WTC now cancelling races 30-45 days out when they want to avoid “a sizeable loss”

Last Tuesday World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) cancelled the 5150 series race finale in Clearwater, Florida next month, simply because of low registration numbers.

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You may remember last October year when WTC announced the 5150 triathlon race series, which was designed to be an Olympic distance race series with the same type of ‘big event’ style production that has been held for their Ironman and Half-Iron distance races.  They accomplished this goal primarily through taking existing big name races and tagging it as part of the event series.

Most of the races in the series were well established and big ticket races, like the NYC Triathlon, the Hy-Vee Triathlon, and the Washington DC triathlon.  Events with thousands of racers.  They also planned to introduce some new races into the system – thus making it a more widely available series.  Participants in the series would earn points, ultimately earning them shots at the series championship.  The idea here was to essentially emulate what’s done on the Ironman and 70.3 side but at the Olympic level.  This seemed like a logical extension of the brand.

But where it turned into a less than logical venture was when they started cancelling races that weren’t performing well on the registration front.   Back in April they cancelled their first 5150 series race in Provo, UT – about a month prior to race day.  While in the case of Provo WTC they did not specify a reason, rumor was pretty clear it was due to low race registrations.  This left those folks without a race on their schedule.  A time of the year where athletes typically use such shorter races to work out the race day kinks before moving onto 70.3 and 140.6 events, ironically enough, events typically put on by WTC themselves.

Then we fast forward to August, when they cancel the October 2nd race in Las Vegas – again, without reason given.  The same day they also announce that the Lake Lanier event (in Georgia) on September 11th is cancelled, this time due to “due to conflicting special events taking place in and around Lake Lanier”. 

Really?  These other events just magically popped up 4 weeks ahead of the race day?  Or perhaps more likely, these special events (five other triathlons within a week on either side) simply made the local athlete pool dry enough that registrations were low…and thus, a cancelled event.  In all cases, athletes were refunded their race fees.

Which brings us to last week, when WTC cancelled their series finale race scheduled for 3 weeks from now in Clearwater, FL.  This race from Clearwater tourism standpoint took the place of the previous 70.3 World Championships that had been held there until the move to Las Vegas this year.  It also had been roughly the same time as the 70.3 Championships were in previous years.

Except unlike past 5150 race cancellations though, WTC was upfront about the reason for the cancellation this time, saying in their notification to athletes:

“Due to low registration numbers, we felt that it was in the best interest of the participants, the City of Clearwater and the 5150 Triathlon Series to postpone this event.”

At first, many figured that perhaps the numbers were so low that it would have been silly to put on a race (such as 25-50 athletes).  But over the weekend a local paper in Tampa got a quote from WTC explaining exactly how ‘low’ a number it was, which turned out to be a fairly high 700 athletes.  Sure, not high by 2,000-3,000 racer standards, but certainly high enough for a triathlon. They then go onto get the following tidbit from WTC:

“We couldn’t go into this event and produce it without taking a sizable loss” – Philip LaHaye, 5150 Series’ director of operations

Really?

So WTC, just so I get this clear – it’s OK for your athletes and community tourism to take the loss in the form of pre-booked airfare/hotels – but it’s not OK for you to?  The same triathletes that ultimately pay you $600+ for an Ironman race registration fee, and thousands in travel costs.  For many, the logical progression in sport is from Olympic distance to Ironman.  With so few Iron-distance races out there, WTC is effectively telling its future long course athletes that it will do as it pleases when it pleases.  When will they start cancelling Ironman distance races that you’ve trained all year for to try and avoid a “sizeable loss”?

Keep in mind that WTC is the largest triathlon event company out there, where the average registration fee income for a single Ironman event comes in close to $2,000,000 ($600 * 3,000 registrations).  And that’s before we even look at sponsorship money.  Of course, there are expenses as well (and big ones) – but the point here is we aren’t looking at a small town locally owned event which does one race per year and this would put them underwater forever.

Anyone who starts and runs a business knows that they have to invest in areas to eventually see growth.  In the case of WTC – the goal was to start a new series, the 5150 series, and then grow that into a much larger revenue stream.  Likely at the end of the year they would have made decisions about which races performed well, which ones need more growth, and which ones should be cut.

Instead though – they surgically killed off races about a month ahead of race day – using registration forecasting to likely limit their losses.  All without any respect for the athlete’s own losses that would have been incurred for non-refundable travel (i.e. airfare).  Nor respect for the athlete’s goal of finishing a race or their seasons.  Nor respect for the towns in which they conduct races.

In my mind, this represents exactly the type of arrogance that WTC pleaded to all of us last year that they were trying to change after they reversed a decision regarding the Ironman Access program.

