Every 2017 Ironman 70.3 distance race in the U.S., excluding 2 races in California - Oceanside & the new Santa Rosa, have suffered decreases in finisher numbers year over year [YoY].  That represents a 9.3% YoY decrease offset only by first year races Gulf Coast & Wisconsin.  We use finisher numbers for both WTC and grassroots races as they are more reliable than registration numbers which are often inaccurate or unavailable.
  • -25%: 70.3 St. George
  • -21%:  70.3 Hawai’i
  • -21%:  70.3 Chattanooga
  • -20%:  70.3 Victoria
  • -18%:  70.3 Syracuse
  • -9%:  70.3 Raleigh
  • -9%:  70.3 Florida
  • -8%:  70.3 Eagleman
  • -3%:  70.3 Texas
  • 6%:  70.3 Oceanside
  • 28%:  70.3 Santa Rosa/Vineman
When Dalian Wanda Group, headed by China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin’s, bought WTC from Providence Equity Partners for $900 million it likely didn’t envision this scenario a mere 2 years later.  There are impacts to almost every stakeholder in the Ironman business model.  Below are a few underlying reasons.
  • TIME & MONEY.  On Oct 18, 2016, WTC presented to the City of Santa Rosa and shared data indicating that Ironman families have an average household income of $247K.  That represents the top 2% and 4x more than the national average.  This is a major hurdle to younger athletes, in particular, who have a lot of college debt.  The other major factor is time.  Unlike a Sprint or Olympic race, a long course race can take 15-20 hours per week to properly train.  That isn’t sustainable over long periods.  WTC isn’t attracting new athletes quickly enough to replace the older athletes who are graduating from the sport.
  • THE LIFESTYLE.  Scott Davis, owner of P5 Racing, started racing in 1984 and has multiple top 10 AG Kona finishes says “WTC needs to sell the lifestyle and not the tattoo.  Way too many people enter the sport and do an Ironman to complete their bucket list and are gone just as quickly.  Triathlon is something that can be enjoyed over a decade of time without having to break the bank or ruin work or personal relationships.  It should be a sustainable lifestyle.”
  • WTC’s OVERALL FOCUS IN ASIA.  The U.S. is an established market and resources have shifted to Asia.  Last year you could qualify for Kona by racing Ironman 70.3 distances in Asia but not in the U.S. in an attempt to stimulate growth in that market and attract tourism.  For the long course, there are no announcements of new 140.6 races in North America.  In 2016, the number of 140.6 races in North America decreased by one - North Carolina, and recently it was announced that 2017 is the last year for 140.6 Ironman Coeur d’Alene.  Santa Rosa was new this year but was a virtual replacement for Vineman.
We completed a “channel check” with non-Ironman branded 70.3 mile distance races from all over the U.S.  There is a 20% decrease in finishers at non-Ironman branded races so far this year.  We are waiting on a couple race directors to provide data and then we will update this story.