Tag Archives: Competitor Group

Competitor Group on the Block

By Pete Williams

Muddy Buddy and other CGI assets are up for bids

Competitor Group Inc., the endurance sports conglomerate that includes the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, Muddy Buddy, the TriRock triathlon series, and a number of prominent industry magazines, is for sale, according to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal.

Falconhead Capital, the equity fund that owns Competitor, has been shopping the firm, according to Kaplan. In a summary of the executive prospectus obtained by SportsBusiness Journal, Competitor expects to generate revenue of $126 million in 2012.

In January of 2008, Falconhead purchased Elite Racing Inc., which puts on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, along with La Jolla Holding Group (Triathlete Magazine), Competitor Publishing Inc., and Muddy Buddy, the bike-and-run obstacle relay series. The new company became Competitor Group Inc.

Riding the wave of interest and growth of endurance sports that has continued despite the economic downturn, CGI has expanded its own events, created one (TriRock Triathlon) and acquired others, including the Nation’s Triathlon in Washington, D.C. In June, CGI purchased Women’s Running Magazine and the Lady Speed Stick Women’s Half Marathon Series, both based in St. Petersburg and created by Dawna Stone.

It’s not unusual for a private equity investor to sell after a period of four years, especially given the industry growth that has occurred since 2008.

CGI, perhaps more than anyone else in the industry, has capitalized on the growing interest in half-marathon or “13.1” mile racing. Stone was among the first to recognize the lucrative women’s running demographic and her properties no doubt will add to Competitor’s eventual sales price.

At the same time, Competitor was slow to embrace the booming obstacle race category. Muddy Buddy,  the biggest national series as recently as 2008, contracted from 16 to 8 races this year as events such as Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash cut into its market share.

Kaplan noted that when Falconhead formed CGI in 2008, the company had just 16 races. Today there are 75, making it the largest operator of endurance events in the country.



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Competitor Buys Stone’s Women’s Running Empire

By Pete Williams

Runners gather for the 2009 Women’s Half Marathon in St. Petersburg

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.



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Ironman Spins Off Lava Magazine

By Pete Williams

Lava’s June issue

World Triathlon Corp. continues to focus on its core business. The Tampa-based parent company of Ironman today announced that it has sold its two-year-old Lava Magazine to “a group of private investors with a long-term tie to the triathlon community.”

The new group will be known as LAVA Media, LLC and retain its current staff with Heather Gordon as publisher. WTC CEO Andrew Messick said in a statement that “Ironman is in the business of creating extraordinary races and event experiences, not publishing.”

The sale is the latest move by Messick to focus Ironman on its primary business of long-distance triathlons. Messick was installed as CEO last May by the Providence Equity Partners’ Group that purchased WTC from the Gills family in September of 2008.

Since taking over, Messick has scrapped Ironman’s plans to launch an obstacle mud race series called Primal Challenge, sold off a timing business, scaled back WTC’s one-year-old 5150 Olympic-distance triathlon series, and reevaluated every aspect of the company beyond the signature Ironman-distance races and the 70.3 (half Ironman) events.

In an interview with EnduranceSportsFlorida last month, Messick said: “I think that we may have lost sight a little bit of what we do and what we’re uniquely good at. We’re uniquely good at long distance triathlon, creating these very hard, very important, life-changing events for our athletes and I worry that by focusing on other stuff, we run the risk of not being as good as we need to at our bread and butter, the core of our business. We don’t have as many 5150s this year. We don’t have Primal Challenge. We don’t have our own timing business anymore. There’s a whole series of things we were getting into that in my mind took our eye off achieving real excellence at the things we need to be excellent at and that’s creating these extraordinary athlete experiences.”

Lava, a reference to Ironman’s world championship in Hawaii, seemed like an attempt by WTC to take on Competitor Group, which publishes endurance books and magazines in addition to organizing the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon series, Muddy Buddy races, and shorter triathlons.