So what do you think?  Was WTC right in cancelling the races as they see fit?  Or are they simply leaving being poor triathlon stewards?

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38 Comments

  1. I see it as incredibly poor manners and business sense. There are some non-WTC triathlons that had tiny fields in their first year (e.g. Leadman Epic 250) but the corporation is investing their time and money into the growth of the race because they are confident it is a fantastic race that will see future growth in participant numbers. WTC seems to be thinking very short-term profits, and I think their actions are tactless.

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  2. WTC made short-term financial decisions that it believed were in its best interests. As triathletes, it’s our job to show WTC — by voting with our feet –that such blatant disregard for its customers (us) is a bad long-term financial decision. I, for one, will not be participating in any WTC races next year.

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  3. Definitely shows the athlete where they fall in priority to the decision-making machine at WTC.

    I suspect WTC is cutting its losses early on the entire venture and its looking more and more like 5150 is a failed brand. Maybe it should be allowed to die? Or, maybe they’re pruning what they see as dead-weight. We’ll see…

    The sad thing is not that they tried to expand into Olympic distance (because they could have brought some positives to the table), but that WTC gave this no time to germinate and to grow.

    The question is, did they ever intend to actually work this brand? Or were they arrogant enough as to expect (and demand) instant success. Of course, that’s what some of us expected from WTC so I, for one, am not surprised. Just disappointed.

    They should have stuck with their knitting at IM and 70.3 if this is the best that they can do when they try to expand and are faced with the inevitable challenges.

    I’m up for IMWI again this year, but think I’ll skip travelling to MIM (just in case they cancel).

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  4. Rob

    I flatly refuse to shell out money for any WTC event for this very reason. I don’t need to do an IM just for the badge or 70.3′s for that matter (which rarely are 70.3 anyway). Support the grass roots races folks.

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  5. With new race orgs popping up every season, like Rev3, Hits and so on, you would figure that WTC would change their ways and change with the changing business front, we have seen over the past couple years, what happens to business’s that dont adapt to change. I dont see the 5150 series staying with WTC too long

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  6. Looks like it’s time to invest in local race organizers more often and jump head first into the next great thing known as Rev3. My kids so want me to do Rev3 Cedar Point for obvious reasons.

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  7. I hope a very smart race organizer in the Orlando area figures out that they can easily organize a race for that weekend and have hundreds of entrants off the bat.

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  8. Very poor from many angles, i.e. customer relations, business development, stakeholder relations, etc. In other words, exactly what we have come to expect from WTC. I will keep this in mind in planning my races for next year, which won’t include any 5150 events.

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  9. WTC has been going down this road for years. These acts of arrogance will ultimately help other series (REV3) I hope.

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  10. Jr

    HELLO REV3!

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  11. I have done local races with as few as 15 people in them that the race organizer went ahead with anyway. On the other hand, I have also felt the disappointment of a race that was cancelled just two weeks prior to the start. The local race organizer that put on the race anyway has my loyalty in the future, whereas I will steer clear of the organizer that cancelled at the last minute. I wish there was some viable competition on the west coast for WTC!

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  12. WTC is once again showing blatant disregard for their customers. But I have come to expect this from them.

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  13. Couldnt agree more with what others have said. Really terrible. Like many, I have a love/hate relationship with WTC. Love Ironman events but disagree with much of what WTC does. I thought their new CEO had things headed in the right direction. No WTC events for me in the near future….

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  14. So if I shell out money to do a WTC race, then a few weeks before I am injured and/or busy, I have no recourse and have to eat the fee.

    But WTC can just up and cancel a race a few weeks before, due to profitability concerns?

    Extremely unfair.

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  15. I wonder if these guys think they are also “too big to fail?” With moves like this, it’s prime season for an organization like Rev 3 to come in with a quality race structure and some basic customer service and really shake things up…
    I too am skipping all WTC events next year.

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  16. Batman

    This is incredible and not respectful to all us athletes.

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  17. DS

    And don’t forget, the 5150′s seem to be the most expensive Olympic-distance races out there. By a lot. That’s why I skipped the inaugural 5150 event in my hometown. I can do the same distance on the same course for half the price.

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  18. I think this is a clear indication they don’t care about athletes. Maybe WTC needs to reevaluate their expenses (and business model for that matter)cut back on all the bells and whistles. I don’t see how they can be losing much money when I’ve doen olys with 200 people. How is any money made from these small events?

    WTF are they spending all this money on? Helicopters? Boats? Prize money? The police costs were paid for by the city. That should be the bulk of the expenses. It’s too bad they can cancel races and participants have to eat the cost of hotels and airfare but, if we get injured or die before the race we can’t get our money back.

