Spartan Pro Team : Past, Present, and Future

In The Beginning

Back in 2012, obstacle racing was dying for legitimacy and mainstream buy-in. One of the ways Spartan CEO Joe DeSena thought he could help make this happen was by putting together a “Pro Team”. The Spartan Pro Team was made to showcase that there were serious athletes who traveled to compete in this new thing nearly every weekend. It was also to further Joe’s “OCR in the Olympics” agenda. That this wasn’t just Jack and Jane from the office blowing off steam and being weekend warriors in the mud.

Amelia Boone, Isaiah Vidal, and, of course Hobie Call were some of the first to be asked to join.

Around this time, a smaller race series called Superhero Scramble gave an opportunity for “OCR Team Racing”. The fastest times from 3-4 teammates would win your team prize money. This gave Spartan Race a reason to send it’s racers elsewhere besides just Spartan Races. Superhero Scramble, of course put up their own team, and the idea of “Race Series Pro Teams” was well on it’s way.

Spartan Pro Team Women

As new race series players came onto the OCR scene, they decided they HAD to have a pro team as part of their rollout. First Atlas Race (see pic below), and then BattleFrog Series, made several announcements about how great their races would be AND who they snagged as top pro team members.  (Side note: Superhero, Atlas, and BattleFrog are all gone now, with Superhero and Atlas both closing with debts to athletes who won prize money).

Atlas Pros

Adding Sponsors and More Members

When Spartan announced their sponsorship with Reebok in 2013, the pro team concept took additional shape as these athletes could also pimp shoes and gear for this new title sponsor. As Spartan added additional sponsors, it became a win-win-win for race company, sponsor, and athlete.

In subsequent years, Spartan consistently added members to it’s pro team. Many questioned to what end, as the law of diminishing returns made it seemed redundant to some. At one point in 2015 there were upwards of 30 members. How is it exciting when the 15 pro men snag 15 of the top 20 spots available? If anyone who gets near a Spartan podium ends up on the pro team, how is it news when “Spartan Pro Wins!”?  *Check out the end of this article, where we list all the members from the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Pro Team members.

No details of any Spartan Pro Team contract has ever been made public, but the “unofficial” word has been their have been different “tiers” of athletes. For example, Matt Novakovich and Faye Stenning were both rumored to be on the “A Team” in past years. This means flights, accommodations and race entries were covered, plus additional sponsor money for making the podium, etc. The majority of the other pro team members were at a “lower tier”. So, hypothetically, just the race entry is covered, as long as the athlete can get themselves to the race on their own dime. Many, when asked, were happy to accept this lower tier, as it gave them exposure to help them grow their personal brand and land additional sponsors. Obstacle racers as a whole (including most of you reading this article), have learned to be savvy with travel expenses by carpooling and couch crashing. So the net-net was viewed as positive.

The New Deal

This year, Spartan Race Director of Sport Initiatives Joe Di, informed us of the specific plans for the 2018 Pro Team. This new pro team is a very exclusive group, as the only men are Robert Killian and Ryan Kent. While Rea Kolbl, Nicole Mericle, and Alyssa Hawley are the only women.

Joe Di also announced something called “The Select Athlete Program”. He told us “The Select Athlete Program is a group of 30 plus athletes beneath our premier squad that deserve some recognition, and with performance, our support.”

Here is what members of that team were offered:

  • Three (3) customized 2018 Podium shirts.
  • A 2018 dedicated Spartan Race Bib number.
  • Ten (10) customized JUNK brand headbands.
  • A Spartan Race Mini-Kit, containing a collection of Spartan Race apparel and gear.
  • Five (5) free Race registration codes (if you have a Season Pass – you can use them for friends and family!)
  • Cash Bonuses of up to $500 per event for Podium finishes.
  • Free parking pass and bag check at all Events you register for.
  • Access to “Athlete Tent” at National Series Events.
  • Upgraded Social media support to drive your personal brand.
  • Potential Sponsorship inclusions, seedings, or deals throughout the year.

Members of the “Select Athlete Team” include some former Spartan Pro Team members Veejay Jones, Kevin Donoghue, Glen Racz and Cassidy Watton. In addition, there are some newer names not yet attached to Spartan like Kirk DeWindt, Leigh Wasteney, and Rachel Paquette.

Some athletes were offered “Select Team” contracts and declined. We reached out to a few for comment.