Lava is produced in California, far from WTC’s headquarters in Tampa, and comes across as a more upscale version of Triathlete magazine, which though owned by Competitor also tends to focus on Ironman events and professional triathletes.

LAVA Media, LLC, will own and operate the magazine’s print, online and digital properties. Ironman and Lava will continue a partnership, with Lava designated as the official magazine of Ironman.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy?

By Pete Williams

Registration now open for 2013

The Tampa Bay Times broke down the numbers from the Feb. 12 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in St. Petersburg and the results show that the inaugural event fell well short of what race organizer Competitor Group projected in May when it landed $30,000 in city services and $100,000 from Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater to market the event.

During a splashy news conference in May, Competitor projected 12,000 to 15,000 runners and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said the event could account for 10,000 hotel nights and pump $15 million into the local economy.

We examined those numbers at the time, turning to economist Philip Porter of the University of South Florida, a longtime critic of sports economic impact projections. Porter suggested only a small portion of the runners would come from outside the Tampa Bay market, minimizing economic impact.

That’s exactly what happened, according to The Times. The Feb. 12 race had just 7,000 finishers, only 1,248 of which came from out of state. The three official race hotels booked just 200 rooms. Other hotels already were nearly full with other bookings.

Porter says such projections always overestimate economic impact.

“Think about it. You’re coming to City Council and asking for money and support shutting down roads and you’re going to promise the sky,” Porter said this morning. “If you don’t deliver the crowds it doesn’t matter because there’s no mechanism in the contract that holds you accountable.”

Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater has a three-year contract for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon and has pledged $100,000 for each race in 2013 and 2014.

Though the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon generally was well received, some runners wondered why it needed to begin at one site (Tropicana Field) and end at North Shore Park. Runners faced $15 parking fees at The Trop on race day and for mandatory packet pickup on the days before, though many parked in free two-hour spots on the streets and walked over.

Weather was chilly for the race, though that likely had little impact on late registration in the days leading up to the event as entry fees were a whopping $125. Advance registration was as little as $55 and Competitor was offering $65 registration for the 2013 event during packet pickup this year.


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Will TriRock Work in Clearwater?

By Pete Williams

Racing Clearwater's bridges

It’s been quite a start to 2012 for Competitor Group and its endurance sports properties in Florida.

Two weeks ago, the San Diego-based publisher and event promoter pulled its Muddy Buddy series out of Florida, part of a downsizing to just eight events for the bike-and-run event for 2012. Competitor had considered moving its popular Orlando Muddy Buddy race to Pasco County after Disney booted outside endurance sports promoters from the Magic Cashbox, but decided to go with more proven markets, at least for 2012.

This week, runners participating in Competitor’s inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in St. Petersburg on Sunday realized they must pay $15 to park at Tropicana Field to pick up their race packets and another $15 on race day unless they make less convenient arrangements. That’s part of a complicated relationship between Competitor, the City of St. Pete, and the Tampa Bay Rays, but mostly a product of the cushy deal St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster gave Competitor.

But when it comes to sucking up to endurance sports conglomerates and giving away the keys to the city, nobody does it better than Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, who after getting little in return for the city’s six-year investment with the World Triathlon Corporation to put on five Ironman 70.3 races and cancel a 5150 event, signed on this week to host a November event in Competitor’s TriRock triathlon series.

The inaugural TriRock Clearwater will take place November 11, the same weekend Ironman canceled its inaugural 5150 event last year due to low registration and the same weekend Ironman staged its year-end 70.3 championship from 2006-2010. That event, which attracted few spectators and little media coverage, generated headlines mostly for tying up 56 miles of traffic in Florida’s most densely populated county.

The Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. relocated the 70.3 event to Nevada for 2011 and thanked Clearwater on the way out by not printing “Clearwater” on a single piece of merchandise for the 2010 event. In October, WTC canceled its inaugural 5150 season-ending event in Clearwater just three weeks before the race when it could not reach its modest goal of 800 participants.

