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The Ironman Access Country Club Program? Maybe…maybe not…

imageFor most that saw World Triathlon Corporations (WTC) e-mail announcement on Wednesday, or heard about it online, the initial reaction tended to be of anger – if not outright disgust.  However, the more I dug into responses from folks on forums, or the slew of e-mail I received about it, it was interesting to note a bit of a second thoughts on the part of many.

A second glance you ask?  Yes, looking at the e-mail again and wondering – would this make sense?  No, not would it make sense from WTC’s standpoint (that’s an obvious yes), but rather – would it make sense for an athlete?  As a athlete looking to race an Ironman, in what circumstances might this actually work out to pay the $1,000 for guaranteed entry into virtually all of the non-qualification Ironman races (everything but Kona basically).

Before we dig into that, let’s take a quick look at the official benefits list:

•         $1000.00 USD for a one-year membership
•         Exclusive advance registration to Ironman events
•         Two VIP passes per registered event
•         Official membership ID card
•         Second chance in the Ironman Lottery Program*
•         One-year subscription to LAVA Magazine
•         Discounts on Ironman partner products at shopironman.com and on-site event retail stores
•         2010 Ford Ironman World Championship NBC broadcast DVD
•         The above benefits are valid for one year starting from activation date

Now clearly, the most valuable thing listed here is the ‘Official membership ID card’ – as without it, my life would likely not be complete.  Clearly I’d never carry such a valuable card in my wallet, but rather frame it – like  presidential signature.  Ok…just kidding…maybe.

Outside the obvious advanced registration (the main reason to get Ironman Access), you get Two VIP passes per event, I’d assume that’s simply access to the finishers area, and better grandstand seating (not really needed honestly).  You get a subscription to Lava, and an undetermined discount to ShopIronman.com, along with a DVD of a show you can get for free on TV in December on NBC.  Finally, you get two entries into the Ironman Kona lottery (instead of one).

In short, aside from the early entry, I don’t see any real tangible or substantial benefits there that make me say “Booyeah baby!”.  I’ll talk a bit later on what they could have done to sweeten the pot.

Also – I want to make sure everyone is clear before I really get cookin’ – this does NOT include your $550 entry fee.  That is separate, and in addition to the $1,000 Ironman Access.

So now that we’ve identified what’s part of the program, you start to do a bit of math in your head.  After all, for all of the North American Ironman races, you’re required to register onsite the day following the race, one year prior.  In other words – to register for the July 2012 Ironman Lake Placid, you have to be onsite at Lake Placid on the Monday following the July 2011 Ironman Lake Placid.

Sure, there are usually a handful of regular slots available a few weeks later online – but those are fairly hard to get and there’s no guarantees they’ll even be made available at all.  Hardly something you’d want to bet your season on.

Cost & Benefits Comparison: Travelling to a race to pre-register

Given the travel and time costs associated with going to the race site a year prior to register, one starts to ‘glance back’ at the Ironman Access e-mail that you might of so quickly put into the Deleted Items bin and wonder – does it make sense?

And it’s that “hmm factor” that had me starting to do some math.  Now, I’ll talk about the whole ‘Ironman Spirit’ thing in a second, for now – let’s just play a numbers game.

I assumed three different races, all travelling from Washington DC.  As always with airfares, some will be higher, and some lower.  I simply chose the cheapest flights I could find using a quick Expedia search.  I assumed departure on Friday evening, and returning mid-day Monday.  You can’t leave the site any early than late-morning Monday (as registration typically doesn’t open up until between 7AM and 9AM).  And Friday evening seemed normal for most folks wanting to go and enjoy the weekend a bit.  Sure, you could fly in Sunday and out Monday – but I don’t think most folks will do that.

Here’s the details:

image

(Flights from WAS to Penticton, Panama City, Spokane)

Note on the hotel front – I used realistic rates for the Ironman event time period.  Hotels in Penticton may be $80 a night the rest of the year, but come Ironman week you won’t find anything less than $250 a night (if at all).  Meanwhile…you can easily find super chea places in Panama City that time of year, like I did for IMFL last year.

