Will Dean Forced Out Of Tough Mudder (And What Else Co-Founder Lawsuit Alleges)

Stories have been circulating for months that Tough Mudder is in tough financial straits: vendors and race winners had not been paid, and TMHQ recently announced that there would be no prize money for any races in 2019.  Last week reports emerged about a lawsuit against Tough Mudder by one of its co-founders, and the complaint pulls back the curtain on the company’s strained balance sheets.

Guy Livingstone co-founded Tough Mudder with his friend Will Dean, who became the face of the company. Anyone who read Dean’s book “It Takes a Tribe” will recognize the name, but the book doesn’t discuss much of Livingstone’s role in the company. While I had assumed this omission had to do with the vanity-project nature of Dean’s book, it now appears that it was a sign of the crumbling relationship between the company’s founders.

The complaint outlines the company’s financial history, from its heyday in 2012 when it made a profit of $10 million, to its current state, where it relied on $18 million in outside financing to keep the operation going. A caveat: this complaint is clearly Livingstone’s side of the story. We have not seen Tough Mudder’s response, nor have the underlying financial documents been revealed. Still, the details are juicy.

According to Livingstone, he pulled back his involvement in the company in 2013, at which point the company started to falter. Tough Mudder was eventually bailed out by Active Network LLC. You will recognize the name from your credit card statement if you have signed up for a local 5K, an Ironman, or any number of other athletic events.

Over the next few years, Tough Mudder went deeper and deeper into debt to Active. At the end of last year, Active tried to find a buyer for Tough Mudder, and when it failed, it moved on to a more aggressive plan: in exchange for its debt, it took control of the company and forced Dean to resign. The litigation stems in part from the terms of Dean’s severance package. Tough Mudder was owned by Dean and Livingstone, 60/40. According to the lawsuit, Dean negotiated his exit without Livingstone’s knowledge or consent, handing over his control to Active.

What does this mean for the average weekend racer? Ironically, all this bad news for two wealthy Englishmen could be good news for the rest of us. Unlike the original Tough Mudder, a scrappy startup with a stubborn leader, Active is a big company. Most of it was recently sold for $1.2 billion to Global Payments Inc., a multi-billion dollar payments conglomerate. This means that Tough Mudder is now controlled by a company with deep pockets owned by a bigger company with even deeper pockets. They have already made changes: a new president took over at TMHQ, Kyle McLaughlin.

Mr. McLaughlin appears to have a strong background in events management and doesn’t seem as interested in promoting himself the way Dean did. If he can right the ship, Tough Mudder could have a future. The flip side is that the company is now controlled by people at a greater distance from the product and who have no history in the sport of OCR. Should Tough Mudder fail to break even this year, even without handing out prize money, the new overlords might find it easier to pull the plug. They will also need to find a way to resolve what could be a very expensive judgment against the company in the form of Livingstone’s lawsuit.

We have scheduled an upcoming podcast breaking down this even further in the coming days.

State Of The Obstacle Racing Industry – 2019

Obstacle racing attendance

To set the stage for our first article of this kind in 4 years, let’s take a look back to some recent history in the obstacle racing industry.

In December of 2014, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash were well-established as the “Big 3” in OCR and we asked if BattleFrog Series had positioned itself as the 4th player in the space. Great obstacles and professionally produced races were quickly making BattleFrog a  fan favorite with participants looking to mix it up with something besides more Tough Mudder headbands or Spartan Trifecta medals.

Over the next year, BattleFrog announced a massive expansion to 44 races and the biggest payouts the industry had ever seen. They also announced sponsorship of a major College Football Bowl Game in January of 2016, which never made sense to anyone. Eight months later, they closed their doors.

Football fans (no pun intended) could considerBattleFrog as the XFL of obstacle racing. They were new and shiny, had money, and willing to take some risks. They were one of the first to promote obstacle completion over penalties, and they introduced obstacle difficulty lanes. However, the front office seemed to lack the basic know-how needed to compete with the big boys, long term.  There was the Bowl Game sponsorship, along with online ads that promoted sales, not unlike your local rug merchant.

Had BattleFrog been willing to take it slowly, stick to 12-20 markets a year, perhaps even stick to the East coast to minimize costs, and continued to innovate, we may have a different industry. They could have taken market share from the big 3 over time. But, like so many “take over the world today/gone tomorrow” business ideas, they tried to go nationwide overnight. They spent lots of money in wrong places, and could not convert that to high attendance numbers. Leo Fernandez Pujals, the money man at BattleFrog and one of the richest men in Spain, pulled the plug suddenly, after what would be their last event in August of 2016.

