By Pete Williams
Muddy Buddy, the popular bike-and-run mud race series owned by Competitor Group, has scaled back to just eight events for 2012. After hosting two races in Florida in each of the last two years, and considering a third last year, Muddy Buddy will come no closer to Florida than Atlanta in 2012.
A new splash page on the Muddy Buddy Web site posted Tuesday promised a new Web site and 2012 registration for Jan. 30, along with “the biggest news in Muddy Buddy history.” The page also listed the eight cities that will host events in 2012.
“Choosing only eight events for 2012 was difficult,” Competitor Group said in a statement. “We weighed past participation, local support and event sponsor requests in making our decision. Cities that were on the schedule in 2011, but not in 2012 will be the first cities we reconsider as we hope to modestly expand the series in the coming years.”
A Competitor source said the decision was in response to races such as Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, which routinely draw between 10,000 and 20,000 athletes per weekend. Muddy Buddy need attract only 2,000 to 3,000 per event to be successful, but even that became challenging over the last year with greater competition.
Orlando was the second-most popular stop on the Muddy Buddy circuit after Chicago. A return to Disney’s Wide World of Sports for 2012 was not a possibility, however, once Disney decided to no longer allow third-party endurance sports promoters to produce events on Disney property.
Competitor did consider locations elsewhere in Central Florida, including Pasco County just north of Tampa, but “there were no guarantees those venues would be as strong,” the source said. Another strike against Florida is that Columbia Sportswear, the title sponsor of the series, does not have many retail outlets in the Sunshine State.
Muddy Buddy staged races for years in seven or eight cities, including Orlando, before expanding to 13 for 2009 and 18 in 2010 before dialing it back to 16 last year. The circuit included a late November, season-ending stop at Zoo Miami in each of the last two years.
Attendance at the Disney event, held Mother’s Day weekend before moving to early April in 2011, fell to about 2,000 last year after drawing about 3,000 participants in 2009. About 900 athletes showed up for the Zoo Miami event in late November.
This year, Muddy Buddy will return to Richmond, Austin, Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Boulder, Portland, and San Jose. In addition to Orlando and Miami, the others not to make the cut were Buffalo, Detroit, New York, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Los Angeles.
Muddy Buddy, founded by endurance sports publisher and entrepreneur Bob Babbitt in 1999, was the first mud run to go national. As recently as 2008, Muddy Buddy had the national mud run scene virtually to itself. With its entry-level, two-person-team obstacle course, costume contests, and signature mud pit, it attracted thousands of casual athletes looking for an alternative to a pound-the-pavement 5K or a triathlon.
Warrior Dash provided competition in 2009, but the real challenge came in 2010 with the debuts of Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, more difficult races that drew athletes looking for a triathlon-level accomplishment with a bit of CrossFit flavor.
Not only were Tough Mudder and Spartan Race quick success stories – Tough Mudder grossed more than $30 million in 2011 – they inspired countless other events, nowhere more so than in Florida. So crowded did the Sunshine State’s mud run schedule become that Muddy Buddy scrapped plans for a season-ending 2011 championship event in Punta Gorda when Tough Mudder scheduled a Tampa Bay area event the same weekend in December.
Muddy Buddy’s move is the latest sign that the market for obstacle mud runs, which flooded in 2011, could be undergoing a shakeout. The Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. scrapped plans for a “Primal Challenge” series of mud runs. Warrior Dash will host about 9,000 athletes for this weekend’s season kickoff event in Lake Wales, down from last year’s 13,000. Several Florida-based mud runs have not been rescheduled for 2012.
But Rock on Adventures, which staged a pair of Highlander races in Bartow last year, announced plans this week for six events in 2012, including an inaugural “Monster Bash Dash” on April 14 in Kissimmee. With Muddy Buddy no longer at Lake Buena Vista in mid-April, the Monster Bash Dash could draw some of the usual Muddy Buddy crowd.