Brakken Kraker told us :

It’s been a wonderful ride representing Spartan. After five years of doing so it will be strange not wearing their logo this year. I’m nothing but grateful for all the opportunities I’ve received, but it was time to branch out and start the next chapter of my OCR experience.

Ryan Woods said:

I’m really happy for the guys on the Pro Team and the Select Team. I really hope one day I will be considered for a position on the pro team as I see it as an honor. I don’t fell there was any advantages for me to be on the Select Team at this time.

Joe Di went on to tell us that the Select Athlete team “…will increase in presence across this year. We may even have a twist or two for you down the line”.  

We’ll list all members that we have been made aware of to date below, but here are some things to look for.

Canadians: Austin Azar, Rachel Paquette, and Jesse Bruce are all on the new “Select Team”. (Canadians Ryan Atkins, Lindsay Webster, and Allison Tai are 3/5 of the 2018 Tough Mudder Pro Team)

Previous Spartan Pros Not Returning: Amelia Boone, Matt Novakovich, Rose Wetzel, and Faye Stenning.

 

 

History of the Spartan Pro Team 2015 – Present

2015 Pro Team

Women

Amelia Boone, Kate Cramer, April Luu, Rose Wetzel, Deanna Blegg, Orla Walsh, Rebecca Clifford, Alex Chikorita Roudayna, Jenny Tobin, Jackie Rust, Karlee Whipple, TyAnn Clark, Tiffanie Novakovich, KK Paul

Men

Cody Moat, Isaiah Vidal, John Yatsko, Hunter McIntyre ,Ryan Kent, Brakken Kraker, Chad Trammell, Glenn Racz, Matt Novakovich, McCauley Kraker, Kevin Donoghue, Matt Novakovich

2016 Pro Team

Women

Returning: Amelia Boone, Rebecca Clifford, Kate Cramer, April Dee, Alyssa Hawley, Alex “Chikorita” Roudanya, Jackie Rust, Orla Walsh.  New: Faye Stenning, Cassidy Watton  Gone: Jenny Tobin, Karlee Whipple, Tyann Clark, Tiffanie Novakovich, KK Paul, Deanna Blegg

Men

Returning: Ryan Kent, Kevin Donoghue, Brakken Kraker, Cody Moat, Matt “Bear” Novakovich, Glenn Racz, Chad Trammell, Isaiah Vidal.  New: Ian Deyerle, Robert Killian  Gone: John Yatsko

2017 Pro Team

Women

Returning: Amelia Boone, Faye Stenning, Alyssa Hawley, Rebecca Clifford, Cassidy Watton, Orla Walsh, Kate Cramer New: Rea Kolbl, Nicole Mericle, Heather Gollnick. Gone: Alex “Chikorita” Roudanya,

Returning: Ryan Kent, Robert Killian, Bear, Brakken, Kevin Donoghue, Isaiah Vidal, Glenn Racz  New: Angel Quintero, Veejay Jones, Ben Greenfield,  Special – Retirement Year Contract: Hobie Call  Gone: Cody Moat, Chad Trammell, Ian Deyerle

2018 Spartan Pro Team Members

Returning men and women: Robert Killian, Ryan Kent, Rea Kolbl, Nicole Mericle, Alyssa Hawley

2018 Spartan Select Team Members (As of press time)

Previous Pro Team Member

Veejay Jones
Kevin Donoghue
Glenn Racz
Heather Gollnick
Cassidy Watton
Ben Greenfield

New

Kirk DeWindt
LeighAnne Wasteney
Rachel Paquette
Nancy Loranger
Austin Azar
Jesse McChesney
Victor Quezada
Greyson Kilgore
Ivan Santana
Mike Ferguson
Jesse Bruce
Jessica Lemon
Nancy Loranger
Sara Knight
Samantha Wood
Cindy Lynch
Brittney McGuire
Laura Cummings
Anne L’Heureux
Laura Rogers
Cassandra Ohman
Leona Moat

Spartan and CRAFT Sportswear Partner to Create OCR-Specific Apparel

Press Release

Spartan and CRAFT Sportswear Partner to Create High-Performance Apparel
Specifically Designed for Obstacle Course Racing

CRAFT Sportswear Named “Official Performance Apparel and Footwear” of Spartan

CLICK ABOVE TO PLAY VIDEO

BOSTON (March 29, 2018) – Spartan and CRAFT Sportswear have entered a global partnership, naming the leader in technical performance apparel as “official performance apparel and footwear” of the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand. The multi-year partnership will see the two brands developing the first high-performance technical apparel for the rising sport of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). CRAFT will be applying the same scientific techniques and sport-specific knowledge it uses in developing Olympic-caliber performance apparel for World Tour cycling teams and Olympic cross-country skiers as well as runners and athletes at all levels. CRAFT is currently available in more than 39 countries, while Spartan has more than 200 races across more than 30 countries around the world.

