Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Biblical Triathlon

Ironman St. George was run last weekend for the third and final time. I had a friend, normally a mid-10-hour ironman triathlete, who finished in the mid-12-hour range. Everybody's finish time was incredibly slow: the pro winners were ~35 minutes (men) and ~45 minutes (women) slower than 2011. Apparently a wind kicked up just after the start; 5' waves and whitecaps formed on the swim, and people were being blown off the road on the bike. The good news is the temperature was finally reasonable.

So in the three years of IMSG: 2010 was bitterly cold; 2011 was ferociously hot; and 2012 was dangerously stormy. They've canceled the full distance race in 2013 and beyond, apparently fearing locusts and whatever else.

I'm more intrigued by the cancellation. World Triathlon Corp., the Ironman company, has been able to establish races and sell them out with impunity. St. George never filled up and every year the conditions prevented a reasonable percentage of the entrants from even starting. The race had a few things going against it: a hard course; an early season schedule (making training difficult); and what proved to be consistently difficult conditions (we can call those indicia of race "quality"). WTC has been raising entry fees as well. It appears WTC finally found the point of consumer intolerance to increased quality-adjusted price of IM entry.

One more data point possibly relating to WTC's feeling its way around the equilibrium point: two triathlons scheduled for this year in DC -- the DC Triathlon, a WTC 5150 series event, and the National Harbor 70.3, a WTC half IM -- have been canceled. Washington Sport and Event Management promoted both under license from (or some similar contractual relationship with) WTC. WSEM may have its own problems; I read that it also sold its marquee event, the Nations Triathlon, to Competitor Group, the Rock and Roll Marathon people. But I wonder if WTC's contract terms were too onerous for the 5150 and 70.3 events to survive, another example of WTC overpricing the market. (Consider that WSEM did not sell those races, but simply canceled them.) With the huge base of highly pecuniary consumers (er, competitors) in DC, if you can't put on a triathlon here, it's not clear where you can put one on.

I've been intrigued for a few years that a number of promoters are taking WTC on at its own game. One example is Rev3, with its line of iron- and 1/2 iron-distance triathlons, charging lower prices and offering comparable or better schedules and locations. Others have differentiated and are pulling away marginal consumers who would prefer (for example) to do their triathlons off-road (XTerra) or to skip the swim (duathlon). But for its recognizable brand, all WTC offers for your $650+ entry fee is a chance to go to the world championships in Kona, and that doesn't mean much to most of us. So the market is becoming saturated and consumers are becoming savvy. Considering that long-course triathlon got big in the early 90s, that's 20 years of market dominance before going the way of Microsoft.

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