By Mathias Eichler
Winter, trails, darkness, and all the weather.
One last hurrah before the end of the year. Runners, get ready for a fun and festive holiday treat along the trails of Squaxin Park.
Matt Walsh over on his Substack is suggesting that “we don’t need more shoe reviews”.
This week we’re back discussing why endless shoe reviews are bad for our sport and why we need more trail running media outlets to make a leap away from the safety of the spreadsheet.
I suppose he’s referring to the recent shift in iRunFar’s focus from race reports and race coverage to reviewing and promotion A LOT of shoe releases. Although it’s of course a bit unfair to just single them out here, since most trail media outlets are getting sucked into the vortex of chasing the SEO game and hoping for the big ad spenders to consider their platform for a an ad buy.
Matt ends with the simple plea:
The future of trail running media needn’t be more shoe reviews. We have enough of them thank you. We need stories built on the sport and it’s community.
His comment got me thinking and I wanted take this thoughts a bit further.
1# Shoe/Gear brands are the only businesses in our market that are currently making real money.
Athletes certainly aren’t buying themselves third vacation homes.
Media outlets are either start ups, or are suffering from the general decimation all media outlets are challenged by. (Or invested their cash in NFTs and are trying to dig themselves out of that hole.)
Events managers (race directors) don’t seem to have a business model that allows them to scale to riches.
Land owners are mostly public entities.
So, gear companies control the narrative via their cash.
But there’s another angle to this:
2# Trail running is and hopefully will always be a participatory sport.
When Dylan Bowman exclaims boldly that ‘trail running will save the world’ I hope what he means by that is not just a desperate call for him to find a business model for his post pro athlete career but that he sees the power of trail running being an accessible invitation for everyone to go out and experience adventure. Our sport is relatively cheap (makers of carbon-plated shoes are desperately trying to change that.) and is challenging to follow along from the couch.
So, we have a participatory sport (woohoo!) and gear companies with outsized influence (big pockets full of cash).
So the folks with money get to dictated how the media writes about the sport. And while we might say that we don’t need any more shoe reviews, the average runner needs several pairs a year, because they don’t just sit on the couch, but actually participate in the sport they are reading media articles about. So, the advertisers reach their audience through the media desperate trying to get their hands on some of the cash the gear companies make from the growing interest in our sport.
Should the media be more discerning and critical in their reporting? Yes. And one would think the readers would appreciate discerning and quality reporting… but then again, TikTok videos seem to move the needle more for brands these days than quality conversation about the advantages of $300 running shoes. So what Matt seems to be lamenting is a general “social media-ification” of the general media landscape rather than a unique problem in our trail running sport.
But, one thing I do agree with is that if trail running is supposed to save the world then I hope it ends up doing more than just making lots of money for gear companies.