Ironman says ‘We screwed up’ and cancels/refunds Ironman Access

In a rather surprising change of heart, World Triathlon Corporation decided to ditch plans for its newfound Ironman Access program that I posted on earlier this morning.

By mid-day they had posted a rather hastily put together “We’ve sold out!” message, with about as much graphical style and coloring as a kindergartner’s Halloween cards might come out (even was in Halloween colors!).  It also featured a radically efficient centering method on the paragraph below the yellow text…I’ve definitely got to get ahold of that style!

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However, a few hours later they went out and posted a short video segment from their CEO – Ben Fertic – detailing their reversal.

He notes in the video that: “Clearly by the comments received into the office via e-mail and the Facebook comments – you guys think we’re wrong.  If you guys think we’re wrong, then we’re wrong.  So we’re gonna rescind the Ironman Access program, we’ll refund the money.”

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This seems to be about the first time they I can remember where they’ve actually come out and said they were wrong on something and changed their mind.  Or even acknowledged that they listen to feedback and take action on that (beyond boilerplate press releases).

What I also found interesting is that they choose to do a short video over a press release.  To me this goes to show how much they wanted to appear less corporate-like (one of the major criticisms of World Triathlon Corporation).  I think they achieved that with this video.  Ben (the CEO) is clearly stumbling a bit, perhaps nervous from speaking on camera – or perhaps a bit flustered by 24 hours of folks barraging WTC with less than flattering feedback.

However, I think this also exposes something that many companies screw up in: Explaining their decisions and offerings.  In the case of Ironman access – they never actually said WHY they were offering the program when it debuted.  By failing to communicate that, they gave folks a pass to come up with reasons why they were creating the program; the most obvious of which being to make a crapton of money.

And while the crapton of money portion is undoubtedly true, what they didn’t mention yesterday when the program was announced that they also had an ulterior motive:

“At Ironman we have a group of athletes who are registering for multiple [sic] multiple events, yet these athletes only compete in one event.  The slots that they don’t use, just go unused.  With Ironman Access we hope to address that issue so that these athletes could race the events that they wanted to race, thereby not tying up the slots.  By our estimation we would gain around 2,500-3,000 slots in the US with this program.”

Had they said upfront..

“Hey, we’re doing this program for the following reasons – 1) To save you money on travel, 2) To offer more slots 3) To allow folks that want to race multiple Ironman’s in a season to do so without incurring lots of extra charges, but also 4) leading to a bit more cash in our pockets”

..then I’d suspect they wouldn’t have incurred the wrath of the Internet that they found themselves in.

While it’s often said that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness later than permission upfront – this is a case where I think if they had clearly stated the goals of the program upfront, they might have had more success.   Instead, the program came off as elitist and a money-grab.  And further, this was definitely a case where asking for forgiveness was more painful than asking permission.

Here’s the a full transcription I put together of the 59-second video:

“Hi, I’m Ben Fertic – president of Ironman.  Recently we released a program called Ironman Access.

At Ironman we have a group of athletes who are registering for multiple multiple events, yet these athletes only compete in one event.  The slots that they don’t use, just go unused.  With Ironman Access we hope to address that issue so that these athletes could race the events that they wanted to race, thereby not tying up the slots.  By our estimation we would gain around 2,500-3,000 slots in the US with this program.  Clearly by the comments received into the office via e-mail and the Facebook comments – you guys think we’re wrong.  If you guys think we’re wrong, then we’re wrong.  So we’re gonna rescind the Ironman Access program, we’ll refund the money.

And I just wanted to say personally that we’re sorry we disappointed you.  We’re human and we make mistakes, but were listening, we’re part of the Ironman family. I’m part of the Ironman lifestyle and we really do appreciate your support.”

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the rest of your Thursday evening…I’ve got 10 miles to run and pumpkins to carve!

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8 Comments

  1. I think they did the right thing in jumping out in front of this so quickly today. Agree, the video seemed almost deliberately “raw” and contrite.. anti-corporate.

    Reply
  2. First Interbike, now WTC? Who’s next to change their mind on a major strategic decision?

    Another great article, Ray.

    Reply
  3. jwright

    Based on the reactions that everyone seems to be having, they did the right thing. I do think that the majority of people out there were a little too quick to criticize the program…if you don’t like it, then don’t sign up. I thought that your explanation alone, about saving money on travel, made the cost of this program pretty acceptable. But, apparently the majority disagreed, so they did the right thing.

    Reply
  4. wow, this is a very interesting case study on the business of sports. I’m not a triathlete, but I think this is really intriguing and really, something like this could happen with any large race organizer.

    Thanks for sharing the details.

    Reply
  5. MCWoody1

    Frankly, I’ve lost more respect for WTC now that they have flip-flopped on this — two days of some nastygrams on Slowtwitch and they fold like a house of cards?

    How thin skinned is everyone over there? I didn’t realize that WTC was a democracy.

    Running a business is tough and sometimes you make choices with your business model that aren’t popular at the outset.

    This wasn’t New Coke or CBS cancelling Cagney & Lacey, it was a little pay-to-play scheme that tested the upper bounds of what the market would bear. So they were trying to eek out some additional revenue for their investors — boo hoo. They have a fiduciary responsibility to their owners to do so.

    Reply
  6. interesting turn of events. As with most things, had they explained their thought process behind the program they probably would have had less backlash.

    Reply
  7. IronUmp

    I’m confused. People sign up for multiple slots at $500 to $600 per slot and THEN DON’T SHOW UP (at the rate of “2,500 to 3,000 slots” per year)? How was this IM Access supposed to correct that, since it actually made signing up easier?

    Reply
  8. I think you made a more convincing argument the other day for the program than WTC did! I read your post and I was a little less indignant about it. Not that I am ever going to do an Ironman, so it really doesn’t matter :-)

    Reply

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