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.

Feb 9-10 Spartan Race Monday Numbers

Spartan Arizona Sprint Podium

Date:   Feb 9-10 2019    Venue: Arizona – Ft McDowell Rodeo Grounds  

Total Finishers: 8,693

Podium Saturday Sprint

Men

1 VeeJay Jones

2 Matt Rock

3 Daniel Sorenson

Women

1 Nicole Mericle

2 Amanda Nadeau

3 Ashley Heller

Podium Sunday Super

Men

1 VeeJay Jones

2 Ivan Santana

3 Nikolaj Dam

Women

1 Nicole Mericle

2 Amanda Nadeau

3 Ashley Heller

North American Championships Qualification – Men

1 Matt Rock

2 Beni Gifford

3 Matthew Taverner

4 Brady Preston

5 Ethan Wuestenhofer

6 Nicolas Rogers

7 Jose Rodriguez

8 Nick O’Sullivan

9 Dylin Moran

10 Scott Giltner

11 Ivan Santana

12 Luke Langhorst

13 Brian Thomas

14 Monchito Villagas

15 Osvaldo Carballo

16 Oscar Girarte

17 Mike Higuera

18 Brian Pinta

19 Daniel Herman

20 Brandon Bonine

North American Championships Qualification – Women

1 Amanda Nadeau

2 Ashley Heller

3 Heather Gollnick

4 Kaci Munroe

5 Haley Brogan

6 Anne Dube

7 Danielle Martin

8 Alyson Carlyon

9 Cassandra Dick

10 Kathryn Karpati

11 Cera Edgley

12 Kimi Isom

13 Maria Isabel Zamora Zarate

14 Ilaria Paltrinieri

15 Ashley Grimmel

16 Jenny Tobin

17 Ashton Meeks

18 Sue Luck

19 Stacia Zimmerman

20 Mikella Tobin

Finishers plus or minus: The number of finishers was 995 less than the same venue on the same weekend last year.

Spartan 24 Hour Championship 2019 – Sweden

PRESS RELEASE

The Snowcapped Mountains of Åre, Sweden to Host the Third-Annual “Spartan Ultra World Championship” 24-Hour Obstacle Course Race

World’s Largest Obstacle Course Race and Endurance Brands Brings the Word’s Most
Challenging OCR Event to the Alpine Heart of Scandinavia November 8

Åre, Sweden (February 7, 2019) – Spartan, the world’s largest obstacle course race (OCR) and endurance brand, will bring the third annual “Spartan Ultra World Championship” to the picturesque mountain village of Åre, Sweden November 9-10, 2019. Combining the beauty of the Scandinavian country with the grit of Spartan, the 24-hour endurance event will test the world’s best athletes as they face harsh winter conditions, high elevations and miles of technical terrain, just 350km below the Arctic Circle. As in the first two editions of the Spartan Ultra World Championship—held in Iceland—competitors in Åre can expect full-spectrum extremes of Mother Nature’s beauty and fury.

[Read more…]

Industry Reaction To Tough Mudder No More Cash Prizes

With the sudden news of Tough Mudder taking away all prize money for 2019, ORM reached out across the industry to get reactions.

Hunter McIntyre – 2 time, reigning, defending TMX Champion, World’s Toughest Mudder Team Champion 2014

The last few years, I put all of my training efforts into Broken Skull and TMX, both of which are no longer around. It’s kind of crazy how Spartan expands every year but stays to their true north. Every other brand tries to chase, match, or outwork Spartan Race and they all fail. I am really sad about Tough Mudder, but I am sure the athletes will find other places to go.

This is probably the end of my OCR career as I’ve known it. I’ll show up to the occasional Stadium race, but that will be for fun more than anything else.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Ride that pony 💅🏿

A post shared by Hunter McIntyre (@huntthesheriff) on

I am fully invested in Crossfit now. I’ve spent the last 8 months off of any significant running training. If I turn back now, I’ll end up being decent at both Crossfit and OCR, instead of great at one or the other, so I need to stay focused.

Rea Kolbl – 2017 and 2018 World’s Toughest Mudder Champion

Tough mudder’s decision really changes my season, and I won’t be doing toughest or WTM races this year. I don’t race just for money, but I still have to pay bills and cover my race expenses. These races take a toll on your body and I risk injuries with each one of them, and there are so many races I wanted to do this year that didn’t fit in my schedule previously that I’ve now decided to try this year instead. I’m really sad I won’t be seeing my Tough Mudder friends this year, but maybe this opportunity to try new things and focus on different races isn’t the worst thing that could happen.

Lloyd – Savage Race Co-Owner

I’m sure this was a tough decision for all the people that were involved, but running a business is very difficult and sometimes you are forced to make financial decisions that put the company in the best position to succeed.

Trevor Cichosz – 2016 World’s Toughest Mudder Champion

I was never in it for the money, I’m not going anywhere.

David Watson – Spartan Race VP of Product
The foundation of Spartan has been in sport first and foremost – and we’ll continue to grow in that direction. We’re actually close to announcing our new prize purse and structure for for the 2019 season, which has up to two million USD on the table for athletes across the world.

Ryan Atkins – Winningest Worlds Toughest Mudder Ever

As someone who makes the majority of their living off of prize money, this announcement will definitely change my race plans for 2019.

Amelia Boone – 3 time World’s Toughest Mudder Champion

I’m not upset about the lack of prize money – that was never a factor to me. But I’m saddened that it may indicate a troubled company – Tough Mudder was my original home, and I’d be gutted if they folded.


Joshua Grant – 30 Tough Mudders

Tough Mudder was my first OCR in 2011. It would be very sad to see them go. Think for most of us the money wasn’t a goal, but it lent WTM an air of something monumental. Watching elite athletes push themselves to inhuman levels hand in hand with our own efforts to gut it out meant something. The event was special and unique among all the extreme races because of this camaraderie.

Kris Mendoza – Current World’s Toughest Mudder Champion

This definitely changes the dynamic of the races and will influence the level of competition at each race. While I still plan on running some Tough Mudder competitive races, I am also looking to branch out to other races like the OCRWC 24 Hour Enduro and other endurance events.

Javier Escobar – OCR Fanatic

I just hope that they don’t pour all of their resources into the general experience making for a lack luster races series. I’m still planning on racing a tougher, toughest and wtm this year but depending on the quality of both competitors and even, might shift my focus in 2020. I love the Tough Mudder community but I still need “serious” competitive athletes to push myself harder.

Adrian Bijanada – President OCR World Championships

This was obviously a difficult decision for Tough Mudder to make. But, should be commended on two things. First, for taking the difficult steps to strengthen their business, and more importantly, for being transparent and forthcoming with the athletes most impacted. Of course, WTM will remain on our list of qualifying events.

Will Hicks – Host World’s Toughest Podcast

Eliminating prize money for elite athletes is a huge step backwards. Fortunately Tough Mudder has a history of making head-scratching decisions and then correcting their mistake afterward. I am hopeful “no prize money” will be this year’s bad decision entry alongside “two five-mile loops” and “no finisher shirts” of past years.

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.