“The growth of Spartan has created a competitive field of elite OCR athletes who require technical apparel that allows for maximum performance,” said CRAFT Sportswear North America CEO Eric Schenker. “For decades, CRAFT has engineered ergonomically superior products for some of the best athletes in the world, and we’re excited to be the first company to apply that same sport-specific knowledge and research towards developing the first-of-its-kind performance apparel for Spartan athletes. CRAFT is for Olympic Champions and everyday heroes and anyone that finishes a Spartan race has certainly earned that title!”

The OCR-specific “Powered By” CRAFT line of Spartan apparel and footwear is currently under development at the company’s sports science laboratory in Sweden. Spartan athletes face elements that require full functional movement and, at times, extreme temperatures. With just milliseconds on the line between elite finishers, CRAFT’s team of designers and technicians pay strict attention to detail, with every stitch and seam
meticulously placed to address the ergonomic and thermal needs of obstacle racers.

Having recently introduced the brand’s performance footwear in Europe, CRAFT’s all-terrain shoe for Spartan athletes will be its US footwear debut. The first-of-its-kind shoe will be designed specifically for the obstacles and natural elements athletes face on the OCR trail. The “Powered By” line will roll out in early 2019, with cobranded apparel from CRAFT’s existing training line launching in Summer of 2018.

Spartan events focus on sport and athleticism, pushing the bodies and minds of competitors to the limit across miles of unforgiving terrain while they conquer signature obstacles such as the Spear Throw, Inverted Wall, Monkey Bars and Barbed Wire Crawl.

“CRAFT has a proven track record for engineering the best functional apparel for endurance sports, and we’re excited to team up with a global brand that shares our passion for performance and competition to develop the first Olympic-caliber OCR-specific apparel and footwear,” said Spartan Founder and CEO Joe De Sena. “With intense competition unfolding at each race, and athletes pushing themselves to the limit, the CRAFT
‘Powered By’ line is a much-needed addition and step forward for the sport as we continue to attract global brands developing products specifically for our race and fan community.”

Most recently, CRAFT apparel was worn by Team USA Olympians Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall when they took home the gold in cross country skiing during the 2018 Winter Games. In addition, CRAFT sponsors a number of other elite athletes and professional teams across the globe in Cross Country Skiing, Cycling, Triathlon, Soccer and Track & Field. Spartan has more than one million annual participants and has seen more than 5 million athletes cross the finish line since it was founded in 2010.

About CRAFT

CRAFT is a Swedish brand specializing in clothing for endurance sports where performance and comfort are crucial for a good result. Combining a true love for endurance sports with a genuine textile heritage and a dedicated organization that dares to think big, we design, develop and manufacture cutting-edge apparel and accessories for Olympic champions and everyday heroes. Visit www.craftsports.us.

About Spartan

Spartan Race is the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand, and the first in-sport to feature timing and global rankings. With more than 200 events across more than 30 countries in 2018, Spartan will attract more than one million global participants offering open heats for all fitness levels, along with competitive and elite heats. The Spartan Race lifestyle boasts a community of more than five million passionate social media
followers, health and wellness products, training and nutrition programs, and a popular NBC television series, which has made obstacle racing one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Spartan Race events feature races at three distances, 3+Mile/20+ Obstacle “Sprint,” 8+ Mile/25+ Obstacle “Super” and 12+ Mile/30+Obstacle “Beast,” culminating in the Spartan World Championship in North Lake Tahoe, CA. Visit spartan.com for more information and registration.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jonathan Fine, 781.248.3963, jonathanf@spartan.com

OCR Athlete Nicole Mericle Backed by Sur AltRed for 2018

Press Release

OCR fan favorite and OCR Worlds Champion, Nicole Mericle packs a new sponsor in her run belt: Sur AltRed, a Beetroot supplement reputed to improve recovery time after muscle training and fatigue. Sur is not saying that AltRed will make you an OCRWC champion, but they’re also not not saying it either…

Sur PhytoPerformance™, creator of AltRed™, a groundbreaking phytonutrient supplement that unleashes the unique athletic performance and recovery benefits of betalain phytonutrients, has partnered with the Timex Multisport Team as well as professional ultrarunner Cat Bradley and professional Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) competitor Nicole Mericle for the 2018 season.  Sur will support the esteemed athletes throughout the year and will provide them with AltRed for all of their training, racing and recovery needs.

