In case you didn’t know it, REV3 is still alive, folks.
REV3 was originally the brainchild of a father/son duo who thought they could offer a different experience to triathletes. They have been around since 2009 and at one point was giving IRONMAN a little bit of competition. They were never poised to take over the half and full distance market, but they were in position to have a small market share, at least in North America.
As President Eric Opdyke explained the initial business model of REV3 to me it began to sound a lot like how trickle-down economics is “supposed” to work. “Charlie [Junior] had gone out on this mission to integrate professionals and prize purses, and wanted to come out in a big way,” Opdyke said, “If we really invest in pros we’re going to get a lot of attention from the media and age groupers are going to flock to us.”
Pros loved the VIP treatment REV3 gave. “We put them up in home-stays, picked them up from the airports, we had posters for each of them in transition, and carpeted transition areas. It was just a lot of little things,” said Opdyke. What wasn’t little was the prize purses. “Really the main reason REV3 was good for pros was because it had some good prize money,” said retired professional triathlete Heather Wurtele. REV3 had been offering up to $100,000 purses whereas IRONMAN was only offering about $25,000. In fact, they have given out more than $2,000,000 in prize money. Wurtele went on to add “That attracted bigger names.” Big name pros like Natascha Badmann, Marinda Carfrae, Tim O’Donnell, and Andrew Starykowicz were mainstays on the REV3 Circuit. “We streamed some of our races on the internet, so we invested into some major media production,” said Opydke. This was something even IRONMAN wasn’t doing until about 2018, so REV3 was ahead of the curve.
The age groupers never did flock over like the Patten’s hoped. To me part of the problem was the power of the IRONMAN brand. Saying you’ve done an IRONMAN to people carries weight, because if people know even a little about triathlons they tend to know what an IRONMAN is. REV3 didn’t have that same notoriety, and no one does in the United States. Challenge Family may have a decent following in Europe and other countries, but they can’t touch IRONMAN in the States, and neither could Rev3.
To me REV3 wasn’t for first-timers or bucket-listers, it garnered the attention from your more seasoned triathletes. It got the attention of people who just wanted to race and didn’t care where. I know I was one of those people, it’s why my first full distance race REV3 Cedar Point. I just couldn’t get the “M dot” tattoo, and that didn’t matter because I just wanted a cool finisher medal and a pin on my race map.
Your seasoned triathlete also couldn’t argue with their entry fee pricing. At their inception REV3 was only charging about $200 for early entry half and the full at Cedar Point was only $400. “For the first time in 10 years we’ve raised our prices a little bit,” Opdyke said. They’ve only increased their pricing 10% over a decade and offer early bird at $220. I’d race any half for that amount of money, that’s a good deal right there.
In the last five years IRONMAN went up about 40%. In 2015 their more popular races were starting out at $250 and now they are up to $350. Funny how that huge price increase coincided with a new ownership group. There’s rumors going around that some races could get up to $400, which makes smaller race series like REV3 and independent races all the more appealing for those trying to do this sport on a budget.
Like any upcoming business you want to grow and expand your footprint, and they did that effectively. At different points in time REV3 had races in Maine, Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oregon, Wisconsin, Missouri, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. That’s a pretty good sized footprint, and it’s actually far larger than I thought it ever was. “Charlie’s [Patten] dad said ‘I’ll support you for five years, and after five years you have to be self-sustainable,” said Opdyke, “We never put a business plan in place to sustain us after five years.” I hate to be that guy, but giving out more than $2,000,000 in pro prize money does not sound sustainable.
Their funding wasn’t the only thing that went away. Opdyke said, “The sport changed a lot over those five years. The sponsors were big, like K-Swiss, and then all the sponsors just disappeared from the sport.” Honestly I don’t remember the last time I saw someone in K-Swiss shoes. It also happened to coincide with a time when USAT membership had dropped and had trouble attracting young members, which didn’t help things.
These things would prove to be a major problem for Charlie Patten Jr. and Eric Opdyke. This is what led to a partnership with Challenge Family in 2015. However, this partnership would fail based on diametrically opposed philosophies. REV3 wanted the model that IRONMAN had with Kona and 70.3 Worlds where all these qualifying races would lead to slots for Challenge Roth. Challenge Family didn’t want that, they wanted to franchise their name out and that be the end of it. The marriage lasted just long enough to be annulled and they parted ways the following season. “It was a huge mistake,” Opdyke said. They did manage to pick up the St. Andrews race on the east coast of Canada.
The Knoxville race suffered from IRONMAN encroachment. It happened to be in a smaller region where IRONMAN had no 70.3 presence at the time, which REV3 benefitted from. Then IRONMAN dropped Chattanooga 70.3…on the same weekend. Chattanooga 70.3’s first year would end up being Knoxville’s last.
