Ironman Buys More Races

2015 California Race Announcements

Yesterday, I was sitting in the office and picked up my phone to look at whatever new notifications I’d gotten, because that’s what you do in 2015. When I saw this email I actually exclaimed, “Oh shit!” (And, I hate the use of the word ‘exclaimed,’ but in this instance I’m not sure there is any other word that is more appropriate.) Of course, then, I had to try and explain to my co-workers why this was an ‘oh shit’ moment.

Look, maybe nothing will change with Big Kahuna or Superfrog, just because Ironman bought them as it continues its massive push towards total domination. Maybe. But, probably not.

People on the twitter are already upset that the Superfrog entry rose to $500, with $200 of that going in a mandatory donation to the Ironman Foundation. I have my unease about the Ironman Foundation and, certainly, I can’t afford a $500 half-Ironman race. But, coming as part of the announcement of the acquisition, the price increase was actually probably agreed to by the old owners of the event and shouldn’t be a huge shock.

What I think is more interesting is what exactly all this means for Ironman’s plans.

The company now has three California races in the span of three weeks—two of which are one week apart in Northern California and attract very similar competitors. (I’m actually going to guess that part of what convinced Big Kahuna to sell to Ironman was that they felt it was just going to get harder and harder to compete with Tahoe 70.3 and the other M-dot races.) So, now you own all these California races—races that used to be known for their independence and grassroots feel. If you’re a business and, no one disputes, a savvy one, what do you do?

I see no way that something doesn’t eventually get moved and/or cancelled. Not this year, obviously, but 2016 or 2017? Definitely. Maybe the company is hedging its bets against Tahoe, since originally it was weighing Ironman Tahoe or Ironman Santa Cruz, and so far Tahoe has had two rough years. Maybe if they actually have a year where they can do the full Ironman Tahoe and the 70.3 on the same day, they’ll decide that event format is a huge money-maker and move Big Kahuna to the spring or early summer, and roll out same day 70.3s and fulls around the country. Maybe they’re just eliminating the competition. Ironman also bought some of the smaller events that the Superfrog and Big Kahuna production companies put on. I’d be shocked if those continue beyond the next couple years.

Or, maybe, alternatively, I’m totally wrong, and this is all just part of a plan to own everything everywhere in all event formats and distances.

Either way, I’m not sure how all the buying up and squashing of competition in the last five to ten years hasn’t violated plenty of anti-trust laws. I don’t love anti-trust laws, because the line between what is just capitalism and what is illegal capitalism seems to change often, but they exist. And, if these kind of monopolistic practices were happening in another industry, I’m not sure they’d be allowed.

Which isn’t to say that, obviously, Ironman will probably do a great job with the races and Big Kahuna—sorry, IRONMAN SANTA CRUZ 70.3 now—could become wildly popular. I was, actually, originally rooting for Ironman Santa Cruz over Tahoe. And, maybe, everything Ironman does is totally beneficial to the sport, and the company is simply trying to serve a need on the West Coast. But, man, oh shit.

8 thoughts on “Ironman Buys More Races

  1. I saw your tweet yesterday, and I know nothing of that. It wasnt until today I saw the price increase.

    This doesn’t pass the smell test in my book. It is dirty, and gross probably. Also white men probably got richer, and fucked up a sport that was sorta getting popular.

    You throw money into any arena, and everything gets dirty.

  2. Hi! I recently found your blog—love it–and this is my first response. I am very upset about this issue. Superfrog was my very first 70.3, back in 2012. I hate that Ironman is not only buying every freaking triathon out there, but this price? $500 for a half? Ridiculous. I get that $200 goes to the SEALS, but I don’t want to be mandated to pay a certain fee to a certain organization. I”m glad I raced Superfrog when I did—it was small-town, and the toughest race ever (fitting for a race put on by the Navy SEALS). I’ll be watching closely to see what happens this year.

  3. One frustrating thing to me, from the perspective of someone who often works with newer triathletes who aren’t sure whether they’re ready to jump to the 70.3 distance or not, is that Big Kahuna was a relatively safe lateish-registration option in the Bay Area. It didn’t sell out as far in advance or with as much vigor as, say, Vineman, so it was possible to start the season, train, and decide closer to race date if you were ready. Now, with the Ironman pressure to register (not to mention the Ironman price increase and cancellation policy …), that option will probably go away for anyone not ready to commit months in advance. I actually put Big Kahuna on my calendar the other day because, as I’m coming back from injury, I wanted a possible carrot to work toward — and the option to decide later than 9 months out whether I would actually race. Probably not gonna happen now!

    1. I’m actually betting it does NOT sell out this year. I may be totally wrong about that and it’s likely in future years it could sell out and become a big destination race. But, this year, I’d be surprised if both it AND Tahoe 70.3 sell out early. Steve is thinking about doing one of them and I told him my guess is he has 1-3 months still to decide, at least.

      Of course, if everyone freaks out and thinks it’ll sell out and signs up right away, then I might be wrong 😉

      1. Yeah, I think it’s the “everyone freaks out” part that I’m worried about. My tri club is in that Ironman Tri Club initiative, and we got this urgent “OMG EARLY REGISTRATION SIGN UP NOW IN JANUARY” email, and I think it set off a minor panic. I would guess Tahoe will take longer to sell out if only because it hasn’t proven it can actually *happen* yet, where Big K/Ironman Santa Cruz feels like a sure thing. But, triathlon and logic are not always intimately related. I’m curious to see what happens!

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