Launched in July 2017, AltRed came to the market as a new paradigm in plant-based performance and recovery supplementation. Betalain, a phytonutrient naturally found in beets, is the active ingredient in AltRed. It has been scientifically proven in studies conducted by the Sports Performance Laboratory at the University of California Davis to improve oxygen delivery, mitigate lactic acid, and protect muscles from damage during activity. Sur’s commitment to athletes extends beyond the efficacy of performance, having AltRed third-party certified through both Informed-Choice Trusted by Sport™ and NSF™.

The Timex Multisport Team consists of 50 triathletes ranging in backgrounds and abilities from full-time, professional athletes to elite age groupers and influential triathlon figures. In 2018, the team will be racing at nearly 500 races worldwide across triathlon disciplines, with the season culminating at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. As a part of the sponsorship, Sur will supply team members with AltRed for their triathlon pursuits and the Timex Multisport Team will be prominently displaying the Sur and AltRed logos on their racing kits.

“We are really excited to be working with Sur PhytoPerformance this year,” said Tristan Brown, Timex Multisport Team Manager. “It is our mission to find partners that provide our athletes not only with beneficial product and equipment but with event support as well. Their presence at triathlon races across the country provides an extra level of encouragement when it is needed most for our athletes.”

Cat Bradley, a professional trail and ultra runner of Boulder, Colorado, has become an emerging young force after a breakthrough year of victories and podium finishes. In late 2016 she set the course record at the Rio Del Lago 100 Miler, and in 2017 took wins at the Canyons Endurance Run 100K and the Western States 100 Endurance Run. She also set the Fastest Known Time for the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim.

“I am excited to add another tool to my training and racing toolbox this season,” added Bradley. “AltRed has been really beneficial to my performance and recovery and I am happy to represent the product and the Sur brand this year.”

Nicole Mericle, residing in Boulder, Colorado, began her athletic career as an NCAA D1 runner at Rice University. After college, she started competing at OCR and has risen to the top of the sport as a multiple event World Champion. She closed out the 2017 season with multiple podium finishes on the Spartan World Championship Series, first place at the Tough Mudder World Championships as well as first place finishes in both the 3K and 15K races at the OCR World Championships.

“Adding AltRed to my daily routine has made a noticeable difference in my training and racing,” shared Mericle. “I appreciate the brand’s commitment to clean sport, passion to excel, and willingness to encourage and uplift others. These values align well with my own and I look forward to sharing AltRed with the trail running and obstacle course racing communities this season.”

“We are honored to be able to help support the Timex Multisport Team, Cat and Nicole this year,” shared Travis Johnson, Sur’s Product Manager. “We are privileged to power each and every one of these athletes who push and exceed their limits and that are all true role models for sport.”

This group of elite and professional athletes joins the AltRed PhytoRebel ambassador community of over 100 athletes who share the core principles of training and competing with plant-based supplements that are scientifically proven to improve athletic performance. The AltRed team will be hitting the road in their Airstream trailer starting this winter and will be activating at endurance events across the country throughout the year. AltRed is available for purchase at Sur.co and is sold in 30 capsule bottles for $50.00.

 ABOUT SUR  

Sur PhytoPerformance creates clean, powerful plant-based supplements that improve athletic performance. Sur is built on the experience of seven generations of farmers who have grown with the food, organic food, and dietary supplement industry. AltRed, a groundbreaking phytonutrient supplement that unleashes the athletic performance and recovery benefits of betalains, is the first product released by Sur. To learn more visit Sur.co.