Things were starting to head downhill and picking up speed after the separation. Cedar Point, the only full distance race in the arsenal, was discontinued because the amusement park management ‘adjusted their strategic initiatives’. That was a shame, it was one of the races I planned on coming back for all the time because of how close it was to my family and friends. “I do miss that race,” Opdyke said. Even if they were to work things out with the park, IRONMAN Ohio 70.3 was created and held just three weeks before Cedar Point, so they’d be facing competition for local participants.
REV3 would implement some change in an effort to become more sustainable. “We got rid of pros. We tried to reengineer the company to get profitable and healthy, and we did. We started to really build ourselves into a profitable company,” Opdyke said, “but we were so far in the hole from the first six-seven years that it was just too much.” Just then IRONMAN came calling — they wanted to expand and the REV3 owners were ready to move onto other things.
It started with Maine being licensed out in 2017, then IRONMAN acquired it in full and came back for their other two most popular races the following year, Quassy and Williamsburg. What was left of the company was a few sprint races and a contract business to rent out or race equipment and services. Opdyke went on to race direct for IRONMAN in their newly acquired races in 2019, but he decided to move on after one season. REV3 and IRONMAN don’t run their races in the same way, and Opdyke was kind of missing the REV3 way of doing things. He had an opportunity to take over ownership of the company, and with him came a sense of re-invigoration.
IRONMAN wouldn’t be returning to Williamsburg in 2020 though. For whatever reason they wanted out so badly that they told the city of Roanoke that they didn’t want to wait till 2021 to start their deal, they wanted to do it starting 2020 or they’d take their business back to Williamsburg for three years. I feel like it was a bit of a power play. I think IRONMAN was bluffing and they really didn’t want to go back to Williamsburg so they tried to force the city of Roanoke’s hand into a quick deal. If the city officials would have told them “Go pound rocks,” IRONMAN really wasn’t welcome back. James County Tourism Department employees did not hold them in high regard, one employee who asked to not be named, called IRONMAN “those shysters who left town.” It didn’t matter though because Opdyke and REV3 would be the beneficiaries.
Yes, they managed to bring Williamsburg back to the Rev3 Family. I only found this by chance about two months ago. They had done this so quietly that I was unable to find any press releases or new articles about it. There wasn’t anything in the IRONMAN purchase agreement that said he couldn’t bring Williamsburg back into the fold — they bought the races not the REV3 brand. That wasn’t the only card Opdyke had to play though. “I had been developing this race in Massachusetts for years. It’s been in my back pocket and I had been waiting for the right time to bring it to life.”
I asked about future expansion, and Opdyke said, “Well, I’d give you two different answers, one pre-COVID and one post-COVID.” There’s that pesky old coronavirus that’s threatening to destroy our season. “If you asked in January, I’d say my goal this year, and as a sole-proprietor see what can I handle myself with contractors, how much many can I make or can I afford to hire anyone,” said Opdyke, “I’d take baby steps: two feature races, some small races, things I can control with the help of contractors, and if all goes well I’d like to add one more race in 2021. The only old race I’d renew would be Cedar Point, and if that didn’t work I have a venue on the East Coast I’d been researching.”
“Post corona is about survival. 2021 may be a matter of recovering from 2020.” Opdyke said, “I’m going to have to give a deferral to everyone in the race that wants one and at this point I only have 50% of my entries.” Many people don’t understand REV3 can’t give them their money back for a cancelled event, it’s impossible because almost all of it has been spent. If race directors were to refund participants they’d kill their own company. In some instances, a deferral isn’t much different than a refund because that slot can’t be sold for the following year.
“Even when we do get the greenlight to host events again, there will be major risks in doing that,” Opdyke said, “I think we’re going to be one of the last ones allowed to do mass gathering events.” While this may be true, the bigger question is “Are people going to want to race?” We may get the “all clear” from the CDC, but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to be comfortable racing immediately. Participant turnout will be significantly lower, which will also affect the overall economic impact the host towns see.
Despite the coronavirus’ potential to do some major financial damage to all parties, Opdyke’s vision for REV3 remained the same. “My main goal is a triathlon festival of racing,” Opdyke said. Indeed that is what he has planned for both Williamsburg and New England. “I want you to have the ability to do two races in a weekend if you wanted to. You can bring your triathlon club and there’s a race for everybody,” he said, “We’re going to focus on races you can build relationships at.” What isn’t part of the REV3 vision is a full distance race, which is understandable because it requires a lot of work and from what one of the race directors from Michigan Titanium jokingly told me, “Okay, so did we make any money off the full this year?”
