Friday, October 29, 2010

Ironman Access Program Pulled 24 Hours After Launch Due to Athlete Outrage

The World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), owner of the Ironman brand, chose to pull a new program called Ironman Access just 24 hours after launching due to outrage from Ironman zealots. Now they are getting flack for the launch of their new 5150 program, a series of Olympic distance races, for diluting the brand and trouncing other local races. Gosh, it sure is hard to build an empire with all these die-hard fans! But it does show an interesting view into the frustrations on both sides of endurance events whose popularity has expanded widely past the supply, and the deep suspicions of any profit motive.

The Ironman Access program was going to allow participants to pay $1000 to get early access to register for Ironman events (that often sell out the day of availability at $500/pop and require on-site registration). Part of the stated purpose of this was to address the "2500-3000 Ironman slots that are not raced each year from people who register for multiple events but only race one". Personally it looked to me like seizing an opportunity to make more $$$ from an audience rumored to spend $22,000 annually on their hobby. Soon after, the Ironman Facebook page lit up with discontent and prompted Ben Fertic, President of WTC, to post a video apology that announced the Ironman Access program would be rescinded. The Ironman Facebook page continues to pile up heat faster than a Sierra Nevada forest fire with comments like:

"Although they have now back tracked, this for me was the final nail in the coffin of the sport I once loved. In my opion 'Unbranded' long distance events are the future of this sport. The M dot has become nothing more than a... Nike Swoosh or a McDonalds golden arch." - Dave Mccavoy

"WTC just committed suicide with this crap....after I'm done completing IM Texas I'm done with you suckers!!" - Ernesto Villarroel

"I know it's cliche, but it's the thought that counts, they still made Ironman Access, they still tried to rip people off. They found out it didn't work and they got rid of it. It's insulting that some of you are going back and going to do more mdot ...branded races." - Nick Jantz

There are also a lot of comments commending Mr. Fertic for having the guts to say they were wrong and acting quickly. His video says quite bluntly, "if you say we were wrong, then we were wrong".

I find the whole thing a fascinating study in how easy it is for a profit motive to create a wedge between a brand once built by athletes and now controlled by a corporation (and owned by a private equity firm) and the painful seperation that ensues. Be sure to check out that Facebook page to get a front row seat!

- SD


  1. love the post. I'm sticking to the trails.

  2. What will everyone cover up their IM tattoos with now?!

  3. I think this is coming for the Competitor Group / Rock 'n' Roll Marathons.

    They have volunteers at their for-profit events (like WTC, owned by private equity firms), and get large tax incentives from cities. I think it's just a matter of time before more people realize what is happening and a similar backlash occurs.

    I love supporting races with a pure charity focus. My favorite is the Buzz Marathon in San Miguel, California:

    Revenue from Buzz Marathon helps fund the athletic programs at Lillian Larsen Elementary School of Kindergarten to 8th grade students. Larsen features cross country and track and field for all children, then flag football, volleyball, basketball, and golf for the middle schoolers grades 6 to 8.

    Buzz Marathon is a Active and Healthy Lifestyle promotion fundraiser for the athletic program at Lillian Larsen School in San Miguel. This is a low income rural school district and funds are used to cover entry fees, uniforms, referees, equipment, field and course markings, physicals, and when possible scholarships to summer camps for high school bound students to get noticed on entry.

  4. Awesome post! Thank you so much for sharing. This entire Blog is fantastic!
    Thanks for the great post, i continue to learn from your advice!

  5. Check out this hilarious video someone made in protest.I am not going to get my Mdot tattoo now, I had planned on getting it in November.
    REV3 should do very well now!

  6. Great piece, Scott. I had no idea this was happening and I'm really happy to hear that protests from the consumers led to a change in corporate policy.

    On the other hand, it looks like frustrations were already hot but came to a boil.

    Thanks, Scott, and have a great weekend!

  7. Digger - awesome video! I love the robotic voice saying "are you f#cking kidding me." Posted above.

  8. Thank you for your article ... All the best

  9. I can't agree more. I posted an entry on my blog questioning the corporate takeover of Olympic events with the 5150 series. Do they have to own everything? I also did a private e-mail to my triathlon group about my objections regarding the $1,000 stickup for early entry to events. Makes me wonder if they didn't hire some consultant to come up with ways to leverage up their bottom line.

  10. If WTC isn't making money right now, then there's something horribly wrong with their organization. I don't care for the cult of Ironman, but my girlfriend is in full thrall.

    However, I think it speaks to the exclusive nature of triathlon as a sport in general. It's not a sport for the people, it's a sport for the people who can afford it. I would liken it to A-Rod signing his $252 million dollar contract - he saw an opportunity to make ridiculous money and took it. WTC did the same.

  11. silly chaos in the WTC this yr. They had to re-tract payment style for pro women after sending a letter asking their advice. Chrissie Wellington was against it. Too silly and expensive for us. We get to run as a fam and we never end up frowning after. Doesn't break the bank.

  12. Great post. I'd heard of the IM Access program (and frankly thought it was ridonkulous!), but I hadn't heard they pulled it. I'm not an Ironman, nor will I ever be (there's nothing I want to do for that long!!), but I've been a spectator at many IM events over the years. It's a great brand, but they are taking it way, way too far.

  13. Hi Scott ;
    I'm glad you liked that video, I sure did.
    By the way, congrats on getting mentioned in the latest Ultrarunning (Nov.) Magazine in Tia's column. It's about your Max King blog post about the Flagline 50K finish.
    Anyhow, you're such a good writer, perhaps it's time you started writing a monthly column for them, they obviously like your style, and you do lots of stuff so I doubt you'd have trouble coming up with material.And you have great action photos as well.

  14. Yeah... so the backlash to this was pretty immediate, but the inside gossip is something like this: very few people inside the organization knew that was coming. Apparently, most of the RDs and whatnot were totally blindsided. A number of them have been leaving to form new organizations, so... uhhh... look for that?

    Now, it seems pretty obvious that registering for IM events is a mess, but the President's explanation is... well... pretty incoherent.

    Regardless of this particular controversy, the price for an IM event has gone up to $650... which, I've gotta say, seems insane. I might do another triathlon just because I kinda dig that scene, but I don't think I'll ever do another IM-branded event.

  15. I just stopped by and joined the facebook fan page. I was wondering if you could point me to one of your blogs that you posted on your nutrition and what you do to keep fit for these events. I'd love to know.


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