ASICS spent US$28 million to acquire London, Ontario-based Race Roster, an onboarding platform used by races across the world to help runners register for their races. The deal, which was announced yesterday, crystallizes a transformative moment not only for Race Roster, but for participants in our sport: ASICS will now have opportunities to work with events that currently are without shoes sponsors on training programs, community building, and, yes, trials of new sneakers and gear. iRun’s editor Ben Kaplan spoke with Alex Vander Hoeven, Race Roster’s founder, and Dan Smith, ASICS president of digital, from the company’s headquarters in Boston.
iRun: I’m not mad at you, Alex, but I did see you at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and you could’ve of. . . if not spilled the beans, at least tipped us off a bit.
AVH: I was dying to tell you. I saw that big ASICS ad [in your last issue] and mentioned that things were about to get a lot more exciting in our industry, I just had to first make sure everything was final. We only told the whole team yesterday.
iRun: Talk directly to runners: what does this mean to their race experience?
DS: Signing up for a race is a big deal. Some folks might be attempting a new distance, attempting a PR, and there’s a lot of needs around training, whether it’s meeting like-minded people or upgrading your gear and through our Institute of Sport Science, we can make adaptive training programs that fit really well with the Race Roster ecosystem.
iRun: How so?
DS: We can detail a course’s elevation gains and craft training plans for that specific event while connecting runners and giving them education and, of course, allowing them the opportunity to test drive new ASICS products. It’s about giving runners more to engage with in the race experience, which we know runners want.
AVH: The fun thing is that there’s a lot we don’t understand yet, but it’s going to be a fun experiment to listen to runners.
iRun: What have Canadian race directors said about your new deal?
AVH: So far amongst our friends in the race business in Canada, people we both love, like Cory Freedman with Sporting Life 10K, Rachel Munday with the Manitoba Marathon and Kirsten Fleming with the Calgary Marathon, everyone’s excited. Races will be able to offer their participants more, and smarter custom offerings, and the whole race experience will be enhanced, at no cost to athletes.
iRun: Some of these races, Ottawa with Saucony or STWM, which already has a relationship with New Balance, are in cahoots with shoe brands. How will this deal with ASICS effect previous relationships with competitive brands?
AVH: Somebody like CRS [Canada Running Series] that already has great relationships, this will not at all interfere with that part of their business. The priority is to provide the best technology to our partners so that they can create amazing experiences for their runners.
DS: The great thing about being digital natives is that we can customize the experience per each of our partners. We have to customize the experience for every race, everywhere. So what it looks like for each individual partner might be different, we’ll have to see.
iRun: Dan, you were the CEO of Runkeeper, which ASICS acquired and was a fitness app with GPS tracking that’s still part of ASICS’ digital core. What does Race Roster bring to your table?
DS: Engagement opportunities. It’s such a powerful way of engaging with runners and that’s not only race day, but from registration to celebrating at the finish line. Frankly, from my perspective, what’s most surprising is that some brand hasn’t already done this.
iRun: Why’s that?
DS: From ASICS perspective, we’re a premium running brand committed to runners and the running community and with Race Roster, it’s perhaps the best celebration of running—these events, and we aspire to be present at all of them, but it’s not possible. Or it wasn’t possible. Until we looked around and saw that the team that’s going to win is Race Roster, they’ve demonstrated their commitment to the sport.
iRun: Alex, what does this mean to Race Roster? Are you moving to Boston?
AVH: We’re firmly committed to London, Ontario, where we started, and actually to show that commitment, we’re moving into a bigger space in London, where we’re going to put RACE ROSTER up in big letters right across from the train station. This means Race Roster will hire more employees and bring in more talent to London, Ontario—where we started and where we’re going to grow well beyond geographic boundaries.
DS: We couldn’t be happier with the job Alex and his team have done and we’re going to bring new resources to the table, like the 50-million strong Runkeeper audience. ASICS gives Race Roster a whole new set of tools to help racers, race directors and events.
iRun: It feels like a cool, exciting day for runners.
AVH: We’re serious about serving runners, all runners, whether it’s the 5K, 10K, half marathons, marathons, and that’s what we’re doing with ASICS. We’re going where runners are and giving them new tools for their disposal. We do that, everyone wins.
iRun: Especially ASICS, if they sell more shoes.
DS: When you serve runners and the running community, the shoes sell themselves.