As you’ll note, in the case of Ironman Canada and Ironman CDA, you’re spending at least $1,000.  And I think most folks can agree I was pretty generous with being uber-cheap.  I choose some of the cheapest hotels (as sketchy as it may be), along with the absolute cheapest car.  And, you’re only getting $30 a day to eat ($10 a meal).  You could swap out the rental car for a taxi – but you’ll be hard pressed to spend less than that in total on taxi fares.  And in the case of Penticton you could fly to Vancouver and drive – but that increases your time commitment a fair bit.

Of course, that’s not even including any missed work.  I left that part blank, since it will vary radically from person to person.

Now, as you probably noticed, for some events you can get away pretty cheap – and IMFL is a prime example of that.  Due to the low cost nature of the area, both airfare and hotels are incredibly inexpensive there, thus IMFL is a great example of an event where it makes more financial sense to go down to and register in person (plus, it’s WAAAY more fun).  And there’s a beach.  And sand.  And pretty blue water.

Cost & Benefits Comparison: Ironman Charity Slot

Now, the Ironman Access program isn’t the only way to get a slot without showing up at the race site.  The most well known way is actually to take advantage of the Ironman Foundation Community Fund slots.  These slots cost twice as much as the regular entry fee, but the ‘profit’ over the base entry fee is donated to charities in the local community – hence the ‘Community Fund’ part.

The Community Fund slots cost $1,150US – and are typically available shortly after race day registration has closed.  Given a normal Ironman entry fee is $575US, this means you’re paying an additional $575US for the guaranteed entry into the otherwise sold out event.  However, all of that ‘additional cost’ is actually considered a tax deductible donation – thus, assuming a 30% tax deduction, you’re really looking at about $400 more than the cost of regular entry.  Plus…it all benefits charity.

Now – it’s important to point out this is substantially different from a timing standpoint than the Ironman Access program.  The access program aims to guarantee you a slot PRIOR to regular entry day (upwards of some 24 months out), whereas the Community Fund slots aim to guarantee you a slot AFTER regular entry has sold out.  Also, keep in mind sometimes those slots go quickly – for example, IMLP slots for next year are already sold out.

Cost & Benefits Comparison: Volunteering and/or cheering

It should be pointed out that one avenue for picking up an entry to a race is to volunteer at said race.  I wanted to mention this for a few reasons: 1) Because some folks might not realize it and 2) Because it’s a very valid way to guarantee entry.

However, in the context of the financial argument the volunteering aspect is really a zero-sum game.  Either you’re a local – in which case none of this really applies because you can just go there on race morning for relatively nothing.  Or you’re an out of towner, which means all of the above travel and expenses still apply.  WTC doesn’t pay its volunteers for time or expenses (despite being a for-profit company), so you’re still going to incur all of the costs above.

Of course, any Ironman finisher or supporter will tell you that volunteers are an integral part of the overall Ironman day – so I don’t want to discount the value of that at all.  And the same goes for spectators and fans out there – including those specifically there to register the following day.  As some of you may remember, for my first Ironman I went up to Penticton the day prior and enjoyed the later portion of the race (that was ironically my very first post).  And nothing compares to the Ironman finish line at midnight, especially as a motivator for the following year.

In addition, the benefits for an athlete to be able to see (and possibly even train) at the race area a year prior to the race can’t be overstated.  For me, being able to get a mental image of the race course and my surroundings a year prior was invaluable to knowing what I’d be going into.

Impact on regular registration

There’s some concern that the Ironman Access program will cause sellouts at events onsite, thus limiting folks who travel to the event to be able to signup.  I honestly don’t foresee this occurring.  I would wager that the people who take advantage of the Ironman Access program are the same people that probably would have travelled to the event anyway.  Further, I think that in the scheme of 3,000+ participants per event, this will statistically be a very small percentage.  And keep in mind – 3,000 is the number that show up on race day – not necessarily the number of registration (always higher to account for no-shows).

Also, I don’t think this will lead to any people being turned away from registration on the day after.  Ironman (to my knowledge) has never turned away folks standing in line to register – it’s always been a ‘everyone in line gets in’ sort of situation.

Now none of this discounts the fact that this is a money grab from WTC.  It doesn’t change the fact that it has upset many.  And it doesn’t change the fact that we’re seeing a very swift shift over the past few months in the way WTC is looking to monetize the Ironman brand.

