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.