Apparently Challenge Family North America has been ruffling IRONMAN’s feathers with their successful re-entry into the United States market. Challenge had an instant hit with Daytona, but any time the little brother starts building on their success, the big brother tries to stomp on their sand castle.
After two years of watching Daytona flourish IRONMAN decided enough was enough and it was time to squash the upstart—they moved their Florida 70.3 race (Haines City) from the middle of April to the week after Daytona in December.
This isn’t an unprecedented move by IRONMAN—to kill Rev3 Knoxville in 2015 they dropped Chattanooga 70.3 the same weekend. However this move doesn’t seem to intimidate Challenge.
“We think these races are typical and nothing unusual. Our races are a different product and service provided to the athlete,” said Challenge Family North America Head of Marketing Caitlin Canderan. This sentiment was echoed back in March by CEO Bill Christy in our post-Miami interview. They don’t expect to fight IRONMAN tooth and nail for participants, they expect their family friendly product to speak for itself and that will attract athletes who like the atmosphere, energy and flavorful personality that Bill Christy injects into his race productions (his Challenge Miami playlist was 50% Pitbull at minimum).
I feel like the move to December will actually hurt IRONMAN’s participant numbers while having no significant impact on Challenge Daytona. The thing is once you try a new Challenge Family North America race your perspective changes in terms of what your expectations are from an event. I like the festive experience and it really dissuaded me from continuing to sign up for the soulless corporate approach that IRONMAN has to offer, to them I’m just a dollar sign.
The IRONMAN experience is a lot like when I worked for a larger architecture firm in corporate America. There I was just a cog in the machine and had no real importance on a project (e.g. I worked on Notre Dame’s football stadium renovations…I spent two months doing the layout of the loading dock). When I went to a smaller firm I could see how much they invested into their employees because my amount of involvement from concept development to post-production greatly increased. The employees in turn bought into the company vision because they felt like their contributions mattered and were a part of something, not just a Revit bitch drafting for 10-12 hours a day.
If you race one of Bill’s events you’ll get to experience his vision of an fun, inclusive atmosphere. He crowdsourced notes after Miami from his staff to improve the experience, he even busted out a sharpie and wrote my comment about rumble strips on the bike course on his whiteboard to discuss with his team because it was news to him (he could probably add some Gloria Estefan to his Miami playlist if he wanted to). The devil is in the details and frankly IRONMAN does care about what your race experience was like or if you come back because they rely on brand recognition to sell out their races. Challenge North America is building their own brand recognition and delivering a product that caters to those who want to have a really fun weekend that has something for everybody.
IRONMAN may view Challenge as their competition, but the feeling isn’t mutual. IRONMAN and Challenge Family are both triathlon productions, but they’re selling you different experiences so fundamentally they are not competitors, no matter how much IRONMAN would like to squash them. Besides, Bill Christy told me in our March interview that he plans to be up to 15 North American races in the next five years. Is IRONMAN going to try to do this with all of them?