THE BUSINESS OF SPORT

Fun mass runs the road ahead

Jeffrey Foo's firm Infinitus organises several high-profile running events, including the ST Run. He wants to keep the light-hearted element to draw the younger and less active runners.
Jeffrey Foo's firm Infinitus organises several high-profile running events, including the ST Run. He wants to keep the light-hearted element to draw the younger and less active runners.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Events boss Jeffrey Foo says running market is far from saturated as he plots further growth at home and abroad

As a veteran of almost 20 Ironman triathlon and full marathons, Jeffrey Foo, founder of the aptly-named Infinitus Productions, knows a thing or two about pushing himself to his physical limits.

Converting the masses and getting them to lace up their running shoes similarly fuel the 43-year-old, who set up the events management company in 2013.

It organised nine major lifestyle and sports events last year, including the inaugural Straits Times Run at the Hub. And it has increased that stable to 20 - by venturing overseas as well - by year-end.

Infinitus, which employs about 25 staff in its Ubi office and counts JP Morgan, SGX and Great Eastern among its clients, has a projected 2015 turnover of "high seven figures". Foo expects that number to double next year.

Since his time as co-founder of HiVelocity, which owns and organises the Sundown Marathon, in 2007, before leaving to start his own business, he has been involved in over 100 running events.

AN EASIER FIRST STEP

You offer them a 5km fun run and it's not daunting or scary. That encourages them to give it a try and maybe move on to more serious running later on.

JEFFREY FOO on attracting new entrants to the sport

His start-up company may be the new kid on the block but has already made a splash on the local scene with the creation of its Illumi Run. The eureka moment came after Foo chanced upon a non-toxic, water-soluble neon paint from the United States.

Runners of the 5km night race are accompanied by a soundtrack of electronic music and, splashed with the paint, glow under ultraviolet light. The event culminates in a rave party with deejays.

Such has been the Illumi Run's popularity - it has sold out in Singapore for the past two years and attracted almost 30,000 people - that Foo has taken it abroad.

The response in Brisbane (he has set up an office there), Guangzhou and Beijing is equally good. More cities in Australia and China will be added to the roster. It is believed to be the first local events company to successfully market its own races in several countries.

There are plans to enter Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Macau as Foo, sporting a dark tan after returning from the Ironman 70.3 Philippines in Cebu on Sunday, shows no sign of slowing down his expansion plans.

He told The Straits Times earlier this week that his goal of hitting at least 1.2 million participants for the Illumi Run, with revenue of $62 million, over the next three to four years remains on track.

"It's a very realistic target, provided all those KPIs (key performance indicators) we have planned for are met, and that includes speaking to investors to help us with some financial muscle to scale our events at a much faster rate."

Part of his confidence stems from the global growth of these non-traditional races like The Colour Run or the zombie-themed Run for Your Lives, even as competitive races like half and full marathons have remained largely stagnant.

A 2014 report by Running USA noted that the number of estimated finishers in these fun races in America has swelled from low six figures in 2009 to a staggering four million in 2013. This represents a "nearly hard-to-believe 40-fold increase" in just five years.

It is why despite the abundance of running events domestically - there are 99 events listed in 2015 on local online magazine RunSociety, a rise from 60 in 2013 - Foo disputes the claim that the market has become too saturated.

The father of two said: "Look at participation rates. There's a pool of 200,000 runners who regularly sign up, against the country's population size of nearly six million, even discounting children and the elderly, that's still a lot of people out there to get involved in running."

Retaining the light-hearted element is essential in providing the platform to encourage youth and sedentary adults to pursue a more healthy lifestyle, added Foo. As a schoolboy, he had represented his alma mater Bartley Boys' School (now Bartley Secondary School) in sprints and long jump.

"You offer them a 5km fun run and it's not daunting or scary.

"That encourages them to give it a try and maybe move on to more serious running later on."

It is this vision he extends to all his projects, including next month's ST Run. He and his team are handling it for the second straight year and are confident of doing better after last year's edition drew about 22,000 runners.

He said: "It is our goal to further enhance the race experience for all participants, all the way from registration to the finish line."

• The Business of Sport is a monthly series looking at the movers and shakers of Singapore's emerging sports business industry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2015, with the headline 'FUN MASS RUNS THE ROAD AHEAD'. Print Edition | Subscribe