By Pete Williams
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.