By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
American Thanksgiving tradition generally dictates that the most competitive thing we do on the third Thursday of November each year is eat. According to research from the Calorie Control Council, the average American may consume more than 4,500 calories from our stuffing and pie-laden holiday dinners and snacking throughout the day.
Maybe we need all this carbo-loading to fuel us for our other favorite Thanksgiving sport: shopping.
Over “Black Weekend” 2013, shoppers spent an estimated $22.2 billion, according to data from Shopper Trak. This year, online shopping on Black Friday is expected to surge 28% from last year, to $2.48 billion, while Cyber Monday is expected to see $2.6 billion in online sales. On Turkey Day itself, eager shoppers will flood the likes of Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Target, while online sales are projected to reach $1.35 billion, up 27% from 2013 per data provided by Adobe Systems.
Shopping and stuffing aside, Thanksgiving Day is a busy time in the realm of real sports. In honor of our national holiday, we take a look at Turkey Trots, ski resorts, and heavy TV consumption of our true national pastime, NFL football.
The Turkey Trot
While Turkey Trots are not new—Buffalo, NY founded its turkey trot in 1896 and claims title to our nation’s oldest continuously running public footrace—more people participate in races and other organized workouts on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year, according to Athlinks, an athletic-event data aggregator.
Last year, roughly 870,000 people ran in an organized Turkey Day race, a 770% increase from 100,000 participants five years earlier. These big numbers are not only good for runners’ waistlines, they’re a boon to communities, sponsors, and local charities.
In Dallas, 35,000 people are expected to line up to run in the city’s annual Turkey Trot. Second only to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Official Capital One Bank Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot is the largest Thanksgiving event of its kind in the world. “Last year we were excited to be recognized in the ‘Top 5 Fun Runs’ to try in the United States,” said YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas’ Sarah Byrom.
Ten years ago, Silicon Valley Leadership Group President and CEO Carl Guardino and his wife Leslee founded the Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot, after realizing that the city of Sacramento was lapping the Bay Area when it came to Turkey Day events.
For their first outing in 2005, according to the San Jose Mercury News, the Guardinos hoped to have 1,000 participants and collect $100,000 to be divvied up between Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara/San Mateo Counties, the Housing Trust Silicon Valley, and Healthier Kids Foundation Santa Clara County. But that inaugural race actually netted $132,000 for the three charities, with 1,900 runners and walkers participating.
Today, the Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot boasts of being the largest timed Turkey Trot in the U.S. For 2014, Carl Guardino hopes registrations will reach their 30,000 capacity and bring in a record $1 million in donations to the three charities (adding to the $4 million raised over the last decade).
Here’s a well-kept secret about Turkey Day skiing and snowboarding: While mountain resorts across the county aim to open by Thanksgiving weekend every year, Thanksgiving Day itself tends to be sparse on crowds, with short lift lines and reduced lodging rates. This is a prime reason why diehard skiers and snowboarders look to Thanksgiving Day as a bonus Snow Day.
In Colorado, some resorts have been operating for over a month, led by Arapahoe Basin, where skier Nate Dogggg (he claims that’s his real name) camped out for three days to claim the first chairlift ride of the North American ski season for the 19th year in a row.
Outside of this Dogggged effort, Beaver Creek resort continues its Thanksgiving Day tradition via the World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Competition, which features five finalists baking 1,000 cookies each.
In Vermont, Stowe Mountain Resort opens Saturday with help from a new $10 million snowmaking system, while Mount Snow starts the day after Thanksgiving with the Turkey Hangover Hill Climb.
In Utah, Brighton Ski Resort is the first to open for the season. On Tuesday, the resort offered $37 opening day lift tickets, a tiny flake of the $1.29 billion and 20,000 jobs that winter sports contribute to Utah’s economy, according to Ski Utah. Snow sports also play a key role in how the state is marketed to the rest of the world.
California’s Mammoth Mountain, finally, wishes that the recent Arctic blast was a little more westerly. While the Sierra Nevada resort is ready for Thanksgiving, only a tiny portion of the mountain is open—and this following a dry 2013 that saw a sharp revenue drop of roughly $22 million, out of its usual $140 million annual ski area haul.
What would Thanksgiving be without football? Excluding seasons affected by World War II, the NFL has hosted games on the holiday every year since 1920. This year is no different, as the Lions and Cowboys continue a tradition of hosting afternoon games on CBS and Fox respectively. Also playing a home game on the holiday this year is San Francisco, hosting Seattle in a divisional rivalry, and a clear ratings boon for broadcaster NBC and such brand partners as Braun shavers—Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is fronting Braun’s “FaceGreatness” campaign.
No NFL team is more closely associated with Turkey Day than “America’s Team” Dallas Cowboys. The NFL’s most-viewed regular-season game in 2013 was the Thanksgiving Day Raiders-Cowboys matchup, with 31.7 million viewers. With the Cowboys facing a huge rivalry game against the Philadelphia Eagles, this year’s ratings look to be even higher.
Pitbull will be the marquee halftime entertainer at the Cowboys’ annual Thanksgiving Day home game. The rapper’s performance will help kick off the Salvation Army’s annual red-kettle fundraising campaign. The Salvation Army campaign has raised nearly $1.9 billion since the Cowboys partnership began in 1997, including $136 million last year.
In general, the NFL has a lot to be thankful for, as Commissioner Roger Goodell continues his quest to get league revenue up to $25 billion by 2027. TV ratings continue to be strong, particularly the new package of Thursday night games. And the league has unprecedented labor peace with a collective bargaining agreement that runs through 2021.
Whatever your reason is for being thankful, be sure to enjoy some turkey with your Thanksgiving sports come Thursday.
Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.
PHOTO: Steve Voght