    If you’re going to cancel almost half the races in the series, why even try to have them next year? If the DC Tri wasn’t so popular and right down the street I’d probably reconsider doing it next year. Glad I only signed up for REV 3 races next year.

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  19. This is exactly why I stopped racing them. I felt they were overcharging for what you got 3 years ago, let alone the debacle they’ve managed to throw together since. Just another reason to look elsewhere…thank goodness for competition!

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  20. I wish athletes WOULD put their money where their mouth is. Heck, we’re doing it with NetFlix. Unfortunately WTC has the majority of people hypnotized in that a branded Ironman race holds more value and for some, the potential for getting themselves to a world championship in Kona is far too strong of a magnet to ever give up.

    Rev3 struggled for the last 3 years holding their (financial) head above water yet still forged ahead to give all they could and then some to promote a safe,fun,high quality race format better than the WTC machine ever will. The problem lies in deprogramming the masses to abandon the WTC allegiance. Good luck with that…..

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  21. Just one more (to add to the many) reason WTC will never ever see another penny from our family!

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  22. What about the profits from IM and 70.3, surely they have the money to invest in 5i50 without having to cancel races?! For the prices that are paid for full and half races (not to mention merchandise), WTC is not a poor company but definitely poorly managed! Arrogance and WTC are synonymous, too bad the athletes all suffer. Times are changing and athletes will choose other races and maybe WTC will get the message. Support local races and new up and coming venues!

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  23. You can’t really be surprised, right? WTC has not shown the business acumen to market the Ironman brand and cultivate the lifestyle (triathletes). Repeatedly they flush the lifestyle for the brand (profits). As you rightly remember, the Ironman Access card made of Unicorn skin was a great example of this. Did the people from Ironman China get the money finally refunded? WTC puts on adequate races at the higher levels, yes – adequate. Nothing more and certainly nothing spectacular. Other places get my racing dollars 9 out of 10 times.

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  24. Dave

    Have you ever noticed how bad the 5150 logo is? The artwork is really imbalanced. I know the “i” is supposed to be offset but the difference in font looks far too jarring. It really looks like they did it on the cheap. Or like it’s a Chinese knock-off of the i-dot-man.

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  25. Great story, Ray and lots of good comments here as well.

    My brother had suggested the HITS series triathlon in Ft. Collins next summer one week before the Boulder 70.3. I wasn’t sure since I liked the idea of participating in a WTC branded event. This might change my mind.

    Wonder who, if anyone, is working at the client experience department at WTC? Funny that they would so carelessly sully their brand.

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  26. Totally agree that it was in bad taste for the races being canceled because the WTC was not going to make enough money. It does not build confidence when looking at next year’s calendar.

    I raced Galveston 5150, and thought it was a great event. It was not my first choice, Vegas 5150 was. Glad I did not choose Clearwater instead.

    I have said this before, but if all of the WTC haters out there could follow through by not attending WTC events, your voice may be heard. But reality sets in, and like a moth to a flame, you sign up for their events.

    Until there is a better series out there, that is marketed as well as Ironman and 70.3, we will continue to race their events.

    Exhale, they will shake this off just like they did with the “passport” program.

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  27. Anonymous

    What can we expect from a bunch of greedy, scumbag investment managers?

    of course there’s no concern for the athletes. it’s all about the money.

    i am dedicating my 2012 off season to doing everything i can talk people out of doing WTC events. hell, i’m dedicating the rest of my career to it!

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  28. Anonymous

    Of course it’s about the money. You would do the same if you were in their shoes (don’t kid yourself.) If you hadn’t noticed, these are tough times. Everybody is being cagey about their finances.

    Still, probably a bad long-term strategy on their part

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  29. Bad business move on the part of WTC. I don’t believe they should cancel a race after making the commitment. Run the race evaluate how it turned out and decide if you want to improve it or cancel it the next season. The athletes will remember getting burned by a company (I know I would). They are large enough and make enough revenue that a couple of minor loses will not bankrupt them. Look it up, it’s true. Your customer is what’s important in business. When you fail them you fail your future. Thanks for the post DC Rainmaker.

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  30. Anonymous

    It won’t hurt them at all as long as people are drones to the M-dot logo and good luck changing that. Their thought about everyone here complaining is that there are 3 people behind you ready to take your spot at their races, so why should they care! They let an idiot put on a turd race in Miami last year (or did everyone forget about that already?) and guess what, the same idiot is running it again and it is sold out – even when there is a far better half iron in Miami 2 weeks later!

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  31. Anonymous

    If you have an M-Dot tattoo on your leg, you might as well have a L tattooed to your head, because YOU are the sucker!

