Festivals of Sport: Merging Group Sports Experiences With Health and Wellbeing by John Francis

Festivals of Sport: Merging Group Sports Experiences With Health and Wellbeing

Giant outdoor music festivals with dozens of big-name acts drawing tens of thousands of fans — think Coachella, Outside Lands and Bonnaroo — are all the rage now and show no signs of slowing down. In fact, new festivals are emerging every year.

Music, of course, is the main draw, but many festivals are offering fans a little something extra, from chill lounges and massage booths to gaming rooms and wine tasting areas. Some festivals are also adding a fitness/health/wellbeing components, with yoga and workout sessions, participatory sporting events and athletic competitions. 

And Virgin CEO Richard Branson has taken the concept one step further with his Virgin Sport enterprise, created in 2015 with his son-in-law Freddie Andrewes and CEO Mary Wittenberg, former president and CEO of New York Road Runners and former race director of the New York City Marathon.

Virgin Sport has already held three Festivals of Sport in England and one, the Virgin Sport San Francisco Festival of Fitness, coming up Oct. 14-15, features a new half-marathon, a hill climb and Go Fit Yourself fitness classes, all part of “a weekend long celebration of local SF culture and community with art, music, culture, and much, much more.”

And being the daring and creative innovator that he is, Branson will undoubtedly expand on that concept as well, as the Virgin Sport brand builds awareness.

“Sporting events in the past have all been very much aimed at the individual and not at the family as a whole, whereas a concert is fun for everybody,” Branson told www.fastcompany.com. “That’s what a sports event should be, and that’s what we’re going to make it. We’re thinking about it very much in the same vein as a music festival; even the tickets that people will buy will look like music festival tickets.”

Virgin even describes these events as the “Coachella of sport.” And while the emphasis now is on sports and fitness, there’s no reason to think that other elements of these festivals can’t grow as well.

“We created Virgin Sport to get millions more people moving, while connecting with others and having fun along the way,” Wittenberg told JWT Intelligence. She said she wants the festivals to echo the  “spirit, commitment and passion of the community” that comes together for music festivals. “We think there is an opportunity for a similarly empowering experience with fitness and active lifestyle at the heart.”

While the concept hasn’t exactly taken off yet, many festival organizers are seeing the benefits of adding sports, fitness, well-being and healing arts to their roster of attractions for festival-goers.

For example, the Minus Zero Music Festival at the Stratton Mountain resort in Vermont combines the world of electronic music and winter sports; the Yoga Reggae Fest in Washington D.C. offers just that, yoga and reggae music; and Monster Energy’s Center of Gravity Festival started out as a beach volleyball festival and morphed into a “three-day adrenaline beach festival with sports, food and all the hottest live music anyone could ask for.”

And then there’s the LEAF Festival in Black Mountain, North Carolina, a multi-cultural music and arts festival whose mission is nothing less than an effort to “transform lives, connect cultures and generate unity” through music, the arts and wellness.

Attendees pitch their tents on the grounds of Lake Eden for the four-day festival that includes not only live music, but meditation spaces, massage booths, yoga classes, a tea lounge with tea-tasting classes, a black-light yoga rave, stand-up paddleboard yoga, a kombucha-making workshop, and much more.

“At a lot of festivals, you end up feeling supertired after the weekend,” Jess Toan, healing-arts director for LEAF, told mountainx.com. “There’s staying up all night and dancing all the time, which is great, but (the healing-arts programming) adds balance where you can go get a massage or even go get a chiropractic adjustment after sleeping in a tent all weekend, get acupuncture or go to a yoga class. I think it’s a really key component to a festival weekend because it brings that balance, especially for families.”

Festival organizers who are adding sports, fitness and wellness components to their music festivals believe it’s a win-win situation for everyone, from organizers who can tap into a new (and healthier) audience, to the music fans themselves.

“I think that it exposes people to the possibilities of self-care and the healing arts,” Corey Costanzo, who offers healings-arts classes at LEAF, told mountainx.com. “So many people in our culture are always on the go and always trying to fit more into their schedules, and they think of self-care as a luxury, where in the wellness field we really think about self-care as a lifestyle choice.”

Added Virgin Sport’s Wittenberg: “We think there is a unique market position for something we call hard-earned fun. We know people want to be healthy, and we think that spectacular experiences can launch and support healthier lives.”

Calendar of sports festivals
Music festivals for action sports fans
Virgin Sport
Virgin Sport San Francisco Festival of Fitness

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