On Tuesday, January 7th, as tens of thousands of runners descended on Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, many were carefully watching their social media feeds for new merchandise, crowd lines, photos of stuffed suitcases, and flat costumes. What they got was news entirely unexpected, and arguably, something no one was asking for.
RunDisney released an announcement about Club RunDisney — a “unique membership opportunity for runners.” Registration goes live on February 18th, 2020, three days before Princess Half Marathon weekend. This membership is offered at three levels, Silver, Gold, and Platinum, and is good from October 1st, 2020 through September 30th, 2021.
Before I dive into my thoughts about this personally, here’s a quick and recent history:
2017: runDisney announced that the four race weekend events at Disneyland in California would be put “on hiatus.” This was due to upcoming construction that would inhibit the race course start and finish lines. Construction had started, and runDisney rumors circulated that it would be 18-24 months to allow for construction, after which the races would return to Anaheim. As of 2020 (36+ months later), many runners are still waiting for this to happen, and vehemently shaking their virtual fists at runDisney. Unfortunately, as this is a political standoff between Disneyland Parks and the City of Anaheim, runDisney and the runners that love those races are the ones who are losing out. The kids always suffer the most in the divorce.
2018: runDisney discontinues its relationship with Active.com and their online registration platform, bringing all registration in house — arguably more convenient, but coming with that was an increase in registration fees per race plus the platform fee Active was already charging. runDisney Participant reactions were mixed.
2019: Wine & Dine weekend brought new product offerings at the Merchandise store. Champion t-shirts were no longer offered, and runDisney created their own in-house brand. While the promise for 5k tech tees was kept, lower quality apparel took the place of the former sponsored product. Some fans were not happy with this change, especially after the race registration fees increased.
VIP Race Retreat was discontinued — a service for a nominal extra fee that allowed early access to the Expo, a special climate-controlled tent on race mornings, and which provided fewer perks every year for the same price.
Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts are undergoing massive changes as well, particularly at Epcot, forcing runDisney to move the beloved finish line far away from Spaceship Earth — one of the most iconic moments for most runDisney photos. This was an unpopular decision for the 2019 Wine and Dine events, but fortunately, the race organizers were able to fix this for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, at least partially. This is not runDisney’s fault, but in light of all of these changes, they aren’t winning anyone over.
The “rope drop” at the RunDisney Merchandise Store is a chaotic free-for-all, getting more crowded with every runDisney event. Runners have to fight with online resellers who are purchasing 10-20 pieces of the same event-specific commemorative items, leaving runners without those items for which they have put months of training in to earn. Many times these resellers mark up the original price online. Participants have been asking for better control on this for years.
Runner’s Square is a new offering and a perceived replacement for VIP Race Retreat. While it is a lovely offering, it is lacking the same benefits as its predecessor. This exclusive event is still offered for the upcoming Princess Half Marathon weekend, but is not being offered for Star Wars Rival Run. At the time of this writing, there is no “added-benefit” package of any kind for the April event.
In light of all of these changes, long-time fans are becoming disillusioned with runDisney. It’s becoming increasingly more expensive for decreasing value.
Thus, it is in this environment that Club runDisney is introduced. What exactly is it, and what was the response? The website and Press Release promise a range of perks and special benefits.
For the Silver membership, you pay $265.43. You get a Jacket, a magnet, and a membership card; “Tier 1 pricing” (more about this in a second); exclusive Club Virtual 10k; and “special designation” on your race bibs.
So, let’s break that down: A jacket and magnet at the Merchandise store would cost about $120-140. We were able to see the jacket in person, and knowing the brand of jacket (Ogio, which, online retails around $100), we were relieved to see that is was a higher quality brand. The only difference between that and the Membership would be the “perceived exclusivity” of the items.