But I only foresee further changes like this in the future.

I’m honestly a bit surprised that the Ironman Access program wasn’t more far reaching than it is.  I would have loved to see something similar to the Ironman Pro program which allows professional athletes to sign-up for a number of Ironman events at a set price.  Now I don’t want to see that at the Ironman 140.6 level for AG’ers, but rather at the 70.3 level for AG’ers.  Again, I think the Ironman Access program is just the start.

But finally, keep in mind that Ironman isn’t the only game in town.  There are tons of great independent iron-distance races out there – you may remember my post on comparing iron-distance to Ironman races back a bit ago.  I do however think you’ll see that these sorts of moves only serve to escalate the growing competition between Rev3 and WTC…which, in my opinion – is great for the sport, even if the means (Ironman Access), are questionable.

18 Comments

  1. Very well said Ray. It just seems to me to be another option and not a huge deal in the big scheme of things.

    Reply
  2. Ironman Access sounds like the poor man's Ironman Executive Challenge.

    I'm torn on the tissue. On one had I think it's great. Why? If you can afford Ironman Access then great for you. You're working hard for your money and you're being rewarded. But if you can't, well, sadly you probably can't afford to do any Ironman considering how expensive these events are.

    Reply
  3. For what it's worth, I have never had to fly out to an Ironman event to register - so the added expense you calculate for the trip to register seems an unfair comparison. Granted, the few most popular events (Penticton and Lake Placid) have frequently been known to sell out on-site, the vast majority of the m-dot events have slots available online at 12 noon local time the day after the race.

    My concern is that this BS Ironman Access scheme may endanger online registration for those of us who work hard for our money and cannot afford to be completely bled dry by WTC.

    While, in the past, I've been a fan of m-dot iron-distance races, as they have certainly gotten race organization down to a science, I'm now going to strongly consider other iron-distance events. Or maybe I'll turn back to 70.3s and enjoy having more free time...

    Either way, this move by WTC sickens me.

    Reply
  4. I think that it is about time the WTC rewards those of us with extra $$$ the rights we DESERVE!!! Do you know how degrading it is to stand in line to sign up at one of these events with "those" other type of people. I can't wait until they offer upgraded start lines, aid stations, and finishing chutes for those of us that really deserve them. Put the "riff raff's" finishing chute in the back because the people really only want to see us rich bastards finish anyway!

    Ha!

    I don't get the anger people have with WTC. It's their brand and their game and they can do with it what they want. What if they wanted to change it to 140 miles even... "let's knock off that little .6 thingy" they could if they wanted! People have the money to burn for Ironman racing---> How many AG'ers do you see with $3000 Zipp wheels and $300 aero helmets sitting up on the bike negating the aero wheels and helmets benefits ie: wasting money.

    Sam's Club and Costco charge you for the exclusive privilege of buying a fifty pound can of green beans not available to the general public. If you are signing up for more than 1 IM per year, paying a thousand bucks to guarantee entry is not that bad of a deal... I'm just waiting for the exclusive membership that allows me direct entry into Kona. Qualifying is really hard on my body!

    I read on ST that WTC is collecting the names of all the people complaining about their new program and they are going to block them from entering a WTC event again (even after saying they will never enter another WTC event again) ;-)

    Great post again Ray!

    Reply
  5. Ray, interesting post as always. Just an FYI, I signed up for Lake Placid online this year. I had friends that were onsite at the event that signed up as well, but I was actually able to get in online before they did onsite. Not sure if something was different this year.

    Reply
  6. We had some emails flying over the team list yesterday about this too. In general, the only reason I could see this as a "value" would be if you are absolutely set on getting in to three or more high profile races during the timeframe of your membership. At that point, if you know you're going to likely be doing charity slots to get in, more than two races it becomes more economical to do the IM Access (your math's a little off, btw - entries are 575). Once you hit three races, it is about $200 more if they are all charity slots than it would be to pay the access fee.

    I think WTC, from a business standpoint, missed one key element on this that would have blown sales through the roof. Allow transfers. As of this year CF slots don't transfer at all.. so you just lose the full 1150. For many people, it would be highly worth it to pay $1000 to allow them to defer/transfer to another race.