 

ABOUT THE TIMEX MULTISPORT TEAM

Established in 2001, the Timex Multisport Team helped shape what the modern-day triathlon team looks like. Focused on supporting a range of athletes from full-time professionals, to elite age groupers, and consumer influencers, the Timex Multisport Team provides specific tools and management so athletes achieve the Team’s performance and marketing goals. Now in it’s 17th year, the Timex Multisport Team is the longest running triathlon program in the world. Learn more at timexteam.com

Tough Mudder Introduces Their 2018 Pro Team/Competitive Series

12:20pm Update – Here is the podcast interview.

In September of 2017, TMHQ announced the first ever Tough Mudder Pro Team. Ryan Atkins, Lindsay Webster, Hunter McIntyre and Stef Bishop had already been featured on most of TM’s online content, so few were surprised.  Today, the 2018 team is being announced much sooner in the year. TMHQ revealed this morning that Ryan, Lindsay, and Hunter are all coming back, and they have added two more women. The first is Corinna Coffin. Corinna had been mostly dormant in OCR since BattleFrog folded in the fall of 2016. She came back last July to win the first ever Tough Mudder X.

The second woman is Allison Tai. Along with being the favorite guest of The World’s Toughest Podcast, Allison won last year’s Holy Grail Leaderboard (Total competitive miles) with 305 total miles. Stef Bishop is not returning to the team. Stef won World’s Toughest Mudder in 2016, then had a relatively disappointing 2017 Tough Mudder season.

Matt B. Davis spoke to TMHQ’s Eli Hutchison and Corinna Coffin to discuss some of the news. The podcast episode will be released later today, so be sure to download it so you can listen to it on your next run.

Matt and Eli will be talking about the evolution of the competitive series. Many Mudders enjoyed the Tougher and Toughest events in 2017, as well as Tough Mudder X and World’s Toughest Mudder. Tough Mudder is now calling these events, Fittest, Fastest, and Toughest, with the culmination being World’s Toughest Mudder on November 10th and 11th in Atlanta, Georgia.

Check out the video introducing the different championship series here!

Photo Credits: Tough Mudder

TOUGH MUDDER LAUNCHES NEW 5K EVENT SERIES

 

5K to Turn Running Into a Team Sport – Provides ‘Taste of Tough’ by Featuring 10 World-Class Obstacles on Course

 

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK (February 8, 2018) – Tough Mudder, Inc. the leading global sports, active lifestyle, and media brand, announced today it will debut its newest event series, Tough Mudder 5K at more than 25 event weekends in 2018. The company’s expansion into the 5K distance is designed to meet the growing demand of people who are attracted to mud runs as well as to serve as an entry point to obstacle challenges. Tickets are available for purchase online at ToughMudder.com for as low as $49.

In response to overwhelming demand, Tough Mudder is also launching 5K events globally in 2018 in more than five countries including Germany, Canada, The United Kingdom, Philippines, Oman, the United States, and more. This 3.1-mile event will provide a fun, easily accessible yet rewarding challenge. Requiring minimal to no training, the 5K will feature 10 famous Tough Mudder obstacles, excluding the more extreme elements, like ice and electricity found in Tough Mudder’s signature 10-mile event.

“Tough Mudder is setting the new standard of excellence in 5K events. So many runners and outdoor enthusiasts are not being challenged or excited by ordinary fun runs, 5K/10K races, and half marathons. The Tough Mudder 5K provides a taste of tough – taking your 5K experience to the next level – all while providing empowering moments after completing obstacles and helping fellow weekend warriors,” said Will Dean, CEO & Co-founder, Tough Mudder, Inc. “With the 5K, we can welcome even more Mudders into the global Tough Mudder tribe – from people who have never tried an event and want a flavor of our infamous camaraderie to well-seasoned Mudders who would like to try new obstacles and bring friends.”

 

Participants of all fitness levels will tackle iconic obstacles such as Everest 2.0, a slick quarter pipe more than 15 feet tall; Mud Mile, 10+ deep pits of mounded mud; Berlin Walls, a wall more than nine feet tall; and Happy Ending, a 25 feet tall slippery slide guaranteed to make you. Happy Ending is also the physical embodiment of the organization’s 2018 yearlong “Tougher Together” brand platform.

Dedicated to the development of new products and entry points that enable millions of people to be part of Mudder Nation, Tough Mudder 5k demonstrates the company’s commitment towards innovation and dedication to providing an array of unique event offerings for current and potential members of the fast-growing active lifestyle and endurance sports communities.

