“Big Dog” Regional Pricing… Is it worth a look?

The growth in the sport of obstacle course racing (OCR) is undeniable. Articles about Amelia Boone (one of the most recognizable and successful athletes in the sport of OCR) can be seen in magazines such as Runner’s World and Sport’s Illustrated. Tough Mudder and Spartan Race(the “Big Dogs”) have been featured on Good Morning America and the Today Show. Heck – BattleFrog even stepped up to sponsor the Fiesta Bowl this year. The sport is becoming known and races are being added, but does that mean that it’s growing at the expected rate? Is regional pricing something to consider?

The fact is, the central part of the United States isn’t seeing growth in terms of the number of races, when it comes to Spartan Race and Tough Mudder, to the same degree as the coastal areas of the U.S. Luckily, the lack of growth in the Central U.S. is being filled, somewhat, by BattleFrog and Conquer The Gauntlet, as well as local races such as The Battlegrounds and Mud, Guts and Glory. However, the racers between the mountain ranges are beginning to wonder “what’s up?”
20150904200231Many contend there is a coastal bias when it comes to the “Big Dogs” and their racing locations. It is obvious that the coasts and their high population densities turn out in droves to obstacle races with some having nearly 5,000 registrants whereas locations in the Midwest will draw sometimes only half of that. With this level of discrepancy, it is understandable that race companies look toward the areas that best support their events when selecting locations. However, is this strategy the best option when it comes to growing the sport? Mike McAllister, co-founder of BattleFrog, sees things a little differently.

Mike McAllister, co-founder of BattleFrog, sees things a little differently.

“We see the Midwest as very important to building our brand. People are willing to travel to multiple races within driving distance, so we want to give them the ability to follow our circuit.”

David Mainprize, the owner of Conquer the Gauntlet (CTG), feels similarly regarding the opportunities in the central US. In fact, all of CTG’s 9 races in 2016 are being held between Oklahoma City, OK, and Louisville, KY.

“CTG is a family run business, not a corporate entity. It’s no secret that our region is an area of the country with far less population centers and thus far less obstacle course racers, not to even mention the relative unhealthiness of this part of the country in general. So, to pull this off, we had to find a way to reduce costs. Simple math says, registration fees need to exceed the costs. We wanted to provide an affordable race that is epic but is still one that the common man could afford with ease.”

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It’s obvious there’s a market for OCR in the central U.S., so the question is, why is the overall turnout for Spartan and Tough Mudder lower? I contend that a lot of it comes down to the dollar for dollar value of the experience for those in the Midwest rather than a lack of interest. Now, before you go accusing us Midwesterners of being cheap asses, let me explain what I mean. Plain and simple, the incomes are lower in most of the central U.S., so this means a dollar means a little more to us than it might in areas where incomes are higher. We also have a couple of other regional options from which to choose in addition to CTG. The Mud Guts and Glory course in Cincinnati was the site of the first two OCR World Championships. There is also The Battlegrounds in St. Louis. These are both permanent courses that are fantastic alternatives to the national series and, for the most part, have much cheaper entry fees. I feel that the “big guys” shy away from these areas because why compete with a regional race that has a permanent spot and therefore more fixed costs that would allow them to accept a lesser turnout and still be successful? Carl Bolm, the owner of The Battlegrounds, feels,

Carl Bolm, the owner of The Battlegrounds:

“Competition is good for business and, even if the bigger races come to St. Louis, it would create more awareness of the growing industry. It also would give our current runners a chance to try another race. Of course, participants could come to realize just what an all-encompassing experience they get at The Battlegrounds. As long as we continue to produce the best run possible, I feel our runners will support our efforts.”

Battlegrounds - Race StartThe lack of competition seems to be helping boost race numbers at The Battlegrounds where they are expecting well over 2,000 racers for their May 2016 event, which will mark their largest race ever.

As if the permanent course options aren’t enough to dissuade potential racers from the $130 price tag, let’s look at a comparison of the cost of other activities where individuals could easily spend their disposable income. This is not to say that these aren’t similar things in other parts of the country but their cost and accessibility make them viable options in the Midwest.

Information gathered from a Google search:

Average Game/Event Cost
NFL game: MLB game: Marathon:
New England = $122 Boston = $52 New York = $255
San Francisco = $117 San Francisco = $34 San Francisco = $130
St. Louis = $74 (at least historicaly) St. Louis = $34 St. Louis = $100
Cincinnati = $71 Cincinnati = $22

A possible solution to this conundrum might be a regional price structure that would allow for the national race companies to better compete for the Midwest racer. It happens in other industries, so why not consider it? A concert promoter sets venue prices based on demand. The median price for a Selena Gomez concert in Nashville is $56 while it will cost you $80 for a similar ticket in LA. The Rock n’ Roll Marathon series even raises the cost of their San Diego event over their Nashville event by $10.

The purpose of my proposal here is this: just because regional pricing hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered. I am all for whatever will best grow the sport so I guess the market will decide. It should be noted that none of the people I contacted regarding this article thought that regional pricing would ever happen in our sport, but it sure is fun to talk about! As long as race companies keep putting on great events across the country, I think people will buck up and then show up. However, if the money train stops coming in then we may see change. Until then…
Take my money

Jason Rulo

Jason Rulo CSCS, CISSN, HFS, is the owner of Assault Fitness, Neptune Performance Products and Pinnacle Personal and Performance Training, in St. Louis, MO. He has been in the personal fitness and sports performance training field since 1999 and has worked with all levels from youth to professional athletes. He is also a member of The Battle Corps, the official race team of The Battlegrounds. Jason has been a competitive obstacle racer since 2010 and completed the World's Toughest Mudder from 2012-2016. He is also the inventor of the Neptune Thermoregulation System. Mr. Rulo can be reached at jasonrulo@assault-fitness.com.

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