    Reply
  7. Very interesting perspective. Perhaps this is WTC's way of easing the requirement to show up in person. You are right, by the time you factor in travel costs you might come out the same. I love that Rev3 is making headway into the game. I have heard nothing but good things about their races.

    Reply
  8. Great post. I'm really glad you included the charity slot aspect. I wonder how the new "club" will affect the charities and volunteering.

    Reply
  9. I think one other aspect that is overlooked is from the perspective of support AT WTC races from those very same volunteers that would normally come to races so they could sign up. Sure, it could be a small number of folks who actually take advantage of Ironman Access, but consider the possible consequences of telling people they don't have to volunteer to get a guaranteed slot. Seems like there is the potential for races to be short on the thousands of volunteers necessary to pull off IM events.

    Reply
  10. Yes, well said. I still think the community slots are a better deal - if this particular pot were sweetened, I would think it would be by adding some discounts and/or versatility to the community/foundation option.

    I registered for IMCd'A this year online 5-6 weeks after the race, and there were still regular slots - I think it was probably 8 or 9 weeks post-race before regular registration closed. It's my impression that in the current economy, registration has slowed down considerably for all but the most popular races (i.e. Lake Placid, Florida).

    I notice that a lot of serious age-group triathletes who have a bad IM race will take a community slot for a later race (usually Arizona or Florida because of scheduling reasons) - another pot-sweetener would be making a few extra slots available for this after the community slots have all been filled.

    Reply
  11. WTC should take a page out of Columbia Triathlon Association's book. CTA Team Members are allowed to register for any CTA event—even if it is full—just eight weeks prior to the event, and at the regular race fee. Being able to sign up for a race just a month or two before—when you are more certain of your preparation and availability—seems to me to be a much greater benefit than being the very first to register, oftentimes a year in advance.

    It is worth mentioning that CTA Team membership is a little different in that it is not pay-to-play. One has to apply and be accepted to swim-bike-run for CTA. However, this difference does not negate the beauty of the benefit.

    Membership does have its privileges. The WTC is just doing it wrong.

    Reply
  12. Wes

    It's just another way to separate those that have money from those that have to save and scrounge for the money to register for these events. Is it a good idea? The market will decide.

    Reply
  13. Thank you very much for your wonderful

    Reply
  14. All this is exactly what I've been thinking and, to be honest, I think this turn of events is probably the best thing that has happened to our sport in the last few yrs. Thanks for putting it out there!

    Reply
  15. Wow! Kind of an eye opener. I was not fully aware of just how expensive IM event entry fees are. On the other hand all the more reason to take advantage of my proximity to CDA if I ever get inspired to go for an IronMan (probably at some vague point in the future after I've got a couple marathons under my belt).

    Reply
  16. Maybe this will all come to nothing, maybe WTC is striking while the iron's hot (pun) and will cash-in, especially with the publicity of Lance Armstrong possibly entering the Ironman circus.. but I think the WTC would be wise to read Malcom Gladwell's "Tipping Point", to see what can happen from what seems like relatively small (unpopular) moves like this. Why not at least guarantee 1 entry, and/or, establish online registration like almost every other event in the world? BTW, LAVA is free already.

    Reply
  17. Great Points! Everyone is complaining about this, but I still think they will still end up at WTC events.

    I decided to do some research on some other events to see how many finishers are in non-WTC events iron distance and I found 10 events in North America looked at the results and came up with around 2500 total finishers. The largest was Vineman(700), B2B (490), and Cedar Point (339). For comparison, 9 WTC events in NA, excluding Hawaii, there are a total of 20,818. The number will only go up with the addition of Texas next year.

    I'm sure the smaller events would love to see their events fill up, but until they do, WTC will have control.

    Note, all my research was by looking at total number of finishers on the results page.

    Reply
  18. MCWoody1

    WTC just announced they are cancelling the Ironman Access program.

    link to ironman.com

    I think pulling the plug makes WTC look even more dumb. Businesses aren't democracies - if they are going to let two days worth of nasty posts on Slowtwitch dictate their business decisions, they'll never make a profit. This wasn't New Coke.

    Reply

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