Virgin Group will deepen its involvement in health and fitness with its latest venture Virgin Sport which is aiming to help people overcome the everyday hurdles which prevent them from taking up exercise with the help of sporting festivals.
The new brand will attempt to change the way people think about mass participation sporting events by working with local groups to offer a range of activities and events that are not only fun but can have a positive impact on local communities.
Virgin Sport will be built around festivals of sport in the UK and US and will target both experienced fitness enthusiasts and those new to working out. They will initially be based around running and cycling activities with the goal of expanding to include more and more sports.
The idea for the group’s new venture came from founder Sir Richard Branson after he ran the Virgin Money London Marathon and took part in the Cape Argus Cycle Tour. Blown away by the support from fans and those participating, Branson decided that his company should endeavour to create such experiences while making it easier for people to take up exercise.
This led him to appoint Mary Wittenberg as Virgin Sport’s global chief executive. Wittenberg brings with her a wealth of experience in running major events having served as chief executive of the New York Road Runners for 10 years during which time she oversaw 50 events – the most famous of which was the New York Marathon.
“At New Year’s everyone sets this goal of being fit and healthy and being their best but there’s always obstacles that stop us and our whole reason for being is to look at how we can get people over the obstacles that stop them from pursuing these ambitions,” says Wittenberg.
“The whole idea is to bring people together in these experiences that will make taking on a challenge fun. We believe that stepping outside our comfort zone and taking on a challenge is what allows us to grow but we want to make it more accessible for people to do so.”
The new brand’s inaugural event will be Virgin Sport Hackney on 30 April which includes a half marathon, a 5.5k Chase Your Mate challenge and a free fitness and yoga bootcamp on Hackney Marshes.
As part of its efforts to work with local communities Virgin Sport has partnered with Youth Sport Trust for the Hackney event to encourage more children to take up sport.
It’s partnerships like this and with already established running clubs that will play an important role in marketing the new enterprise going forward.
“We’ll get started with word of mouth and social and we’ll build on it from there,” says Wittenberg. “Over time we’ll bring in partners who’ll help activate but we’re more about the grassroots. Running has some incredible grassroots running scene. One of the things we want to do is connect people in the local community to all the things that are already happening, especially in Hackney with the East End runners with things like London Midnight Runners.”
The other three festivals announced for this year will take place at Westminster on 9 July, San Francisco on 14-15 October and Oxford in October.