So how has everyone else been faring in the last few years? For the purposes of this article, Obstacle Racing Media will focus on industry changes on the United States based companies. We are working on some content for the future that will speak to the growth of worldwide OCR.

Update On The Big 3

*Spartan Race

When our last report went live, Boston-based Spartan Race was still undergoing expansion. They tripled their 2012 attendance numbers to a whopping 320 thousand finishers by end of 2014. While the exploding “hockey stick” growth has slowed, Spartan is still on the upswing. 2018 numbers saw them produce 63 events in the United States and their attendance was over 400 thousand participants. There are currently 57 races on the schedule for 2019.

*Of the Big 3, Spartan is the only race that we can confirm yearly, public-facing, finisher numbers through Athlinks. For Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and most other races, we will base information on factors such as the number of events per year, and attendance numbers given to us by the race organizations themselves.

Warrior Dash

In our 2015 article, we spoke about how Red Frog (Warrior Dash’s parent company) has suffered the largest retraction in the OCR boom-bust of 2012-2014. However, Red Frog has been steady the last 3 years with 23 events nationwide, and the same amount scheduled for 2019. For their “10th season”, Warrior Dash is announcing new obstacles and launching a two-lap and 1-mile option.

Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder has undergone the most changes since our last report. Right around the time that BattleFrog went out of business in the fall of 2016, Tough Mudder began a year-long stretch of announcing new formats, large payouts, and media deals with CBS, Facebook, Amazon, and The CW. Along the way, they continued to produce 35-38 Tough Mudder events per year. Toward the end of 2018, there were rumblings of financial troubles as athletes complained of payment delays. Last month, TMHQ announced a new stripped down “back to our roots” campaign with the removal of all cash prize payouts. Currently, 26 events are scheduled for 2019.

Rugged

Why is Rugged Maniac in The Big Three subsection? Because they have proven they belong. The guys at Rugged probably do the least media/ self-promotion, and somehow have made some of the biggest splashes in our industry. Mark Cuban cashed out his famous investment in August of last year when Rugged got acquired by GateHouse Media. From 11 events in 2011, Rugged had brought their race weekend total to 24 events when ORM last did an update. Still growing steadily, they did 29 events in 2018 and will produce the same number of events this year. According to the participant numbers that they provided, their attendance numbers per race have gone down slightly. However, they now put on more events per year than Mudder or Warrior Dash and have very healthy registration numbers.

The Next Tier

Savage Race

Back in 2015, Savage received praise for doing things the “right way”. As opposed to the nuclear rocket-ship takeover plan of BattleFrog and so many others, Savage has continued to grow slowly. They still add a few cities every couple of years, expanding to 15 weekends in 2019. Their attendance has maintained the same or been slightly increased in their most successful markets. Last year they began adding a Sunday, short course “Blitz” with payouts.

BoneFrog Challenge

BoneFrog was created by ex-Navy Seals in Western Massachusetts back in 2013. The put on 10 events last year and are scheduled to put on as many this year. Even though they are an early player in the space, they’ve struggled to get big attendance numbers and may need some help to stay afloat long term.

Regional Series

Conquer The Gauntlet started in Oklahoma and Arkansas back in 2012 and in their largest year, had 9 events. They’ve scaled back to 6 events for 2019, and those appear to be healthy.

Florida’s Mud Endeavor and the northeast’s City Challenge both have been producing 4-5 events since the early days of OCR and are well received in their regions.

Epic Series, which focuses on CrossFit style exercises combined with obstacles, minus the mud, are expanding to 7 events in the southwest region of the U.S. in 2019.

Whatever happened to:

In our 2015 article, we listed Down and Dirty as a potential “Big 4” member. Down and Dirty snagged Subaru as their title sponsor after losing Merrell but seemed eager to leave the industry and closed up shop in early 2016.

Other races with multiple locations that have also left the scene since our last report was Dirty Girl, Ridiculous Obstacle Course, Bad Ass Dash, Men’s Health Urbanathlon and West Coast-based Gladiator Rock N Run.

Summation & Forecasting: Since our last report, the industry apparently still had some market correction of the 2012-2015 boom-bust to experience over the next two years. Since 2017, the dust has had lots of time to settle, and we are left with what appears to be a healthy industry.

Some may see the reduction in events of Tough Mudder and their loss of TV contracts as a sign that they are on the way out. It’s very possible, that they are experiencing their own personal market hangover later than they should have. Putting on 26 events (which is essentially every other weekend in a year) has worked well for Rugged Maniac and Warrior Dash. If Tough Mudder tightens the financial reins and can still build quality obstacles while creating a first class experience like their competitors, they can probably rebound.

