WTC Update

Just for the record, the WTC withdrew the Ironman Access program. They said it had been conceived as a way to discourage a number of athletes who enter multiple races and then no show in preference of a later race. IM Access would allow them guaranteed entry to the race of their choice and free up the slots they'd have otherwise used.

What planet does that come from? For mere mortals entering WTC IM Races is both incredibly expensive, and pretty difficult. Many races don't even make it online, you HAVE to show up in person to get in. So it's not at all clear how you could get an entry to races except by touring the country, entering etc. While it's quite probably that there are a number of people that do this, it beggars belief that it's more than 10-20 and that each would enter more than 2-3 races. That wouldn't free up anywhere near the number of slots the WTC claim. But still, IM Access is DOA, back to BAU[for now?]

At least a far as I know, there are at least a couple of ways a WTC IM race is held. First up, a race organizer has a race and either approaches, or more likely in the case of 70.3 and Olympic or 5i50 races, is approached to license the "WTC" owned Ironman brand. I'm not sure how/why an organizer would start down this path, I guess in search of either more entries, or higher race awareness which is a draw for more advertising and sponsorship. Longer distance, 70.3 and IM distance races are incredibly difficult and expensive to put on. Closing roads, controlling junctions requires approvals, police and city buy-in etc. The same is true for short distance races, but since the bike course is open for a shorter period of time, and a shorter distance, you need fewer cops for a shorter period of time. In my view thats an entirely good reason to raise entry fees, or to attract more sponsors or advertisers, or take more entries.

Second up is are the races that the WTC itself owns. Originally they only owned Ironman Hawaii, as far as I know after that the early other IM races were informally and then formally IM races. More recently though the WTC has been buying out races and keeping the existing organizers on in a diminsihed role, ie operations while the WTC handles the look, feel, branding, entries and pretty much everything else. They have a group of roaming employees or "carnies" who go from race to race to actually cover much of the events logistics on the set-up before, during and after the race. The original WTC was a pretty small, pretty tight knit family and group of associates, and companies. Who'da guessed that Mike Rilley, the voice of Ironman was also one of the founders of The Active Network Inc. which owns, which of course takes the registrations for almost all WTC branded races, along with the ever growing handling/processing fees.

As the WTC expands its' reach and range it will have problems with both categories of race. The former, franchised or licensed races were thrust into the headlines last week following what seems to have been a complete debacle at the inaugural Miami 70.3. not to be confused with the longstanding Miamiman half iron race that I've done a couple of times. The Rohto Miami 70.3 was a new race put on by Miami based Paramount Productions. I don't know what their race organization pedigree is either as a company or as individuals, but clearly they got enough wrong to cause an uproar and the WTC has again had to step in and take-over the race. How they'll actually do that remains to be seen, but to put right the wrongs from this year they've had to offer free race entries. As of writing the website for the 2011 race is up and still says it's being run by Paramount.

Quality is the biggest asset a brand can have, once lost it is hard if not impossible to regain. The old adage that no one ever got fired for buying IBM wasn't true, but it was perceived to be true. As a former employee I can freely say that their products were not the most exciting, but they did used to focus on quality. Only with expansion into services and the x86 market they tried to expand quickly and their quality and/or time to market, cost suffered.

It used to be the case that no one had ever had a bad Ironman experience(which of course wasn't true, but it's perceived to be true). The only question is in this rapid expansion period of a massive new 70.3 series, a brand new 5i50 series and the continuing expansion of the full Ironman can the WTC ensure the delivery of quality races before they do irreparable damage to the Ironman brand?

It will be interesting to see how the WTC does with Ironman Western Australia on December 5th, where they will be completely responsible for race delivery for the first time. Hopefully no apologies will be needed.

Ironman Hawaii will always just be. However, continued distillation of the brand through a string of mishandled expansions, poorly delivered races, and a cookie cutter approach where all race t-shirts, all race locations, all the branding looks and feels the same, really won't attract the series or the brand to athletes, nor will it to sponsors. Instead of races competing with each other to provide the best give-aways, the best t-shirt designs, the best finisher awards, they'll all be mostly the same, just the race location name will differ. Once the quality aspect is lost, they'll just be, well, races. The same will be true when it comes to sponsors, if the races are just races, why invest so much, what differentiates one from another ? One can only wonder what the folks over at Rohto are thinking now?