Race director Philip LaHaye wondered at the time if Clearwater could “support a bigger production, $150-per-person race” at the end of the season.

Competitor’s entry fees for TriRock, which features sprint-distance and Olympic-length triathlons, rank among the highest in the industry. The sprint distance costs $100 through Sept. 10 and escalates to $150. The Olympic distance costs between $140 and $180 depending on when the athlete registers. This does not include the RaceIt.com online registration fee, which also goes to Competitor, which purchased the Virginia-based online registration company in August.

No word on parking arrangements and fees but they were not an issue during Ironman’s 70.3 events out of Clearwater Beach, which featured roughly 2,000 triathletes per race.

Competitor is banking on athletes paying a premium for enjoying rock bands along the course, much like they do for the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon series. The company’s Web site bills TriRock as featuring a “rocking competition, complete with live bands along the swim, bike and run courses, followed by a post-race party and concert.”

The TriRock series debuted last year with races in Annapolis, Md., Seattle, San Diego, and Gettysburg, Pa. This year’s schedule starts in New York on May 5 and includes races in Annapolis, Seattle, Austin, and San Diego.

Competitor expects 1,000 athletes for the Clearwater event, which starts with a swim in the water off Clearwater Beach. Such modest expectations make sense for a city that, for whatever reason, has struggled to build traction around the booming sport. In addition to Ironman’s mixed results, the Sand Key Triathlon initially folded last year after a seven-year run. A new promoter took over the event, postponed it from September to Feb. 25 and this week announced its cancellation.

The Morton Plant Mease Triathlon, a sprint-distance event held like the Sand Key Triathlon at Sand Key Park just south of Clearwater Beach, debuted in 2006 and is scheduled for June 24.



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Rock Concert Parking Prices

By Pete Williams

St. Pete runners will pay ballpark prices to park at The Trop.

Runners hoping to park in Tropicana Field lots near the start of Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in St. Petersburg will have to pay $15.

If they wish to park at The Trop on Friday or Saturday for mandatory packet pick-up at the event’s health and fitness expo at the beloved dome, they’ll have to pay another $15.

That’s $30, which is more than it costs to enter most 5K events, few of which involve parking fees, as well as more than most tickets to Tampa Bay Rays’ games. (Registration for the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon itself began at $55 and gradually rose to $105. Expo registration will be $125).

In a Tampa Bay Times story yesterday, race organizer Competitor Group pointed the finger at the Rays for the parking fees. A city official said it’s between the Rays and the promoter (Competitor). Rays vice president Rick Vaughn, the best PR guy in sports, must feel like he’s having a flashback to the Vince Naimoli era, spinning what seems to be a petty situation all around.

“The Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon Expo is a commercial enterprise and, like all for-profit events at Tropicana Field, its promoters are required to pay a parking fee,” Vaughn told The Times.

Vaughn is right, of course, though all this has little to do with revenue from a few thousands vehicles, probably much less given that most runners will seek out cheaper parking further away. After all, this is a crowd that doesn’t mind walking a mile or two to run 13.1.

The situation has much more to do with entitlements of race promoters, city officials mesmerized by dubious economic studies, and perhaps the ongoing friction between St. Pete and the Rays over the team’s future ballpark.

When St. Pete and Competitor Group announced the event in May, Mayor Bill Foster cited a $12 million economic impact, even though the much larger, established Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa reports an impact of roughly half that. Philip Porter, an economist at the University of South Florida who has long criticized sports economic studies, suggested St. Pete’s numbers were highly inflated since the vast majority of runners figured to be local.

Nonetheless, Foster plowed ahead, committing $30,000 in city support, including police and road closures, expenses race promoters typically foot on their own. The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission committed $100,000 to promote the race by taking out ads in national running magazines – even though Competitor Group itself publishes several prominent endurance sports magazines.