*Special thanks to Stuart Clark for his assistance with extensive data research. Art direction by Patrick Keyser.

 

OCR Goes Mobile – Spartan and Tough Mudder Launch Mobile Apps

You’ve got an app to order your morning latte. You’ve got an app that brings pizza, tacos, beer, and countless other noms to your door. You’ve got an app to purchase flights, rent cars, or book an Airbnb. So why don’t you have an app for OCR?

You soon may – and from a few familiar brands.

Openfit Partners with Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder is already helping people tackle their fitness goals with their Tough Mudder Bootcamp gyms which have popped up in a handful of states across the US. This week they’ve also announced a partnership with Openfit, an all-new digital streaming platform that integrates fitness, nutrition, and wellness together in one place. They’ll be hosting Tough Mudder’s 30-day On Demand fitness program dubbed – Tough Mudder T-Minus 30. The program promises to prepare participants both physically and mentally for their next Tough Mudder event.

2-time TMX Champion Hunter McIntyre leads the 30-day program which will focus on strength, endurance, speed, and mobility. New customers can sign up for a 30-day free trial of Openfit, and a 12-month plan for under $80.

More info on Tough Mudder’s T-Minus 30 is available here.

Spartan Fit

Not to be outdone, Spartan also announced a new mobile app with a focus on building a healthier workplace. SPARTANFIT will launch this May with a challenge that will see companies face off for a donation to the charity of the winner’s choice.

SPARTANFIT focuses on helping employees complete wellness activities over a set period of time. The app contains hundreds of SPARTAN videos on providing instruction on forming good habits, teamwork, food planners, and workout plans. Spartan’s goal is to help HR teams make it easy to motivate their workforce and focus on corporate wellness.

Joe De Sena’s goal of wanting to “rip 100 million people off their couches to help build healthy lifestyles across the world” continues – with the SPARTANFIT app extending that goal to corporate employees as well as fitness enthusiasts.

SPARTANFIT does not appear to have a monthly or annual subscription. Interested companies can get more information here.

Competition Is Fierce

The fitness industry has countless online, mobile, and home-based solutions for would-be fitness enthusiasts. Companies like Peloton, Daily Burn, Nike, MyFitnessPal, already have a foothold in this space. Hollywood superstars like Chris Hemsworth have launched their own apps to capitalize on our obsession with body image. A search on the App Store yields almost infinite results for fitness-based app solutions.

Have you used one of these apps before?  Would you be more likely to use a fitness app created by your favorite OCR brand?

Let us know in the comments.

2019 Spartan Stadion Series Announcement

The 2019 Spartan Stadion Series has been announced and it may bring us some top 10 shake-ups ib both the Stadion and US National Series.  More on that in a bit, let’s give you an overview first.

Back in the fall of 2012, doing an obstacle race at Fenway Park was just a cool idea/bucket list item for a lot of racers. However, we quickly found out that there was more to it than just running around a famous stadium. In this early podcast, we learned all of the built-in infrastructure benefits for the race directors such as parking, concessions, and registration. Soon thereafter, the idea of running in stadiums became popular with a ton of races and not just OCR. “Finishing on the 50” is a concept that has been taken on by 5ks all over the country.

Back to our history lesson. After that initial Fenway weekend being such a huge success, it was no surprise that Citi Field in New York and Miller Park in Milwaukee were added as race venues in 2013. Pretty soon, ole Spartan had themselves a series. They even began “crowning” a series champion, but with little marketing or fanfare. Previous “Stadium Series Champions” are tough to find. We did an extensive search on the internet and only turned up this January 16 article, that we compiled for the 2015 Spartan Stadium Series.

Last April, Spartan announced the 2018 series would have 10 races, bigger payouts, and a reduced penalty of 15 burpees. However, only 3 of the stadium races counted towards the point series championship so racers needed to show up and perform at their best at Citi Field, AT&T Stadium, and Fenway Park.

This year, there will be 4 races that count towards the series championship.

April 13 – Citi Field – NY, NY

May 11 – Nationals Park – Washington, D.C.

June 22 – AT&T Stadium – Dallas, TX

Nov 29 – Fenway – Boston, MA

Plus, stadium lovers can also get their “no mud” fix at the following:

June 15 – State Farm Stadium – Phoenix, AZ

Aug 3 – Dodger Stadium – Los Angeles, CA

Sept 21 – Citizen’s Bank Park – Philadelphia, PA

The increased payouts of $800/$600/$400 for all spartan stadium podiums versus the $500/$250/$100 at “regular” Spartan races will continue in 2019. Plus the $3,000 series top payout will also stay the same.