The new 5K events are on sale now and include a finisher beer, 5K headband, 5K performance finisher t-shirt and event photography. Participants will also have free access to Mudder Village – a festival environment packed with vendors and music. Ticket prices will go up closer to the event date, so those interested are encouraged to buy early. For the full schedule of events, visit toughmudder.com/events/what-is-tough-mudder-5k.

With more than 3 million participants to date across five continents, Tough Mudder has a range of accessible yet rewarding challenges, such as the Tough Mudder 5K, the Tough Mudder Half (five-mile event excluding fire, ice, and electricity), and Tough Mudder Full. For participants who complete more than one of the previously listed events, they will be recognized through the company’s rewards program and will receive a free orange kettlebell collectible, and an exclusive t-shirt.

This year, Tough Mudder, Inc. and its licensees will host an unprecedented 150+ events across nearly a dozen countries, such as the United States, The United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Canada and two new countries, South Africa, Philippines, welcoming participants worldwide into a global community that lives courage, personal accomplishment, teamwork and fun.

For more information on the Tough Mudder 5K, or to purchase tickets, visit toughmudder.com/events/what-is-tough-mudder-5k.

TM5K 2018 Events Calendar
 

Arizona [SUNDAY ONLY]

March 25

**Missouri [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

August 11 & 12

Sacramento [SATURDAY ONLY]

March 24

**Wisconsin [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

September 8 & 9

Miami [SATURDAY ONLY]

April 7

**Pittsburgh [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

September 8 & 9

Central Texas [SUNDAY ONLY]

May 6

Toronto [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

September 15 & 16

**Philly [SUNDAY ONLY]

May 20

**Nashville [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

September 15 &16

**Kentucky [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

June 2 & 3

**Seattle [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

September 22 & 23

**Michigan [SUNDAY ONLY]

June 3

1st MR Central North event, struggling traffic

Dallas Ft. Worth [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

September 29 & 30

**Boston [SUNDAY ONLY]

June 24

New event & TMB 1st opening

Tri-State [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

October 6 & 7

**Twin Cities [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

July 14 & 15

NorCal [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

October 6 & 7

**Long Island [SUNDAY ONLY]

July 22

Bigger event & in MR

Central Florida [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

October 13 & 14

**Western NY [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

August 4 & 5

**Atlanta [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

October 20 &  21

New WTM location

**Hudson Valley [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

August 18 & 19

New event and in 2 MRs

Las Vegas [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

October 20 & 21

**Chicago [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

August 25 & 26

One of our biggest markets

Houston [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

11/3

SoCal [SATURDAY + SUNDAY]

November 3 & 4

About Tough Mudder, Inc.:

Founded in 2010 with the launch of the Tough Mudder obstacle course event series, Tough Mudder Inc. has become a leading global sports, active lifestyle and media brand. With more than 3 million participants, the company hosts more than 130 non-competitive (Mini Mudder; Tough Mudder 5K, Tough Mudder Half, and Tough Mudder Full) and competitive (Tougher, Toughest, Tough Mudder X and World’s Toughest Mudder) events annually in 11 countries including China, Dubai, Indonesia, and Australia through its partnerships with IMG, Seroja and Sports Media and Entertainment 360 (SME360). The company’s content arm provides the more than millions of engaged online brand enthusiasts with fitness, nutrition, and wellness content delivered daily across social and digital platforms. Tough Mudder broadcast, OTT and Live Stream programming can be seen worldwide through partnerships with CBS Sports, Facebook, Sky Sports, The CW Network and ESPN Media Distribution. Other sponsorship and distribution partners include Merrell, Amazon, KILL CLIFF, Jeep, Aflac, Guinness, Vega, Samsung, Olympus, Lucozade Sport, Nexcare, For Goodness Shakes, Bosch, TREK, Head & Shoulders, L’Oreal Men Expert, Käserei Loose, Snapchat and Live Stream.

PR Contacts:
Angela Alfano  (703) 447-5629 Angela.Alfano@ToughMudder.com
Ethan Metelenis (917) 882-9038 Ethan.Metelenis@ToughMudder.com

Gameface Media Moves Ahead While Failing to Pay Photographers

Once upon a time, the only way for you to receive a photo from a recent race (like the one above) was to pay cash to a photography company. Event directors hired said company to take your photo, and they’d mail you that sucker if you paid for it.

