekend and making a vacation out of it. In light of this, a key motivation behind this event could be using runDisney as a marketing strategy for the Walt Disney Company. However, given none of the runDisney events are mentioned in the annual report of the company, it can be presumed this is a not-for-profit event despite the fact they may receive economic benefits as a result of it (The Walt Disney Company, 2020b).
Analysis of the Business Environment
The Walt Disney Company started in the 1920s as a cartoon studio and has since evolved into a global empire of entertainment, experience, and magic. As stated on their website, the company’s mission is to, “…entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling, reflecting the iconic brands, creative minds and innovative technologies that make ours the world’s premier entertainment company” (The Walt Disney Company, 2020a). The major components of the Walt Disney Company are its Media Networks, the Disney Parks all over the world, The Walt Disney Studios and their various direct-to-consumer business units. All of these subsections reflect the innovative and creative values of Disney (The Walt Disney Company, 2020a). Through all of these sectors, Disney has set the foundation for creating immersive experiences to tell a story.
Experience economy focuses on engaging the consumer at the emotional level, as they
look to experience authenticity as opposed to the quality of service (Rooijackers, 2017). By Walt Disney opening Walt Disney World as the world’s first “theme park” in 1971, this
creation was the pioneer example of the experience economy. Walt Disney World is designed to completely immerse the guests in the world of Disney as soon as they arrive. The park rides serve entertainment purposes, but also tell a story and take the guests on a journey (Pine and Gilmore, 2011). Disney also has its own terminology to create and enhance their experience economy. Attendees/customers of the parks are referred to as guests and the employees as cast members. The entire cast works together to create a production and full experience which includes and exercises all of the senses (Pine and Gilmore, 2011). Cast members are expected to go above and beyond for all of the guests, creating the most memorable experience for them, thus showcasing their knowledge of creating an experience economy.
Due to marathons being very common in the United States, with approximately 570 being held every year, the supply amount is high, which typically leads to a decrease in demand. Therefore, when runDisney began, the company needed to create demand and differentiate itself from the other marathon races in the country. However, due to Walt Disney’s iconic brand, it was not difficult to encourage people to participate in the races, with over 8,000 people attending the very first Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend in 2009 (Tachell, 2013). Since its conception, the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend has grown its participants to over 55,000 for their 2020 event (runDisney, 2020c). The chart below (Figure A) depicts the increase in guests of the event over the years. The data was collected through the runDisney reports page and blog posts for the earlier years before runDisney reported the data.
As stated earlier, the race is predominantly set in the parks, with the runners making their way through the Walt Disney World realms. Each area is filled with the proper characters, all available for meet and greets. Disney continues to add its magic touch to every event through their ability to go above and beyond to immerse its guests. This leads to the ability to differentiate themselves from other marathons, creating high demand, despite large amounts of supply. Li et al (2020) argued sport managers need to build family-friendly events and promote family values within these events and the Princess Half Marathon is an ideal response to that need.
Market Segmentation of the Guests
The market segmentation of Disney World and its Princess Half Marathon Weekend can be best described as Audience Finder’s “Trips and Treats.” (Audience Finder, 2020).
Audience Finder characterises this segment to be families with young children living in suburbia, financially comfortable and typically led by their children’s interests. In addition to these demographics and psychographics, “Trips and Treats” are known to be very sporty and enjoy participating in fun, family-friendly events (Audience Finder, 2020).
Therefore, the “Trips and Treats” audience was the most predominant target market for the annual Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. However, although the family can afford the premium price tag on the occasion, they still look for value (Audience Finder, 2020). Thus emphasising the need for the experience economy. Dominique Michelle Astorino of PopSugar wrote in her 2018 review of the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend in regards to Disney and their experience economy,
“Disney covers all the things you’re worried about, and then all the things you forgot about. From the free shuttles (to and from several resorts throughout the property) to the runner breakfast kits at the resorts (perfect for my PB-banana ritual) to sweet “good luck” texts (with all the information you need in a digital magazine) to the ample on-course hydration and medical support, you can leave stress at the door, don your tiara and sneakers, and just enjoy” (Astorino, 2018).