Tier 1 pricing –Other race organizations do this, as did runDisney for a time, ending the Tiered system a few years ago. runDisney quietly reintroduced this program with the 2020 Star Wars Rival Run Events. Tiered pricing works this way: When registration opens, often very early prior to the race, the registration fee is at its lowest. As time passes, the price goes up incrementally. It benefits the athlete to register earlier. It’s not a new concept, and in my opinion, it’s something I think runDisney should never have dropped. Club runDisney members will get this “early-bird” pricing no matter when they register. The Exclusive Virtual 10k is basically just purchasing a medal — probably a nice medal, but really just that. Many virtual races are like this, so runDisney is really just following industry standard. For a comparison, the runDisney Summer Shorts Virtual 5k medals are $50 each. The Membership card and the special bib are not added value except for the “perceived value” — you aren’t getting something more for your membership fee. In my opinion, the actual value of Silver levels is about $170-200.
Gold members get all of this and for $478.63 also get a “guaranteed opportunity to purchase” a half marathon or greater during the early registration window (currently available to Annual Passholders). We did speak with a Club RunDisney representative at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Health and Fitness Expo, who explained that this applies to half marathons, the full marathon, and any challenge that includes either of those two distances such as 2-course challenges, Goofy, and Dopey.
Breaking that down, you are paying an extra $200+ to purchase a bib a week early at Tier 1 Prices — the only additional perk of Gold Membership. With approximately 10% of the bibs historically allotted to early registration for Annual Passholders, you aren’t really missing out on anything if you have to wait until the following week when General Registration opens. With the exception of Princess weekend events, runDisney races are not selling out nearly as fast as they were 5 years ago. It might be best to save the money on the Gold Membership, especially if you are an Annual Passholder.
For the Platinum level at $798.43, you get all of the above, plus “guaranteed opportunity to purchase” a bib for each race during a weekend at the early registration point, such as the 5k plus the Two Course Challenge. Also included is a special “lounge” with exclusive bib pickup and early access to RunDisney Merchandise store (this is the VIP Race Retreat repackaged). The last offering listed was upgraded corral placement — probably the hottest topic in online discussion.
The Platinum level again only offers “perceived” value in a few areas, and runDisney is not really giving anything away for free. You get more opportunities to spend more of your money earlier. The lounge and early access to the Merchandise is a fine idea and something that has actual value due to the aforementioned lack of Merchandise controls. However for $800, it is around 300% more than the VIP Race Retreat used to cost when these benefits were last offered. The upgraded corral placement will guarantee you get placed in corral F, no higher — currently 6 out of 8 corrals back for the half and full marathons. So if you qualified for an earlier corral with a valid proof of time, Platinum membership adds no value on this front. If you did not qualify for corrals A-E, then this might benefit you, unless you would have been placed in Corral F anyway (Club runDisney FAQs). We did clarify this with the aforementioned Cast Member, who confirmed this.
The social media response to this announcement has largely been negative, and frankly I’m putting that nicely. The high cost of membership for the little perceived value is only adding fuel to the public relations fire that runDisney is trying to put out.
Let me be clear. I have been publicly supportive of many of the decisions runDisney has made in recent years, choosing to give them the benefit of the doubt in many situations when others would not. I believe that this race organization is truly the high standard for the running industry in many ways, offering a fun atmosphere for novice and veteran runners alike. That said, this “membership service” isn’t really giving fans of runDisney what we’ve been wanting or asking for.
runDisney fans did not ask for an exclusive club. They did not ask to spend more money on already expensive events. They asked for Disneyland races to return. They asked for some accountability around the Merchandise purchases. They asked for high quality Talent and Entertainment. The reason runDisney is losing credibility is that they’ve created an experience that people want to keep coming back to, but those people don’t want to pay higher, more exclusive prices for something they were already getting.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Club runDisney Cast Member who gave his time to answer questions about this service at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Health and Fitness Expo. I was kind with my questions, but made sure I was getting answers to those questions. While I will not be purchasing any of these Club-level benefits, I hope we can get more information about this soon.
If you plan on joining Club runDisney because you see value in the product, I would love to hear from you why and if you find this valuable. However, if there is something you do want runDisney to offer, your best bet is to reach out to them. You may receive an email back saying little more than “thanks for the feedback,” but they do hear us. If you truly believe that runDisney crossed the line with this offering and say, “Never Again,” then let your actions speak for you.
My question for you is, what do you think of Club runDisney? I would love to hear your thoughts, and please share this post. Until next time, go find your awesome, and truly…happy running.