In June, we completed a research study designed to help understand customers’ feelings towards key aspects of the industry’s recovery including expected changes to registration behaviour.

The study highlighted that it was likely to take some time to rebuild consumer confidence that has been eroded by cancellation of events and challenges obtaining refunds. With uncertainty around the likelihood of events taking place successfully and risk of further cancellations it was our belief that participants would delay registration until they were confident that their chosen event would take place.  

Furthermore, the report highlighted that 37% of participants would prefer to wait until they have seen events successfully take place in their local area before committing to a registration.

Three months on and with three successful events delivered we reviewed the registration data to see if there had been any changes to registration behaviour as a result of COVID-19.

For the purposes of comparison we took the three events that were successfully delivered in July and August 2020 to the equivalent events from 2019.


In each year the running events formed part of a three race series, all held within shopping malls in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. To compare registration trends we mapped the close of registration for the comparable race in the previous year, visualizing the progress towards the total number of registrations achieved in each event.

As the post-COVID capacity was lower than the previous year this approach enabled us to identify the trends in registration, identifying the % of registered participants who registered after we would have expected them to based on historic behaviour.

For the purpose of tracking changes over time, the difference between the expected and achieved rate of registration is defined as rδ.

Race 1

Held in July 2020, Race 1 was the first sporting event to return to the UAE after a 5 month absence, with this came inevitable audience apprehension. It should be noted that in the UAE it’s common for registrations to be confirmed late, as shown by the blue line, representing the comparable registration trend for the 2019 edition of the race where 40% of registrations were confirmed within the last week.

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When comparing with 2020, the first race after the outbreak of COVID-19 you’ll see an initial lift as a result of excitement to see an event returning, followed by a significant slowdown that culminated in 51% of the participants waiting until the last week to register for the event.

By calculating the rδ (0.93) we can determine that the rate of registration was 7% slower than expected for this event.

Race 2

Race 2 was held 3 weeks after Race 1 and immediately you can see that there has been a change in registration behaviour with the trend for the 2020 event more closely replicating the pattern of registrations seen in 2019.

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The rate of registrations was slower than previously recorded, however, the rδ (0.97) highlights increasing consumer confidence. This was underpinned by a participant retention rate of 45% with those who had experienced a successful event delivery keen to return to the next event in the series.

Race 3

Moving onto race 3, held 6 weeks after the initial event, we see further improvement in customer confidence, demonstrated by the convergence of the lines representing the 2019 and 2020 registration trends.

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The rδ for the third event (1.01) shows that for the most part the 2020 event tracked slightly ahead of schedule but was very closely aligned with the expected registration trend.


It was hypothesised that event organisers would need to build consumer confidence over time and the results of the research into registration trends supports this. The changes in registration behaviour over a 6 week period following the introduction of the first event demonstrate the increasing levels of confidence that saw the pattern of registration return to normal.

Having monitored other events in the same region we can suggest that it is not a given that this behavioural trend will hold for all events. Variation is expected between regions and even the event organisers.

Where these three events reached their capacity, other events in the region fell short despite being priced comparatively. Having devised the marketing strategy for the three events in question and noting the differences in comparison to events that fell short of their target we believe that there is value in communication designed to build customer confidence.

Trust is an important factor in making a decision to return and focusing on building confidence over time will ultimately help improve the rate of registrations. From a marketing perspective Electronic Direct Mail (EDMs) to previous customers is likely to play an important role in any return to events marketing strategy, helping to outline the steps you are taking to protect customers who are already familiar with you.

If you’re planning your own return to events, or have any questions about the research contained within the article please feel free to reach out by email to