“The thing that gets undervalued is we provide tremendous customer service to our athletes,” said Opdyke, “We call them on the phone once they register, we write them personal notes and put them in race packets, we personalize their bike rack spots, we respond to their emails in 24 hours.” Well sign me up right now! IRONMAN isn’t looking to provide us with that level of customer service. I know any time I’ve emailed IRONMAN about a race it’s taken a month to two months to get a response. I remember one year I did Gulf Coast and they never sent me one email about the race outside of my entry confirmation.
It doesn’t stop there though, REV3 has plans to keep improving the athlete experience. “We’re doing personalize videos this year, we’re doing Facebook Live sessions with select tri clubs that have registered a lot of people, we do athlete briefings catered to newbie triathletes.” I could totally dig getting race video over all the expensive pictures from FinisherPix. Opdyke said, “We’re smaller, we should be able to provide better customer service.” Truthfully, it doesn’t take much to give us customer service, some of the races I’ve done with IRONMAN they we’re a shade above Comcast who is known for being the most hated company in American because of their poor customer service.
Opdyke thinks his New England race is going to be a great success. It’s hard to think otherwise when you consider he’s been planning it for the last decade. “Our brand is really strong in New England because of when we had Quassy and Maine.” What about his old race IRONMAN Connecticut 70.3 (formerly known as aforementioned Quassy). Connecticut 70.3 has been canceled this year and they’ve given athletes a few options from transfers to other races and deferrals to next season. However, you can’t defer to this same race in 2021, which suggests there’s something more going on there and I doubt they reveal their intentions any time soon. IRONMAN keeps its cards close to the vest and when they make the decision to discontinue races they do it quietly.
I asked Opdyke if he wanted to try to grab some more of that New York City and Philadelphia market, why not bring back the Poconos Mountains race? He laughed and said, “Poconos is a weird place to race.” IRONMAN was actually there first for two years but didn’t have any success, then came REV3. “We struggled too, we moved it around three different times for various reasons. That last year we thought we found our home, people really loved the race now.” However, REV3 wasn’t getting any love from the city, and when you’re not wanted by a town they’ll find a way to not have you back, which most towns that do that will raise their costs until you decide to move on. Despite it’s close proximity, the Poconos Mountains race never quite pulled in the New York market like they anticipated, so it was a contributing factor in the race’s struggles. So this is one race that for sure doesn’t have a chance to be resurrected.
I asked Eric about his race in Dominican Republic and if he’d consider leaving the country again? Opdyke said, “Yeah, I think so. I have learned a lot since then.” REV3 was getting a lot of inquiries from Latin American countries about hosting races, so they went the way of Challenge Family and used a licensing model. “The first one was in Costa Rica and we made the mistake of running it ourselves. We did it for two years, lost a lot of money on it, but we learned a lot from it.” REV3’s second attempt was a true licensing model held in Ixtapa, Mexico for two years (under the Challenge name), followed by two years at Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. “I would do it again, but the biggest barrier is that US athletes don’t know how or want to travel with a bike. If we could figure that out I’d jump at a chance to be in the Caribbean again,” said Opdyke. IRONMAN has also struggled with this issue as Puerto Rico 70.3 has a very low turnout, and they discontinued St. Croix 70.3 for similar reasons after once being popular as an independent race.
REV3 was also north of the border in 2019 when they licensed their name to Niagara Falls Barrelman. The Barrelman race director, John Salt, was only getting 10% of his athletes from the US, which was puzzling because they were right across the river from New York. Opdyke reached an agreement with Salt: the race would have the REV3 branding, but it would retain the name of Barrelman. It sounded like a win-win, but it didn’t quite work out the way Opdyke was hoping for (Barrelman did have a record setting number of participants though). The race didn’t have the REV3 feel to it, it felt like a Multisport Canada race that had the REV3 name on it. Opdyke was concerned about the REV3 brand, he wanted to protect its integrity, so REV3 and Multisport Canada parted ways after only one year.
REV3 is still around and aspiring to do great things with their race series, but what I found in my due diligence is they’re doing it rather quietly. Past and present, there just isn’t a lot of news articles or press releases about what’s going on with them. Facebook and Instagram are their platforms of choice to get the word out. “We’re growing both of those platforms right now, and I’ve brought back 50 ambassadors to promote REV3,” said Opdyke, “We’re going to go slow with this. I want to do things very cautiously.”
I had a lot of fun while interviewing Eric, I learned a lot about REV3 that I didn’t know the story behind. I know the future of triathlon is up in the air right now and a lot of race production companies may not survive, but I expect REV3 to come out on the other side. They may be able to pursue expansion of the brand in a couple of years, they just need to weather the storm first.