Editor’s note : Yancy Culp is arguably the most prolific trainer in OCR these days. Through Yancy Camp, his training programs and stable of trainers (which includes Matt Novakovich, Ryan Kent, Rose Wetzel, and April Dee), have become one the leading resources for hundreds of athletes in our sport. The following are his views regarding the recent Spartan Rule announcement. This announcement includes changes which state Spartan Gear must be worn on the podium at all Spartan Races. We’ll include a link to his website at the bottom of his article.
Since the rules changes were shared around on Facebook I’ve been able to talk to a lot of people through phone calls, text messages, social messaging, and email. I have great appreciation for both sides of this discussion. I fully support a company’s right to outline rules and conduct as they see fit. I also understand the top level athletes showing concern when levels of control are put in place. It’s a great discussion to have early on in a sports infancy. Spartan has performed far beyond and accomplished more than most of us could have ever thought possible for our sport of OCR in a short period of time. I’m one of the biggest supporters of Spartan and the entire OCR racing community. The racing experiences they have provided for us over the past 5+ years has been nothing short of amazing. Many like to say, “the sport is so young”, “we’re not there yet”, “we’ll never be big like other sports”, etc. Try and find another sport that had as much success as OCR during the first few years of existence. I’m willing to bet you can’t find one. Basketball started out with a group shooting homemade balls in to a bushel basket. They weren’t as far along as OCR was five years in. I think it’s safe to say Basketball has made it to the big time. I could go on for days providing other examples.
We’ve moved very fast and Spartan has done an exceptional job keeping their foot on the gas. Because of great organizations/leagues, employees, sponsors, television networks, fans, and high performance athletes, there are sports that aren’t on the excitement scale of OCR who have had a crazy level of success while generating billions of dollars.
One problem that comes up when topics like this surface is the fact that some get extreme with their rhetoric vs trying to understand the topic from both sides. People will lash out with rhetoric that serves little to no purpose while a graciously direct conversation can go on in the middle and things can get accomplished.
Spartan has to operate under a budget watching P&L’s, EBITDA numbers, etc. and at the end of quarters and annually, they have to show success and profit. The television networks have to do the same thing. The high level athletes who have brought a lot to the sport and have been a big part of the success also have to operate under a budget. Most organizations in the sport of OCR have aligned their races in a way to create high level competition and OCR is a sport. Without the top level athletes you have a televised event. With the top level athletes you have an edge of your seat viewing experience that’s a full blown race! If you watched the NBC and CBS televised races on Christmas Day 2016 you saw how the networks spent a lot of time showing the audience top level athletes going toe to toe out on course. The viewers start following the top level athletes and all successful sports have top level athletes creating edge of your seat excitement. We love it and we always will!
The sport has top level athletes grooming their work schedules and teaming with sponsors in a way that allows them as much time at possible to train and race. There are also athletes who are earning enough money with the sport to train and race full time. Some of the athletes in both categories are accomplishing this because of support from the race organizations they align with and they receive additional sources of revenue from other sponsors. Because of the high level athletes who dedicate a huge amount of time annually training, the sport has worked its way in to a situation where the athletes are arguably being considered some of it not the best athletes on the planet. We are also a sport now where top level athletes from other sports can’t waltz in and knock off our top level athletes.
Up to this point, Spartan and other OCR organizations have allowed athletes to use their bodies and garments to market their sponsors, which as Spartan recently said, has played a key role in the development of the sport. In my opinion, this has been a very smart move on their part and I hope rules and conduct continue to allow this to take place in a way where the athletes can continue using their body and garments to support their sponsors. A very large majority of the top level athletes are in agreement. There are great examples where this has been very successful and there are examples where athletes have been overly controlled. Golf is an example many don’t think about. When you watch golf on television you’ll see almost every golfer wearing different hats, visors, shirts, using different clubs, balls, golf bags, etc. There is definitely a level of control in place with golf but the athletes have the freedom to promote their sponsors. Golf is performance based. Prize winnings can be very high if you perform well and sponsorships can be huge. Like most other sports, when you watch golf on television, the top golfers get the majority of the air time. They get to show off their sponsors and a healthy amount of money is earned. There are other sports models that have had similar success where the athletes make a very nice living. In other successful sports there are strong league minimums where the lowest paid athletes are paid very well and the highest performing athletes earn huge annual salaries. In most if not all the cases listed above, all the people involved in making the sport great are making a good living off the sport. Both models can work very well. The Track and Field/Athletics comparison is brought up a lot in the world of OCR conversations. This is in large part because the majority of top level athletes in the sport make very little money and the athletes consider the model unfair. Their bodies and garments they wear are also heavily controlled which doesn’t create a situation where outside sponsors want to give them any attention and create partnerships. I personally know that a vast majority of top level athletes in the sport of OCR do not want a model that would ever look like track and field.
My next point may ruffle some feathers but I think it’s important to bring up. Imagine if you were a top level athlete in your sport and the organization/league/federation was involved in very large sponsorship deals and you were paid very little to no income. Imagine being controlled to the point to where outside sponsors weren’t interested in teaming with you because you had very little ability to market their brand during competitions, on podiums, etc. Imagine being that high level athlete and being the lowest paid individual in the ranks of all involved in making the sport what it is. In the world of Track & Field, this is the case.
We are knee deep in an awesome time in our sports history where Spartan Race along with NBC and a lot of top level athletes are creating amazing viewing experiences. We’re moving in to the 5th year of NBC televised Spartan events. It has been successful! Without a level of success, there’s no way NBC could continue putting together a budget to come back each year. Private business just doesn’t work that way. Now we have Tough Mudder partnering with CBS and they will have seven televised races in 2017 which follow up the successful World’s Toughest Mudder race that aired on Christmas Day. The top level athletes have been a huge part of the success. Many top level athletes rely on outside sponsors to help supplement their ability to train and race full time or as much as possible. When Spartan launched the latest rule changes, it was presented in a way that the majority of top level athletes didn’t know about the changes until after they were already posted. Most can probably understand why the top level athletes would be alarmed when they saw the new rules being posted around social media by individuals who found them on the website. The rules stated you are required to wear the Spartan issued headband for the entire race and purposely discarding headband during the course of the event will be subject to DQ & In order to be eligible for awards racers agree to wear a Spartan branded finisher shirt or other shirt of Spartan’s choosing for any award ceremony and promotional photos. It also discussed consent to WADA drug testing which is a rule I’m confident the majority of the top level athletes are excited about.
I think most, including myself, understand why Spartan and other organizations need to have some level of control in place to ensure corporate sponsors are happy and for other reasons. I also think it’s important for people to understand why most top level athletes don’t want their bodies and garments controlled at a level that would inhibit their ability to promote their sponsors. There is common ground here for sure.
I’ll close with something that I feel can be a game changer in a world where there seems to be a lack of civility often times when processes, issues, challenges, and decisions are being made. No matter if you’re knee deep in the middle of what’s happening, or on the outside looking in, avoiding snap extreme decisions with your actions and words can go a long way in helping promote graciously direct dialogue and actions which is where great things get accomplished. Avoiding the extremes on both side will almost always put you and everyone involved in a better situation.
Much love to everyone involved in making the past 5-6 years an amazing experience for us all. From Austin Texas, here’s to an awesome year of training and racing.
2.3.17 Update to this article – A conversation with Joe Di from Spartan Race.
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