But where Foster really got into murky water was by asking the Rays to let The Trop host a health and fitness expo (and packet pickup) for free – a $60,000 value. You have to think the Rays, run by team president and avid marathoner Matt Silverman, might have written this off as another of the many community goodwill gestures the team has made since Stu Sternberg took over as principal owner in 2005. Heck, Sternberg didn’t charge Rays fans for parking for the entire 2006 season and continues to offer some degree of free parking to carpools of four or more fans.

Unfortunately for runners, Foster and Sternberg have been involved in a stalemate over the Rays future for more than two years. Sternberg wants to consider new ballpark sites outside of St. Pete (i.e. Tampa). Foster keeps pointing to a Tropicana Field lease that runs through 2027.

So here we are, with runners contemplating parking options, shuttles, and the logistics of a race that starts at one venue (The Trop) and ends at another (North Shore Park).

Who to blame? There’s plenty to go around.

COMPETITOR GROUP: The San Diego-based promoters could (should?) pay the Rays and pick up the parking. They received much more consideration from the city than other race promoters. Not only that, it was only a few years ago that local promoters had to convince St. Pete to let anyone host a half-marathon. All Competitor had to do was waive an economic impact study to get Foster excited. Last weekend, the organizers of the Chilly Willy Duathlon picked up the new $5-per-car entry fee for athletes competing at Fort DeSoto Park in St. Pete. A smaller event, to be sure, but still a big hit by a local promoter who doesn’t get any of Competitor’s considerations from the city or county.

There’s nothing that irks people more than paying for parking. They never remember the steep prices they paid for sports and entertainment tickets, along with the $10 per beer. But they won’t forget the $15, $20, or $30 they had to pay to park. Speaking of sports tickets…

THE TAMPA BAY RAYS: Only in the warped alternative reality of professional sports does a city have to ask permission from a tenant to stage an event in a building the city owns (but the team operates). But that’s how sports works and, in fairness to the Rays, they’d like nothing more than to make The Trop available to the city of St. Pete for health expos, packet pickups and other events 365 days a year.

The Rays seem to be on the right side of this argument, but we wonder if it’s worth the PR hit. Yes, this parking revenue is covering their costs, but all runners will know is that they had to hand over $15 (perhaps twice) to the same lot attendants who work Rays games.

The Rays, as you may have heard, have some attendance issues. And while it’s true that the people who get up before dawn on Sunday mornings to run half marathons generally aren’t the same people who sit around for three-plus hours drinking beer and watching B.J. Upton, there’s going to come a time when a Rays stadium issue is going to be placed on a ballot somewhere in the Tampa Bay area. As the Buccaneers learned, those votes can be awfully close.

Sternberg and his staff have done most everything right since taking over in 2005, with the exception of grossly underestimating the opposition to development along the St. Pete waterfront and thinking Pat Burrell had a heart.

The Rays ate $16 million on the Burrell deal. Seems like $60,000 wouldn’t be a bad PR investment, though again the lion’s share of the blame goes to the one man we know won’t be running 13.1 miles on Sunday:

MAYOR BILL FOSTER: This guy quickly has established himself as the biggest ego we’ve seen in Tampa Bay politics, and that’s saying something. The logical thing would be for Foster to go to Competitor and say, “Look, we’ve bent over backwards for this event, given you far more cash and consideration than we should have. And now all of us are going to lose some serious goodwill over this parking issue. Now I may not know much about endurance sports. To me a half Marathon is what I had left after eating part of a chewy candy bar, but I hear you guys have added a lot of these events over the last year or two. Seems like you might have to cut back like you did with those Nutty Buddy races. What? Muddy Buddy? Okay, whatever, point being we want to have you back and I think you want to be back. So why don’t you go to the Rays and meet them halfway for, say $30,000?”

Failing that, let’s line up Mayor Foster and Stu Sternberg for a 5K.

If either finishes in under 30 minutes, parking is $30.

If not, parking is free.




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Muddy Buddy Scales Back for 2012

By Pete Williams

Fewer mud pits in 2012

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.

Back to Florida in 2013?

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.


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