Here is an interesting wrinkle. The series opens at Citi Field on April 13th, which the same date as the Seattle Super. That Seattle event is the 3rd of 5 events in the US Championship Series. This means certain athletes on the men’s side who could be top 10 athletes in both series such as Robert Killian, Ryan Kent, or The Kempson Brothers (Ryan and Matt) will be forced to go all in on series or the other.

Additional reporting and fact-checking for this article by Jack Bauer. Be sure to check out Jack and Yancy’s amazing Spartan Rankings and Stats Website.

Interview: Tough Mudder Not Handing Out Cash Prizes in 2019

Tough Mudder announced this morning that they will not be handing out prize money to any events in 2019. The Tougher Mudder, Toughest Mudder, and World’s Toughest Mudder events will all go on as scheduled, but no cash will be awarded.

Once upon a time, Tough Mudder was the original bucket list muddy adventure. You were promised 10-12 miles, tons of mud, larger than life obstacles, and things that scared the shit out of you like electrical shock and ice bath plunges. They had tremendous growth with a model of “events, not races” and minus their once a year World’s Toughest Mudder extravaganza, never timed anyone or gave out any rewards other than orange headbands.

That all changed in August of 2016, with the announcement of a media partnership with CBS and a new overnight event, called Toughest Mudder. Toughest is an 8-hour overnight event, that has become a training ground for World’s Toughest, and has built-in mileage qualifications for the November WTM. A World’s Toughest feeder system if you will.

A few months later, TMHQ announced Tougher Mudder which was a timed wave first thing in the morning at every Tough Mudder location. This was something which many had been clamoring for, in the years leading up to the announcement.

5 months after that, in June 2017, Tough Mudder announced Tough Mudder X. This was yet another timed, competitive event that had CBS as a media partner and large cash payouts. The inaugural championship event was held in Minnesota one month later, was received well, and a sport was born that was tailor-made for Hunter McIntyre.

In September, TMHQ announced that Tougher Mudder would have it’s own Regional Championships and a World Championship which would be broadcast on a new Facebook Live Channel, much like Spartan had been doing for the past year.

In 2018, The Tougher Championship season was renewed with the same number of events and prize money, but without any media coverage by CBS or Facebook.  The 2nd “season” of TMX took place with 1 of 2 qualifiers being filmed for Facebook live, and the finals being broadcast on CBS.

Yesterday, on a call with Eli Hutchison, Mudder’s Senior Manager – Sport Production, the following details were confirmed for 2019.

  • No prize money for Tougher, Toughest, World’s Toughest (The TM Competitive Series)
  • Medals will be handed out to all participants of The Competitive Series event.
  • The 3 medals will form “something” when put together.
  • Special bibs still provided for competitors in The Competitive Series events.
  • Headbands for all finishers.
  • New mileage patches for every 5 miles after 25 miles.
  • No current dates for any TMX events. New media partner being openly searched for.

Here is the full conversation with Eli.

Below is the email Tough Mudder sent out:

We’re making changes that allow us to do right by the people we were founded to serve—everyday amateur athletes who are looking to test themselves and better their best. YOU are the lifeblood of why we do what we do at Tough Mudder. You’ve shown up even when the weather didn’t, tattooed our logo on your bodies, and shared our values with your communities. You committed to us, so in 2019, we’re committing to you.

RACE SERIES PRIZING

We’ve made the decision to remove prize money from our Race Series events in 2019. This is a highly intentional decision to allow us to reinvest in what we do best: collaborative, unconventional events with epic obstacles that make each and every participant feel like a champion.

 At Tough Mudder, we believe true accomplishment isn’t about a few prize dollars in your pocket. It’s about challenging yourself, bettering your best and conquering the toughest, most unique events on the planet. Sound like your cup of tea? Then join us in the mud and let’s make 2019 a season to remember.

MEDALS

You asked, and we listened. Each and every Race Series participant will receive a badass new medal when they cross the finish line. First, second and third place winners will receive exclusive gold, silver and bronze editions, plus free passes to future events, epic swag, and unlimited podium glory.

HOLY GRAIL PRIZING

It’s the ultimate test to push yourself to be the best you can be. Conquer Tougher Mudder, Toughest Mudder, and World’s Toughest Mudder, all in a single season, and earn a one-of-a-kind Holy Grail race bib and an official TMHQ Holy Grail. Complete the most miles in a single season and win the grand prize: a Holy Grail champion jacket and patch, an All-Access pass to 2020 events, epic swag, and the ultimate prize: Mudder Glory.

