Friday, December 7, 2007

The Price of Ironman

In the past 2 weeks, quite a few emails have been going around the TCSD yahoo group about the price to do an Ironman (now $500!). Yes, that is quite a bit of money, but here are my thoughts on it....

$500 is not just the pricetag for 1 day of racing. I will start training for IMAZ in June or July. I will spend hundreds of hours with my friends riding up the coast (or in circles on Fiesta Island). I will cry with them when in pain, and celebrate with them when we've completed a tough workout. For 6 months, the group of us will eat, sleep and breath swimming, biking and running. We will experience things in those 6 months, both personally, and as a group, that will teach us more about ourselves than we ever thought we could learn. All of this will lead to, what in my mind, will be one of the happiest moments in my life...Mike Reilly saying that I am an Ironman on November 23. The fact that I am 11.5 months away from raceday, and that thought gives me shivers....I think that's worth $500.

Here's another good point on Ironman costs from Bob Babbitt....great read.

Dear Tri Clubbers………..

If it’s okay, I would like to add my voice to the Ironman conversation. I have heard the Ironman bashing over the years for everything from high entry fees to the lack of elite and age group race coverage on the TV show to the fact that each year a celebrity is placed into the event and did not have to qualify like the rest of us.

As someone who has been rather intimately involved in the multisport world since 1980, I feel that what Ironman brings to the table is constantly overlooked:

How many of the people out there first heard about the sport of triathlon when they saw the Ironman coverage on television? Get those hands up high. The coverage from Kona was exciting and incredibly well produced, the scenery was amazing and who doesn’t get excited hearing Phil Liggett or Al Trautwig wax poetic about the desolation of the lava fields? Hell, Liggett can order lunch and I’d get excited. I get chills thinking about some of the classic coverage right now. The fact that we all met amputee Jim MacLaren, father of the century Dick Hoyt, everyone’s hero Jon “Blazeman” Blais and amputee Sarah Reinertsen through those shows told us that anyone and everyone could accomplish this amazing feat. All it took was guts and will and a never say die attitude.

We then pushed away from our large everything pizza with extra cheese, somehow got ourselves out of the recliner and vowed to try one of those tri-ath-alon things one of these days.

We did and it changed our lives forever. We made new friends, changed the way we looked and felt about ourselves and became better parents, employers, employees and people.

We learned from that show that all anyone with a disability wants is a chance and an equal playing field. Ironman-and the triathlon lifestyle-makes that available to each and every one of us not matter what our limitations 365 days a year.

The Ironman has been producing GREAT television since the mid 1980’s. And you know what? They PAY a ridiculous amount for that television. And in my mind, the Ironman has been paying for all of the public relations for the sport of triathlon right from the beginning. They win Emmy awards for that television coverage and the athletes who are showcased on that show become stars.

Even though you are now a seasoned triathlete and have placed in your division a time or two, you know that that show was the reason you became a triathlete to begin with. So where do you place value when it comes to an event that believes enough in us to fund the PR to grow not just the Ironman, but the entire sport?

When people are chosen as Kona lottery winners, the Ironman creates and funds a PR campaign around at least 30 of those athletes and surprises the winners at home or at work with a local TV media member. Most of these folks break down when they find out they have been selected to be in the Super Bowl of Triathlon and for many it is a highlight of their life. I’m not quite sure if they break down because they are so happy they have been selected, or because they are scared crapless and know the how tough that day is going to be. The PR machine is there at the race in Kona as well. They identify athletes from different markets, get on- camera interviews before and after the race with each of these folks, film the local hero swimming, cycling, running and finishing and put all of that up on the satellite so that their local station can look like they actually took the time and effort to film their guy or gal and put them on TV. Nope, Ironman funds all of that, which again drives new people to our sport.

Without the Ironman TV coverage, I don’t think triathlon makes it into the Olympics in 2000. Ironman licensed events in Japan and Germany and New Zealand and Australia provided the impetus for the creation of short course events around the world. It was only then that triathlon was able to become part of the Olympic family. Triathlon was actually the first event of the Sydney Games and the producer of that coverage, Lisa Lax, had been the producer of the Ironman for many years for NBC. Lisa and NBC loved the Ironman, loved triathlon and pushed for that event to kickoff their coverage, which was exceptional. If the name Lisa Lax is familiar, it’s because a few years later Lisa and her twin sister Nancy created the amazing documentary Emmanuel’s Gift and told the story about a young man from Ghana who was motivated to ask CAF for a bike because he was inspired by a former Ironman by the name of Jim MacLaren.

Ironman probably doesn’t do a good enough job blowing their own horn about everything they do for the sport of triathlon. I know that completing the Ironman for the first time in 1980 changed me forever and whatever the cost is for entry into this incredibly exclusive club is minor compared to what we all get for being a member in good standing of this amazing fraternity and sorority.

It’s easy to look at someone else’s business and feel they make too much money and critique how they do their job. Do you really know what Ironman pays for insurance in this incredibly litigious world? Public relations? Their NBC television show? How much work do they do in Tempe or Panama City or Madison to become part of the community, to get kids into fitness, to promote the sport of triathlon to people who never heard of it before?

When people call our office and tell me they want to put on an event of any sort as a fundraiser for their charity, I always recommend that they look towards doing a car wash or a bake sale instead.
I say to them, “Do you really want to wake up on race day and know that you are personally responsible for the safety of 2,000 or more people?”

At that point selling pound cake sounds pretty good to them.

That is the burden all of our race directors must bare and it is a heavy one.

When you think about the Ironman, think beyond the events. Think about the joy that Ironman and triathlon has brought to your life and what the Ironman has done to provide a level playing field for wheelchair bound athletes, blind athletes and amputee athletes. At one time wheelchair athletes were told they could never complete the Ironman within the existing time cutoffs, especially the bike cutoff. John MacLean missed the bike cutoff two years in a row and made it on his third attempt. Then, Carlos Moleda went 10:55, not only making the cutoff times without a problem, but going faster than the able bodied athletes who won the Ironman had gone back in 1978 and 1979. That is called changing perceptions of what someone with a disability can accomplish.

The sport of mountain biking was hot in the 1990’s as was adventure racing. Both sports are nowhere near as big as they were back then. The fact that the sport of triathlon is still thriving after all these years has a ton to do with the constant investment made by the Ironman.

Ironman also has supported CAF to the nth degree right from our beginning with entries into a number of the events. The Kona spots have helped to raise over $1,000,000 for CAF.

I, for one, am eternally grateful for everything that Ironman brings to our world.

Sorry to go on for so long!

Bob Babbitt
Co-founder Competitor Magazine
Co-founder Challenged Athletes Foundation