As Facebook and smart phones took over, people no longer needed a photo they could frame. Race participants took their own photos, and maybe even posted a mile by mile recap. (If we were unlucky enough to be in their feed). Something needed to change.

Around the same time a new genre (or two) of running event was booming. Races that forced us to get muddy and submerged in water, weren’t great for cell phones. Neither were races that threw paint at us and had us being tackled by zombies. However, those races had the BEST photo opportunities. The documentary, Rise Of The Sufferfests, pointed out that these bad-ass post event photos were one of the largest contributing factors to millions rushing to sign up in the first place. Realizing this,companies like Spartan Race began eating the cost, yet giving post event photos for free as part of their overall consumer experience.

Enter GameFace Media (GF), who in November of 2012 launched their company with a new concept. The business model was to attract business from race companies by give them the lowest industry rates for their photography services. Next, GF would find sponsors to partner with, who would pay to have THEIR logo on the photo in the opposite corner of the race company’s logo. They could do all of this, and charge the customer zero.

This model was revolutionary, and it was working. Company founder David Lavallee sent out the following via email blast on February 6, 2014:

  • As many of you know, I helped to found Gameface in late 2012 to provide free photos to participants in athletic events such as running races, obstacle races, triathlons, skiing and youth sports. We generate revenue by allowing a sponsor to place their logo on every photo and to host the photo download and social media connections on their website or Facebook page.
  • Yes, it’s a very simple concept, but it’s working!
  • We exceeded our goals for our first year of operations and are continuing the momentum as we kick off 2014. Here are a couple of highlights:
  • We covered more than 40 events in 2013, capturing 600,000+ athlete photos
  • We generated nearly 10 million online impressions for our event and brand partners
  • We have covered three of the top five obstacle/mud event series, as well as many running races and triathlons
  • We have expanded beyond our initial endurance events market into new categories like youth sports and CrossFit competitions
  • We partnered with leading brand sponsors including Merrell, City Sports, GU Energy, Harpoon Brewery and Newton Running
  • We acquired Nuvision Action Image and Race Pace Photos – two of the leading event photography companies in the industry
  • We expanded our sales and technology teams and moved into our new corporate headquarters in downtown Boston
  • We are on track to shoot more than 2 million participants in 2014 and will generate more than 100 million social media impressions for our brand sponsors. This will make us the largest provider of free event photos in the country.

GameFace Photographers Feb 2015

Screenshot from GameFace website Feb 2015

For the next two years, the company continued to do well by all appearances. GameFace was acquiring larger and larger clients. These race companies collectively had hundreds of thousands (if not over a million) participants who needed photos. Tough Mudder, Ragnar Relay, Rugged Maniac, Warrior Dash, The San Francisco Marathon, Bay To Breakers, Muckfest to name a few. This is on top of countless other one-off smaller races in markets all over the country.

Fast forward to July of 2016. ORM was made aware of a thread on a photographers forum where various photographers were voicing concerns about GameFace Media. Here is one:

They still owe me literally THOUSANDS of dollars for jobs from over 2 months ago. I could not get anyone to respond for the longest time but finally got a form response from the CTO at Gameface Media that basically said they are out of money and cannot pay their photographers at this time because they are waiting to be paid by their sponsors. An online negative Gameface review from another unpaid said they raised millions from investors during the summers of 2014 and 2015 and that he thought they were out of money because he could not find anything online about them raising money in 2016 and he has not been paid. Marty from Gameface posted in this very thread that they have interested investors. So I am wondering which it is. Are they waiting to be paid by sponsors or are they waiting on more funding? And if their free picture business model has not been profitable in 3 years why would anyone continue investing? Whatever is going on they do not have any working capital at this time and the photographers are suffering because of it. This has caused my family financial hardship.

We reached out to owner David Lavallee at that time, and he was not willing to on the record. He did speak with Runners World, who were doing their own investigation.

David got back to us on Sept 1 of that year and told us the following:

Overall, our core business model is working well at Gameface. We are adding high quality new events and sponsors every week. We have also continued to provide the highest quality event photos in the market with our busiest weekend in Gameface history expected on September 10 and 11.

