Paying for Pain: Rich People Love Endurance Sports, Crossfit – Apparently

BY Courtney Huckabay
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"Cycling, running, and obstacle course racing are dominated by white-​collar workers," Brad Stulberg says. "And while disposable income makes competing more feasible, researchers are also starting to discover a psychological pull that draws these people to masochistic events."

"Data collected in 2015 by USA Triathlon shows that the median income for triathletes is $126,000, with about 80 percent either working in white-​collar jobs—professions such medicine, law, and accounting—or currently enrolled as students. Running USA surveys conducted in 2015 and 2017 found that nearly 75 percent of runners earn more than $50,000, and about 85 percent work in white-​collar, service, or educational settings. A 2013 report published by USA Cycling shows much the same: More than 60 percent of individuals who compete in cycling events claim household incomes above $75,000. And though it doesn’t track employment, the same USA Cycling report shows that 66 percent of cyclists have at least an undergraduate degree."

This means participants have money to spend on their favorite sports. Sporting goods stores and specialty shops should target affluent audiences as well as hardcore trainees. Retailers can reach Crossfit Participants with mobile smartphone app ads or text message ads, because new AudienceSCAN research says 52.5% took action after seeing this in the past month.

"There are a handful of obvious reasons the vast majority of endurance athletes are employed, educated, and financially secure. The ability to train and compete demands that one has time, money, access to facilities, and a safe space to practice, says William Bridel, a professor at the University of Calgary who studies the sociocultural aspects of sport. “The cost of equipment, race entry fees, and travel to events works to exclude lower socioeconomic status individuals,” he says, adding that those in a higher socioeconomic bracket tend to have nine-​to-​five jobs that provide some freedom to, for example, train before or after work or even at at lunch. “Almost all of the non-​elite Ironman athletes who I’ve interviewed for my research had what would be considered white-​collar jobs and commented on the flexibility this provided,” says Bridel.

The new AudienceSCAN survey showed 3.8% of Americans have physically participated in Crossfit activities at least once and would like to do so again sometime in the future, and 24.3% of them earn $75,000-$99,999 annually. Another 12.3% of Crossfit Participants have household incomes of $150,000 and up.

"Even so, there are myriad ways for relatively comfortable middle-​to-​upper-​class individuals to spend their time and money. What is it about the voluntary suffering of endurance sports that attracts them?" Stulberg asks.

"One hypothesis is that endurance sports offer something that most modern-​day knowledge economy jobs do not: the chance to pursue a clear and measurable goal with a direct line back to the work they have put in. “I love the results—running faster, running longer, going after a clear-​cut goal,” says Josh White, a biochemical engineer in Philadelphia who is also a competitive age-​group triathlete."

The fitness category can put the pressure on with social media advertising. The new AudienceSCAN survey found 80% of Crossfit Participants took action after seeing ads on social networks in the past year.

"Another reason white-​collar workers are flocking to endurance sports has to do with the sheer physicality involved. Researchers have found a resounding theme: the pursuit of pain. The pursuit of pain has become so common among well-​to-​do endurance athletes that scientific articles have been written about what researchers are calling “white-​collar rhabdomyolysis,” referring to a condition in which extreme exercise causes kidney damage."

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.