Astorino also touched on the expo portion of the event, where Disney offered mini massages and princess themed manicures to all the participants. In regards to the race itself, she describes the atmosphere being completely different from other races, as the cheering and support are constant the entire time, either via spectators or employees. To sum up the event, she writes “You really feel loved, supported, and celebrated — and the energy is great” (Astorino, 2018).
With Disney using this experience economy method during their annual events, creating relationships with the “Trips and Treats,” something the market segment values in regards to spending their money, especially in large amounts (Audience Finder, 2020). By formulating
this relationship and creating this experience economy is how Disney can create annual consumers who come back regularly to participate in their race events.
To use Goldblatt’s 5 W’s, the ‘who,’ or key stakeholders are the Walt Disney Company, participants (runners and spectators), charities, Walt Disney World staff, local residents and local government (Cited in, Bladen et al, 2017). The ‘Why’ depends on which stakeholders perspective one may take. The Walt Disney company aims to attract racers and families to the Walt Disney parks for a ‘runcation’. As park tickets are not included in the race package, it is likely they aim to encourage people to purchase park tickets either during the weekend or to return later in the year. The runners aim to experience a marathon or running event combined with the magic and atmosphere of Disney, and for some their aim was to raise money for good causes e.g. charities. Further, Hallman and Wicker (2012) categorised marathon runners into three groups based on their reason for participating in the race, ‘Holidayers’, ‘Socialisers’ and ‘Marathoners’. This categorisation helps understand the varying reasons the attendees may have attended the event and therefore assist in satisfying and immersing them. The ‘when’ and ‘where’ was Walt Disney World on 23rd February 2020.
The Programming and Content Design of the Event
Rossman and Schlatter (2008) define programming as a plan or process to create opportunities for people to engage in experiences of arts and cultural leisure and labelled event programs as collections of activities offered with certain themes. The Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend is a collection of activities such as the runDisney Health and Fitness
Expo and races of various distances. All of the activities are princess themed and the participants themselves dress up in princess costumes. Therefore, this collection of activities involved in the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend offers fits the description of event-based programming.
Rossman and Schlatter (2008) offer 6 programme elements: interaction, physical setting, objects, structure, relationships and animation. The Disney Princess Half Marathon has a large sense of interaction within its event design, with the health and fitness expo providing guests with the opportunity to meet with other like-minded guests. Furthermore, as characters are stationed around the marathon itself, racers are given the opportunity to interact and meet with Disney characters throughout the race. This programme element is likely to create a positive and memorable experience for the guests.
The physical setting is also integrated into the event design, as the half marathon takes place within the Walt Disney World parks. Again, this location will also provide a unique and magical experience for both the guests and the spectators. Further, there are objects for the guests to interact with in the form of participation medals (as seen in image 2), racing bibs, and a wide variety of merchandise for sale at the expo. These are all perfectly designed with the overall theme to create a sense of coherence and prevent the ‘magic’ of the event from being disrupted. The physical setting also involves the sensory experience for the participants and the Princess Half Marathon has successfully incorporated the senses within their event programming. They have incorporated sight within the setting of the event and through the fireworks display and parades. Furthermore, sound is included through the use of Disney music around the racecourse. They have incorporated touch through the hugging and interacting with the Disney characters. Finally, they have incorporated taste and smell through the themed food and beverages on offer.
Image (2). Disney Princess Half-Marathon participation medal.
The event day has a very clear structure, with Disney even offering complimentary transportation to the event site to ensure the structure is adhered to. Furthermore, Disney utilises the event website and blog to ensure the event structure is accessible and clear to all participants.
Finally, there is a huge sense of animation within the Princess Half Marathon. The event day begins with a fireworks display, and throughout the race are opportunities to watch parades and meet characters. This allows participants to feel thoroughly entertained throughout their run. Additionally, the whole event will be highly entertaining for the spectators, as the participants become co-creators of the event through their costumes. This means the spectators are being entertained through watching their friends or family members race.
Since Walt Disney can be considered a pioneer of the experience economy, the company has also mastered the 7 Is of event experience design concept created by Masterman and Wood (2007). The 7 I’s consist of involvement, interaction, immersion, intensity, individuality, innovation and integrity.
The Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend captures the emotional involvement with the brand mainly by being incorporated with Disney itself. Many associated Disney with childhood memories, therefore, the ability to run through the park may create a sentimental experience. Similar to the Rossman and Schlatter 6 programme elements, specifically their element of interaction; throughout the race, guests have the option to take breaks and meet the various characters within the parks. Disney also puts on an expo before the official race, which allows guests and participants to mingle with each other, creating relationships outside of the weekend.
The Walt Disney World parks pride themselves on their levels of immersion, which create the feelings that their guests are truly in their favourite story with their favourite characters. One past participant spoke on how simply running through the parks is one of the best parts of the race (Astorino, 2018). As stated earlier, Disney also sets off fireworks for each group as they begin, as opposed to most races just set them off once in the very beginning for the first group. This display makes every guest feel just as special and honoured as the first. For the duration of the race, along with different mile markers, the park has specific Disney music songs playing. Typically using upbeat and empowering songs to encourage the runners to keep going. Also, one participant noted “badass princess moments” are featured on the screens within the park (Astorino, 2018). All of these elements fully immerse the runners and provide the atmosphere they need to complete their respective race.
The Marathon Weekend event captures the intensity portion by creating a highly memorable event by making the race a part of a larger weekend event. This is a family-oriented and family-friendly event, which allows guests to share their experiences with their loved ones, as seen in image (3).
Image (3). An image demonstrating the family-oriented nature of the event.
Each individual is celebrated during this weekend event, as Disney works to ensure every guest feels special. All of the participants received customised luggage tags once they completed their race. During the expo portion of the event, guests are given one-on-one experiences such as massages and pedicures (Astorino, 2018). Also, in relation back to the interaction portion of the concept, when guests meet their favourite Disney characters, each experience is completely different. As the cast members are to remain in the complete character mindset, acting and reacting accordingly to the individual conversations and moments with the guests. Runners of the Princess Marathon Weekend can also request their results and personalised certificate through the runDisney website.
The Walt Disney Company and its Imagineers are innovating to better their guests’ experiences throughout the park. Overall, in comparison to other marathon races, the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend event is unique and creative to runners, as it takes place in the Happiest Place on Earth. As stated above, once the television screens were added into the park, this allowed them to display clips of everyone’s favourite princess movies.
Finally, the seventh “I” of event experiences is integrity. An event must create genuine and authentic practices to best influence the guest and their experience. As stated later more in-depth, Disney takes care of all the logistical aspects of the event, while providing their “magic” touches to everything. The morning of the race, all runners are provided with a special, complimentary breakfast which is filled with the perfect pre-race essentials. Guests also receive a digital magazine to explain anything and everything they may need to know in regards to the event. Disney also provides special perks for its runners like personalised merchandise and discounts at Disney restaurants and entertainment centres (runDisney blog, 2020b).
How the Event Design Supports the Event Characteristics
As discussed, the event is a unique non-profit half marathon event, incorporating running and the magic of Disney. The event design includes the fully immersive experience of running through the park, specialized merchandise for the event, an expo with personalized services and a chance to meet other Disney and marathon fanatics.
Figure 2 outlines the various ways the event design supports the event characteristics and audience segmentation. Firstly, how the design contributes to the sporting elements of the event. The event is centred around the half marathon race. The design reflects this through the structure of the day, (the race and the awards ceremony) and the participants being given a racing bib and a participation medal. Furthermore, during the weekend there is a Health and Fitness Expo which acts as the central point of the event where bibs and medals are collected. It allows racers to purchase anything they may need to help them to prepare for the event, along with Princess Half Marathon themed merchandise, food and a ‘gEAR’ check to ensure a safe and comfortable race. This design element supports the sporting elements of the event, as it is themed around health and fitness and it ties together the running race and the magic of Disney. Further, the event design incorporates all groups identified by Hallman and Wicker (2012) (Holidayers, Socialisers and Marathoners). Through the ‘runcation’ aspects, the opportunities to meet with other runners and Disney characters and the awards ceremony, Disney has elements of the day which incorporate and create an enjoyable experience for all, no matter what their reason for participating may have been.