 We greatly value our relationships with photographers which is why we have always paid the highest hourly rates in the industry and tried to pay people within 15 days of an event. As we grew, however, the logistics of paying that quickly grew unrealistic. This challenge increased earlier this year as we took on a flurry of big new events. This meant we were trying to pay photographers within 15 days of an event while our event and sponsor clients often paid us 90 days after an event. I should have planned better for this and I also should have communicated this better to our photographers. We have always paid everyone what they are owed and always will. As we continued to generate more revenue this summer, our payments are getting back to more reasonable timing. We have also reached out to most of our photographers over the past two weeks to communicate better with them. While we won’t be able to meet our old, unrealistic goal of 15 day payment cycles, we plan to continue paying the highest rates in the industry to attract the best talent available.

We at Obstacle Racing Media continued to monitor this situation, by periodically checking the above message board, a Facebook group created by unpaid contractors. and by speaking with photographers we came in contact with directly at races. The promises from GameFace remained the same, but the payment situation was not improving. In June of 2017, 9 months after the payment problems were first made public, David told ORM the following:

Over each of the past three years we have grown revenue and lowered our operating losses at Gameface. We are on track for our best financial results ever in 2017 and expect to be profitable later this year. Like most start-ups with an innovative business model, we knew that we would lose money before we became profitable. Any time you disrupt an entrenched legacy model by converting to a digital model, it’s expensive. As we have fought our way toward profitability, it was even more expensive than we’d originally expected. That caused us to fall behind on payments to some of our photographers last year. With a recent financing round, we were able to pay off the large majority of what we owed our photographers. We continue to make more payments every week and expect to finish this process soon as we collect fees currently owed from our clients. Our model has allowed us to pay our 1,600 photographers nearly $5,000,000 since we started the company. We typically pay above market rates and offer some of the best assignments in the industry.

By mid 2017, experienced photographers would no longer accept new assignments, no matter how high the rate. Gameface, desperate to keep their doors open, began offering payment in advance for a weekend race event. Many photographers countered with something along the lines  “As long as you pay past debts first, and then pre pay for the current event, I am happy to shoot”. This is typically when communication for GameFace would stop. Being forced to use less experienced photographers has not improved Gameface’s overall situation. When the quality of photos goes down, participants complain to the races they pay for directly. The average racer doesn’t care who you hired to get their photos, they just want good photos. In addition, unpaid photographers took to contacting races and sponsors who do business with GF directly.

As you can find on the aforementioned Facebook group and Fred Miranda page, the situation has remained mostly the same since then. The one difference being that fed up photographers began to take legal action. Many began to take GF to small claims court for services rendered. You can read several posts where contractors were able to collect amounts owed using the legal system to their advantage. One was even able to freeze GF bank account assets until receiving payment.

Meanwhile,  David continues to make promises to photographers. Here is an email that photographer Jim Auer posted on Nov 26, 2017.

Jim,

I am very sorry for the long-delayed payment and slow response to your emails. We have made good progress on our finances this year and are no longer losing money every month. We have been chipping away at our photographer debt, but I realize that isn’t much consolation to you since you have been waiting so long. We are on the verge of a round of financing that will be used to make payments to all of you. We expect to close that round by the end of this year. In the meantime, we have had to prioritize payments to photographers who are covering events for us every weekend. This has meant that our older obligations have gotten more delayed. I know that isn’t fair, but we needed to make that hard decision to allow Gameface to survive.

I would be happy to give you a call to answer any questions you may have. I try to have a couple of calls like that per day. It makes for slow progress, but it results in a much better dialogue than email or social media. Please let me know if you have some time over the next few business days.

Regards,

David

David Lavallee

CEO & Co-Founder

Gameface Media Inc.

m. 617-901-7172

The TL;DR verson is this:

We are really close to getting funded again, and this time, we promise, we’ll pay everyone, promise.

Two sentences however need to be highlighted:

“In the meantime, we have had to prioritize payments to photographers who are covering events for us every weekend.”

Put another way: If you continue working for us we’ll pay you what we already you, if you don’t work for us, we will not pay you what we already promised we would.

At best, this is bad business. At worse, this is employee extortion.

“This has meant that our older obligations have gotten more delayed. I know that isn’t fair, but we needed to make that hard decision to allow Gameface to survive”.

At best and worst, this is an employment ponzi scheme.

This morning, GameFace Media published a press release, announcing additional funding from a company called Stage 1 Ventures. We contacted Stage 1 Managing Director, David William Baum, by phone and email and at press time, have not had a response.