TOUGH MUDDER X (TMX)

TMX was founded in 2017 as a made-for-TV competition. We’re working with potential media partners on new ways to bring engaging content to you—in the meantime, stay tuned for updates, and be on the lookout for a TMX-inspired challenge at Tough Mudder weekends in the US this season.

2019 Race Season Preview: Savage Race

It’s 2019 and that means it’s time to start planning another year of racing. What better way to decide which company gets your hard earned dollar, then by taking a look at what all of the major players will be offering participants in the coming year.

This is the second preview in a 4-week series looking at the 2019 obstacle course racing season.

Savage Race

When you talk about OCR brands, there’s always a conversation about “The Big 4”. And those four are Spartan, Tough Mudder, SAVAGE RACE, and well… the fourth spot is interchangeable. But if there is one race that is primed to challenge for best OCR experience in 2019, it’s Savage Race. Why? Well let’s look at the east coast based powerhouse that is Savage Race

Obstacles

Piece of Queso. Colossus. Shriveled Richard. Chopsticks… and so much more. The obstacle names are just as creative as the obstacles themselves at Savage Race. Want innovation? Want creativity? Savage Race is swimming in it, being awarded “Most Innovative” and “Best New Obstacle” in 2018. Savage isn’t afraid to bring monstrous obstacle builds with them wherever they go. Staples like Twirly Bird, Wheel World, and Davy Jones Locker ensure that Savage tests your body and mind with every race course you step foot on.

Savage was also one of the first companies to put the obstacles at the forefront of their customer experience. Want to see what you’re in for? They’re all on the website to check out. You can see them all listed here. They’ll even list the completion rate for them!

Look for more new obstacles coming in 2019 as well. Savage is constantly upping the bar with obstacles year after year.

Savage Blitz

In 2018 Savage Race announced the addition of Savage Blitz. An obstacle-packed 3-mile version of the Savage experience. The rollout and availability of the Savage Blitz in 2018 were, as all things Savage, slow and methodical. Or in OCR industry terms… smart.

For 2019, the Savage Blitz course has been added to EVERY event weekend now. Savage Blitz is a fast, heart pumping, quad burning all-out sprint through Savage’s signature obstacles with its own custom finisher shirt and medals. And the Blitz counts towards your Savage Syndicate achievement – more on that shortly.

Savage Pro & Blitz Pro

I’m not entirely sure why Savage Race doesn’t get more credit for it’s Savage Pro wave because they are dishing out cash faster than Bob Barker in a Showcase Showdown. Every Savage Race event and every Savage Blitz now offers incredible Podium Awards:

1st Place: $1,000; Gold Medal; The Savage Axe (Yes, an actual mounted Axe)

2nd Place: $500; Silver Medal

3rd Place: $250; Bronze Medal

Age Group awards are offered as well, which don’t carry a cash prize, but do offer Gold, Silver or Bronze medals to the winners.

Savage Pro is mandatory obstacle completion. Which means you’ll get to re-try any obstacles you fail, but you can not continue in the Pro Wave until you complete them. Can’t do it? Give up your band, and you’re done for the day. But for Savage Race veteran Yuri Force, the Pro Wave has been a great way to stuff some money in his pocket. And with 13+ events in 2019, the total purse across all Savage’s events tops $45,000.

Medals & Finisher Tees

It’s worth mentioning again that Savage Race has already taken home a handful of awards – those awards are Best New Obstacle; Runner Up – Best OCR Race Director, Bo Burton; Best North American Race Series; Most Innovative Race Series; and Best Mid-Size Race Series. Why they also didn’t win Best Medal is beyond me. Look at these things:

As if the Savage Race and Savage Blitz races in matte black and blue/green weren’t good enough, you’ll also get a sweet mirrored finish Savage Syndicate medal once you’ve completed any two events on the year. You’ve got Savage Axes, coins for additional races, and a ton more glorious looking bling to take home from your Savage experience..

Summary

Savage Race is doing OCR right. Their methodical approach to growth, use of community feedback, and incredible obstacle design have helped Savage position itself as a strong competitor in this industry. We didn’t even mention their partnership with GORUCK at certain events! I can only say good things about Savage Race, the event, the obstacles, and the community.

I’ll be at the Maryland event in early May this year, so if you’re in the area and you want to watch me shake with fear and cry atop Davy Jones’ Locker, you know where to find me.

Now I know what you’re thinking West Coasters: “Why hasn’t Savage Race come out west?!” Well… because the founder, Sam Abbitt, knows what he’s doing. He’s not going all BattleFrog on us. Trust us when we say, a trip to a Savage event is well worth your time and hard-earned dollars.

Take it from Sam. I mean just look at this guy.