Marathon fever is sweeping across China. Fueled by the country’s economic development and rapidly growing middle class keen on staying fit, “marathoning” has grown into a massive sport and lucrative opportunity for brands.
In an effort to explore the sport’s potential, Nielsen, together with the Chinese Athletic Association, recently conducted the country’s first systematic study on Chinese marathon runners. The study, conducted at the end of last year, confirms that long-distance running is growing in popularity among the increasingly affluent and health-conscious Chinese consumers—consumers who are willing to invest significantly to participate in the sport.
“Marathon is a mass sport, and the people who are engaged come from various backgrounds,” said Lynn Zhang, vice-president of Nielsen China. “So we needed to conduct this study of the different groups of runners to better understand their specific needs.”
Participating in marathon races has long been popular around the world, but its rise in popularity in China is relatively recent. It has even become a way for many Chinese to showcase a new sense of fashion. So who are these active runners?
The Nielsen study found that a large proportion of this expanding group is from the country's exploding middle class—those who are young and well off financially.
As for the distribution of runners, the study found that that people living in the country’s affluent north, east and south regions are more engaged than those elsewhere. People in highly developed mega cities like Beijing and Shanghai have the largest participation levels, at 17.1% and 11.6%, respectively. People in the less-developed west and central regions have the lowest participation levels, at just 9.5% and 5.4%, respectively.
Regarding background, the study found that marathoning is more likely to involve consumers with strong education backgrounds and professional careers. Twenty-four percent of core runners—those who run at least twice a week in no less than three months and have completed a marathon in the past three years—have master’s degrees. The study also found that 36% of core marathoners are in middle and senior management positions. Additionally, 54% of core runners own cars and 42% of them are vice presidents at banks.
Almost 90% of core marathon runners are men. However, the number of female core marathon runners is expected to grow, as 38% of potential runners are women. These female runners are active exercisers who run once a week for over three months and engage in sports activities twice a week.
Ninety-eight percent of surveyed core runners plan to complete full marathon in the coming year, and 37% percent are considering ultramarathon, cross-country running or trail marathon. Eighty-six percent of recreational runners plan to complete a half marathon, and 66% of them plan to attempt a full marathon. About 55% of potential runners will attempt a half-marathon this year.
For additional insight, explore the extended results of the survey on our greater China website.