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  32. I agree with all the words of frustration. I just want to say that I am also sorry for some of the race directors who are victims of this as well. There are some really good race directors who contract with WTC to put on these races, and WTC makes it very hard on them. I think the value of the Ironman brand name is quickly diminishing with time. It’s too bad so many fine races have been sold to WTC that could have remained independent and successful.

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  33. Anonymous

    There are so many options I am not sure why anyone would opt to support a 5150 event to complete an Olympic race other than convenience to their location. Traveling for a 5150 event simply doesn’t make sense unless you are looking for a destination race. The 5150 badge is not worthy of the elevated registration fees and never should be. We are talking Oly distance races here. To prepare yourself for longer distance events support local! In the SW their is an events company called Red Rock that hosts 6 or 7 sprint, olympic and half-iron distance events as well as mountain bike events and xterra style events. Their quality of production rivals that of WTC – if not exceeding their quality when it comes to care for the athletes, their families and the community in which they produce their events. Their shwag bags kill those of WTC! I received a Nathan running water bottle, a custom headsweats visor (that I would have had to pay $50 for at a WTC event) and a Zorrel tech tee along with many other sponsor products at a oly distance race that cost me $35 with a Groupon that they ran over the summer. $35 could have barely covered their costs for the shwag bag alone let alone production fees. It was also one of the best organized, most friendly races I have ever attended and when I finished I didn’t get cold pizza I got freshly cooked eggs, fruit and bread provided by a local merchant that was paid to provide healty food for the participants. Why would I opt for a 5150 over a race like that?

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  34. Nathalie in Ontario, Canada

    Two days ago, the Toronto city council voted in favour of closing significant portions of two major highways (equivalent of interstate highways for you folks) that run through downtown Toronto for a 5i50race to be held on July 22, 2012. The city officials have endorsed this motion thinking this event will generate major revenues for the city and that it could create buzz for the 2015 Pan Am Games. They are hoping to attract 1500 triathletes for this event.

    I wasn’t thrilled nor excited about the idea when I first heard about it three weeks ago but after reading this post, I think there’s a good chance this race will bomb in Toronto as well.

    The other thing that really bothers me is that WTC/WEC goes to the city officials and offers $25,000 in charity plus the costs of closing two major arteries in exchange for a race that will attract what, less than 1500 people? That’s quite a difference from the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Ride for Heart which closes those same two arteries (no pun intended) and attracts 15,000 riders who raise over $3,000,000 each year for cardiovascular diseases research.

    I’m quite certain that the lower turnout for those cancelled races is due the insanely high registration fees the WTC charges and the decline in the quality of their events in recent years, no secret there. I also think that people prefer smaller and friendlier venues when it comes to races shorter than a half-iron race and the fact that almost every olympic race organized by one of Ontario’s local events promoter (Multisport Canada) sells out each year speaks volumes. I am more than comfortable in spending $80 with MultiSport Canada for well put olympic distance races held in awesome local venues but not certainly not more than double that price for an “Ironman” branded event in Toronto!

    WEC/WTC will no longer get my money and I will definitely encourage others to not waste their hard earned money on an organization that shows a total lack of respect towards those who feed them.

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  35. Anonymous

    The WTC sucks major Azz! Here are my reasons! Remember the “Ironman Village?” Now it’s an “Ironman EZ-UP” that you can walk through in 5 minutes. – You don’t even get a t-shirt for that $600 entry fee any longer. The “Ironman 70.3″ title! What the frick is that??? Leaving hundreds of triathletes hanging by cancelling the 5150 series is unacceptable! And….their pro prize purses suck major azz also for the amount of profit they are making! All my Californian triathlete friends are already boycotting WTC events. It’s now Wildflower, Vineman, Alcatraz etc.

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  36. Anonymous

    I agree with however said that those persons who have the dumb M-dot tattoo should also get a “L” for Loser tattoo right next to it! If you want to brag about it, how about a 140.6 tattoo so you aren’t advertising for the stupid WTC! Get the M-dots covered up now!!!

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  37. Ralf from Frankfurt, Germany

    I don’t know if you are aware that WTC also announced four events over her in Europe that were cancelled on rather short notice as well. Four other went along but these were races with some tradition only to be labelled 5150 (and increase fees)

    From my point of view with this act of disrespect to the paying customer, the 510 brand at least in Germany is dead. We do have so many smaller but well organized non-commercial events with decent entry fees all over the country that after this introductory “perfomance” of WTC noone will really feel the need to compete in those evenst.

    I just hope that the traditional events that gave their names for 5150 are forever burnt and can continue as in the past

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  38. Hi Ray, I made mention of your 10/25 post on a recent post on my blog. Pls share if you think its worthy. link to tinyurl.com…thx

    Reply

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