Nick Kozak for the Toronto Star
Case Studies uses engagement, content, and social media to resurrect it’s online running portal

Vital Stats
Peter Donato
Endurance sports
Under $1 million
4 full time, 30 part time/interns
Years Active:

In late 2010, was virtual ghost town.

The website, which hosts race calendars for runners, cyclists, adventure racers and triathletes, was only getting a few dozen visitors each day. Athletes were spending their time on social media, and competing endurance race websites popped up on what seemed like a daily basis.

For founder Peter Donato, it was clear that the website did not just need to be fixed, it needed a complete reboot. Now, more than one year after the re-launch, people have begun to return — but not in the numbers MyNextRace previously enjoyed.

Donato says the site was an immediate success among Ontario racers when it launched in 2005. Before MyNextRace, athletes had to visit three or four triathlete websites and skim through dozens of general interest running pages to find nearby races. MyNextRace became a leader by hosting information on every type of endurance race, instead of focusing on one subset like most of its competitors at the time.

From 2007-2009, the company was run by Donato, one full time worker, and the occasional intern. With that small staff, they managed about 2500 unique hits each day.

But it didn’t last.

Twitter and Facebook changed the way people interacted online, and MyNextRace was slow to follow the trend.

“Towards the end of 2010 the site basically broke,” Donato says, and visits plummeted.

That’s when Donato realized the site needed a fundamental change. Instead of a source for information, it had to become a community where athletes could converge.

In June 2011 — after $45,000 and six months of work — a new version of MyNextRace launched. It was time to both draw in new eyes, and win back the old audience.

Andrew Harnden is the chief strategy officer for Work at Play, a digital marketing agency based in Vancouver. He says websites often feel intimidated by the idea of rebooting their image, as well as the amount of interaction necessary to keep members coming back. But trying something new can mean big rewards, and, he says, the risks are often blown out of proportion.

“There is a certain element of forgiveness,” he says. “You can go out and test a hypothesis. You can fail fast and recover.”

When MyNextRace re-launched in 2011, Donato says it was like starting over again.

With a larger team — four full time staff and up to six interns at any given time — MyNextRace expanded its focus. Blogs, photos, and videos featuring training tips are now major aspects of the website. They also had a new mission: expansion.

According to the company’s national sales rep, Doug Eriksen, the goal is to go beyond Ontario and become the go-to spot for endurance racers across Canada, and eventually throughout North America.

Still, Eriksen notes that expanding internationally is not something that happens overnight. MyNextRace is working to the goal gradually, finding clients in new cities and using social media to increase their reach.

“We’re doing the right stuff,” Eriksen says. “It’s just a slow game.”

But traffic does need to increase quickly in order to keep the business going, and this one of the largest barriers the business faces. It’s a situation aggravated by the fact that, at the moment, there isn’t money for the tools that Donato says would help reach a larger audience.

“I would love to spend $2,000 a month on a proper SEO strategy,” he says, “but I have to prepare for the fact that it’s going to take a few months to see that increase in revenue.”

The race calendar covers most of Canada and some of the U.S., and keeping it updated is extremely labour intensive. A quick search on the website makes this clear — there’s information for 317 Canadian races in October alone, all of which had to be inputted manually by the company’s staff.

The company does have one trick up its sleeves though — the site’s Banana Reviews, which Donato describes as Rotten Tomato movie reviews for endurance races. Members use them to rank and critique events, and can search for upcoming races by past ratings. It’s a unique offering, by far the site’s most popular feature, and is helping to drive traffic up.

Plus, Donato is finally embracing social media. With more than 17,000 likes on Facebook and nearly 1,000 followers on Twitter, he says the campaign is already working, and plans to continue building his following.

That’s good for the long term, but the website has yet to find its earlier success, despite the increased work and additional staff. They only average 500 unique views per day at the moment, but the buildup of traffic has been promising, with hits doubling every three or four months. Donato projects that My Next Race will reach its previous record highs by spring 2013, and is already bringing in more revenue than it costs to maintain, although profits are lower than he’d like.

“There’s still no other website in our market that can do what we can do,” Donato says. “We`re winning people back. The love is coming back. We just want to accelerate that.”


As Interviewed by: Tom Henheffer

It’s been over a year since the site relaunched, and it’s great that they understand the importance of being a community hub, but they still want to grow membership and revenues. With an impressive 17,000 Facebook likes, they obviously have a large following and good word of mouth. It’s time to take advantage of that, collect some data about the membership, and pitch it to advertisers or major sponsors. There are a lot of brands that want to sell clothing, accessories and technology to runners — Donato needs to bring them on board by showing them exactly who he’s reaching. Then, some of this extra advertising cash can be spent on boosting the company’s SEO. It’ll be worthwhile, because SEO is key for a website’s sustained growth. Finally, uploading all that race information is an obvious challenge, but one that might not be a problem long-term. If Donato can become the running calendar in North America, eventually race organizers will start coming to him, and he can let them upload event information themselves. He just has to reach that critical mass first.

by Tisha Rattos - Rogers

MyNextRace has progressed well since re-launching, but I think there’s more they can do to increase growth. First, I’d recommend they concentrate on smaller events — people already know about the Toronto and Boston marathons. But small races need logistical support and help reaching runners, and are more likely to be interested in partnering — especially if the website can take some of the administrative work off their hands. These relationships can make it easier for the company to start offering package deals to runners, for example, an offer of 25 per cent off the fourth race when you sign up for three races. This approach may keep users coming back to the website and generate some good word of mouth advertising. Lastly, it might be worth adding some customization to the site. Instead of everyone getting the same newsletter, MyNextRace could let runners create profiles so they’re only notified about events in their geographical area, or ones that align with their interests. It all comes down to increasing the value offering, which will help retain users, build momentum and grow the number of visitors.

by Mike Feaver - RBC

There are different layers you need to be successful in a business like this. The first is core technology. The coding, design and layout of your website has to work and be intuitive because people are increasingly intolerant of poor design — especially when they’re looking for information relating to a leisure activity. The second is a realization that everything in this space is constantly changing. Whether it’s adding a website, blog, a presence on Facebook and Twitter or a mobile app, companies who primarily interact with their customers online need to be constantly innovating. If you’re standing still, you might already be falling behind. And the last aspect is scalability. They can’t keep hiring more and more interns to input race data as the company grows across North America. If they want to be the hub for endurance racing, they’ll need to find the right data management tools to simplify the process of inputting that information. This probably means contracting to a programmer or hiring an outside firm, but it will be key for MyNextRace’s growth.

by Gary Isaacs - Cisco