The design elements strongly support the unique magic of Disney, with every design element linking directly back to the Disney Princess theme. First, there is the marathon itself, with participants running through the Disney parks dressed as Disney characters. This allows the participants to become completely and fully immersed in the experience, and
experiencing the feeling of becoming a princess themselves. This is a very unique and special setting for a marathon to take place as they mostly take place within cities, and this just adds to the experience for the participants. Furthermore, they get to meet characters as they make their way around the course, making the run a more enjoyable experience. Additionally, as mentioned the food on offer is also closely linked to the magic of Disney experience, with food such as ‘Cinderella’ cupcakes and ‘Ever After’ blueberry lemonade on offer (runDisney Blog, 2020c). The aforementioned bibs and participation medals are perfectly matched to the Disney Princess theme, along with race time certificates, mile markers and all the other decorations.
Image (4). A ‘Cinderella’ Cupcake.
This immersive experience is not limited to the race runners, as the “chEAR” squad is also included in this immersive experience. From being given a themed cowbell to cheer on the runners and feel a part of the action, to being able to watch from a reserved space near the Cinderella castle, and getting access to hot and cold princess-themed beverages (see image (4). Marathon spectators are usually an area which receives limited attention, Disney has succeeded in incorporating them within the event theme and content of the day. Kruger and Saayman (2012) found to create a memorable spectator experience they require adequate
amenities, comfort and visibility, and this event has not only achieved that but has done so while immersing them further into the event.
Image (5). The ‘ChEAR’ Squad package.
In contrast, the charitable elements are not integrated with the event theme. The event is designed so participants can sign up through one of Disney’s participating charities to raise money through sponsorship for their completion of the race, and in return for doing so, they are offered discounts on park tickets and the accommodation for their stay during the race weekend (runDisney, 2020a). This supports the event typology discussed earlier, which labelled this event as not for profit, as Disney has taken some measures to encourage participation in the fundraising aspects of the event. However, considering this is usually a core element of a marathon event, it could be argued this is a rather small effort from Disney and they could have done more.
However, the event design does support the intended audience, identified as the ‘Trips and Treats’ audience (Audience Finder, 2020). First of all, alongside the half marathon, there are also 5km, 10km and a children’s 1-mile dash. This reflects the fact of this being a family-oriented event, as it allows every family member to take part and be included and immersed in the event, as seen in image (3). Further, the theme supports the intended audience perfectly, as it is a family-oriented theme. Disney Princesses is a theme which can be enjoyed by children and adults alike and compliments the theme and setting of the event. The aforementioned ‘chEAR squad’ package encourages the whole family to attend and be a part of the event, and the event refers to itself as a ‘runcation’, which would suit this audience demographic perfectly.
As reported in the findings section, the event design supports the event typology seamlessly in every aspect, aside from the charitable aspects. Therefore, this report recommends the links with the charity could be better incorporated into the design elements of the event.
A suggestion for how this could be implemented could be through the storytelling of the people in need of the funding, which could be told in a fairytale storybook theme. These could be designed into the event website to encourage people to raise more money and sponsorships, or it could be incorporated into the event itself, with perhaps a story at each mile. This could spur the runners on and remind them of why they are running the race, while also bringing the charities into the ‘story’ of the event itself.
In conclusion, the runDisney Princess Half Marathon event is a family-oriented fundraising marathon event incorporating a running race with the magic of Disney through a princess theme. It was hosted by the Walt Disney Company, who have the overarching aim of creating fully immersive experiences, and this event is no exception. With the supply of marathons in the USA at an all-time high, the fact the Princess Half Marathon has gone from strength to strength is a testament to the success. This is due to it being unique and immersive for the audience, identified in this report as Audience Finders ‘trips and treats’ demographic (Audience Finder, 2020). This demographic has a preference for family-oriented and sports-based experiences, so this event satisfies their needs seamlessly.
The event programming successfully incorporates all 6 programme elements put forward by Rossman and Schlatter (2008) and masters the 7 I’s of event experience design put forward by Masterman and Wood (2007). Disney has designed the event in such a way where the theme is fluidly incorporated into every element of the event, creating an uninterrupted immersive experience for all guests.
Our findings were the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend event design strongly supports the event characteristics in terms of the sporting and magical Disney experience. However, as reported in our recommendations the charitable causes, while encouraged at the sign-up process, are not as seamlessly incorporated into the event as the other elements. The recommendation of this report is this could be incorporated into the event design through storytelling elements from the charitable causes throughout the event in a fairytale theme to add the fundraising elements to the immersive magic of a Disney event.
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