By Pete Williams
When Dawna Stone won NBC’s Martha Stewart version of The Apprentice at the end of 2005, she was operating a fledgling magazine with the unwieldy title of Her Sports + Fitness.
Stone was one of the first to recognize women’s running as a separate, booming demographic, re-branding her magazine in 2008 as Women’s Running and in November 2009 launching a Women’s Half Marathon and 5K in St. Petersburg, home to her publication. Riding the so-called recession running boom, Stone added three more Women’s Half Marathon events and in January signed Lady Speed Stick as the national title sponsor of the four-event series.
Today Stone cashed out, selling the series and the magazine for an undisclosed sum to Competitor Group, Inc., which has added a fifth race in its hometown of San Diego. Stone will stay on as a consultant.
“This agreement will allow us to reach even more women with our message about the importance of a healthy, active lifestyle,” Stone said.
It’s a good fit. Competitor publishes magazines, including Competitor and Triathlete. It also puts on races, including the 24-event Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series, Muddy Buddy, and the TriRock triathlon series. Competitor brought a Rock ‘n’Roll Half Marathon to St. Petersburg in February, receiving numerous financial and other considerations from the city, but drew only 7,000 athletes.
Stone spotted two trends early – the growing popularity of the “13.1″ half marathon format and the preference of many women for competing in women’s only events.
“Women feel comfortable running with other women,” Stone told me in 2010 when I was writing for, yes, Competitor magazine. “It’s about grabbing a bunch of girlfriends and having fun. I could train for a marathon, but something else in my life would have to slide. It’s the perfect distance to do something amazing and still have a life.”
As recently as 2007, Competitor consisted of a group of regional endurance magazines and the Muddy Buddy obstacle run series, both the creation of longtime endurance sports journalist, athlete, and historian Bob Babbitt. In January of 2008, private equity firm Falconhead Capital purchased Competitor, along with Triathlete magazine, and Elite Racing, the then-owner of the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon series. The new company became known as Competitor Group, Inc.
The move, made months before the economic collapse, triggered other private equity interest in endurance sports. In September 2008, Providence Equity Partners Group purchased World Triathlon Corp., the parent company of Ironman, and for a while appeared to be creating a Competitor competitor, launching Lava magazine, expanding its IronGirl running series, and announcing plans for an obstacle run series known as Primal Challenge.
Instead, new CEO Andrew Messick has focused on WTC’s core business of long-distance triathlons, canceling Primal Challenge, and selling Lava magazine.
Competitor, meanwhile, purchased Virginia-based race registration site RaceIt last fall. The acquisition of the Women’s Running properties solidifies its position in the half-marathon space at a time when interest in Competitor’s Muddy Buddy property appears to be waning.
Ironically, Stone expressed frustration with the City of St. Petersburg for its generous concessions to Competitor for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, a package which included $30,000 in city services and $100,000 from Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater to market the event.
After winning The Apprentice, Stone worked for Stewart’s Body + Soul magazine for a year as vice president of business development for $250,000.
She was offered a chance to stay onboard, but opted to return to Florida and continue running Her Sports.