Thu, Jan 02, 2014 - Page 14 News List

FEATURE: Sports firms run with rise of road races

RACING AHEAD:As more Taiwanese take up running, sports companies like shoe retailers are seeing profits grow, with local businesses like hostels also benefiting

By James Lee  /  CNA staff reporter

Runners participate in a bikini beach race organized by Taitung County’s Taimali Township Office yesterday morning to celebrate New Year’s Day.

Photo: CNA

A recent surge in the popularity and number of running events in Taiwan has not only pleased sports enthusiasts, but also propelled local businesses forward in their race for profits.

Taiwan hosted about 500 running events last year, far more than the few dozen recorded annually during the 1990s, according to the Chinese Taipei Road Running Association. The figure means that an average of 10 road races and other running events are held across the country each week.

“These races have injected vitality into the sports shoes market,” said Winnie Kung, a senior analyst at market researcher GfK Group’s local branch.

Last year, there were 20 running events organized or sponsored by sports footwear brands.

As running’s popularity has taken off, so have sales of sports shoes, with retailers selling 6.6 million pairs in the first 10 months of last year, 20 percent more than in the previous year, with running shoes leading other types of footwear, according to GfK Group.

The sector’s revenue passed the NT$12 billion (US$405.3 million) line during that period to post a 26 percent year-on-year increase.

“Running events have become a good way to spend weekends,” said Taipei resident Leon Hong, who participates in running events nearly every week that have taken him all over the country, from Yilan and Hualien in the east, to Nantou and Changhua in central Taiwan, Chiayi and Greater Kaohsiung in the south and Green Island.

“It’s nice to enjoy beautiful scenery while running and getting to interact with locals in different places is a lot of fun,” the 37-year-old said.

Many racing enthusiasts also tout the social aspect of the sport, saying that runners may start a race alone, but cross the finish line with new friends in their fellow runners.

In addition to sports shoes retailers, some businesses in rural townships are also seeing the benefits of marathons and fun runs.

Lien Kung-yu, a guesthouse owner in Nantou County’s Shuili Township (水里), told reporters that her guesthouse is almost always fully booked during such events, adding that on a “hot” day, she can rake in as much as NT$40,000.

“They usually book a room for the night before the race and often buy local delicacies or liquors as souvenirs,” she said.

The increased interest in the sport has also helped foster business opportunities in undeveloped sectors, such as sports photography.

Sports photography firm All Sports Community (優橋) anticipated that road running would take off and aimed to capitalize on the trend by emulating the success similar companies have had in Japan.

All Sports Community was established in 2012 with the support of Japan’s Photocreate Co, becoming the first company in Taiwan to offer sports photography services.

“We want to enhance the quality of our products and boost our reputation in Taiwan,” All Sports Community vice president Michi Grant said.

With the company aiming to break even by June, Grant expressed optimism about the market, but said that her company needs to make more effort to make its services “more acceptable” among Taiwanese unused to paying for photos.

Similar services are popular in the US, Japan and even China, but Taiwanese are used to getting free access to images taken by photography enthusiasts or organizations, Grant said, adding that Taiwan’s laws do not equate this access with violating portrait copyright.

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