Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Business Sense

Prior to becoming a marathoner, and long before stepping into the waters of triathlon, I was a student at The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh College of Business Administration. Graduating with a degree in Finance, I like to think I know a little bit about business. And as a strong believer in the capital free market system, supply and demand are always on my mind.

It is interesting how markets sometimes get turned on their heads. This past Monday is a good example of how that can occur. Registering for an Ironman event costs well over $450. After considering items such as dinner and awards banquet tickets, USAT membership, insurance, and additional fees, that total quickly tops $500. And as my co-workers put it, that's $500 we are willing to pay in order to place huge demands on our bodies for anywhere from 9 to 17 hours.

And Ironman Wisconsin 2007 sold out in less than an hour. The demands upon Active.com's servers were so severe it was practically impossible to get a stable connection, and it is quite likely that thousands of hopefuls were unable to sign up. That means there are literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential registration fees that are lost each race.

Obviously it takes a huge effort to put together an Ironman race. Yet business sense would say that the supply far outstrips the demand. An additional race or two would likely sell out nearly as quickly and still leave many searching for an open race.

Sensible or not, it is obvious that triathlons, especially the Ironman triathlon is a huge success. Tens of thousands of people complete events in the United States, each year. And additional scores of thousands struggle to even find an available slot for those races. Regardless of what outsiders think about the prospect of racing 140.6 miles in three disciplines, all in 17 hours or less, Ironmen and those who would earn the title place a huge demand on an extremely limited resource.

For those who would sign up for an upcoming race, take a hint from Roman, use multiple computers running several registration windows. Anything short of that might leave you in a lurch. Better yet, get to the race site the morning after the event. That will drastically improve your odds of a successful registration.

For those interested in Team raceAthlete that were unable to claw their way into IM MOO 2007, start identifying your key races and share them with the rest of the team. The Main Event might be in Wisconsin on September 9, 2007, but there are hundreds of other opportunities to show your stuff. Let's continue to show there is a huge demand for additional IM events.

Perhaps Bolder can even get his eagerly sought after IM Boulder event.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Iron Pol said...

I love people who think I have nothing better than to delete their garbage off my blog. Grrr!

nancytoby said...

I'm still hoping for an IM Williamsburg (VA). That would be great!

Baun said...

Iron Pol,

I was just thinking about this issue the other day. Specifically, the ridiculousness of IM Moo 2007 selling out in less than 1 hr. I too got caught up in the excitement (Team RaceAthlete, following IM racers and their blogs, etc) and for a couple of mins actually considered also trying to sign up Monday for IMWI 2007! But then I came to my senses, and realized that that was insane because I know I'm not ready yet -- I haven't even done 1 triathlon yet. And hence, I think that's part of the problem -- you got total tri newbies (like myself, so I'm not denigrating anymore) signing up for IM because it's the cool/exciting/new thing to do. When I compete in an Ironman, I want to know that I'm ready, that I will represent myself and compete "well", to have earned by entry.

I saw a comment on the Kahuna's blog I think that some guy signed up (and got in) for IMWI 2007, saying that it will be his first triathlon! I don't think people really respect the distance, the event, and the time commitment/training it takes. You're basically talking about a whole year of your life. And yet, people are forced to decide on the spur of the moment (or few days prior), 12 months in advance of the actual event, to fight for the precious slots that they know will be gone in less than 1 hr. That's crazy and should not be that way! We're not talking about tickets to a concert or the Super Bowl! This is an ultradistance endurance event that not everyone can complete.

This may be controversial, and I haven't fully thought it out, but I think there should be some type of qualifications for signing up for an Ironman (actual WTC event). In other words, I think that you have to EARN the right to sign up for an Ironman, just like you have to earn the right to sign up for the Boston Marathon. (IM entry qualifications would be totally different than qualifying for Kona, of course). I think that way, it will keep "becoming an Ironman" still prestigious, instead of having it maybe more watered down if you add additional Ironman events (even though I agree 1 or 2 more probably wouldn't hurt). One example qualification (before you're allowed to sign up for an Ironman, or you'll have to show proof before actually competing in the event) is that you must have had completed an Ironman 70.3 (or half iron distance) 3-6months before the Ironman event you signed up for. Or something like that. Then completing an Ironman becomes the journey that you have to work your way up to like I think it's supposed to be, instead of anyone just being able to do to just sign up on the spur of the moment (similar to making it to the Major Leagues in baseball. you can't jump from high school to MLB directly. you have to work your way up). I think having some type of registration qualification will allow for IM registration itself to be opened much longer (like weeks or months until all the "qualified" entries have filled up), thus allowing more decision time/planning and possibly "more deserving" triathletes to compete in an Ironman of their choice that they've worked so hard and long for.

Sorry for the long post/comment. Just some (rambling) thoughts off the top of my head. I'd be interested in hearing any thoughts/feedback.

Iron Pol said...

On the contrary, Baun, I think your post makes some interesting points. I particularly like the comparison to the Boston Marathon, which is, after all, just another race.

You lay the groundwork for an interesting proposal. It requires a bit of tweaking, maybe, but it's probably a valid argument.

mishele k said...

Baun, with all due respect I 100% disagree with you... because I'm troublesome like that. To begin, Ironman races ARE qualifiers for Kona; in addition, there are ALREADY qualifiers for these races (check out ironmanna.com). Having more qualifiers for qualifiers is not only potentially confusing, it waters down the WTC Ironman brand name. There are iron distance races (sans ,-dot, of course) that are not only DON’T sell out in 16.47 seconds—some might not sell out at all. Folks wishing to challenge themselves to "go the distance" certainly have viable options, often at a lower cost and more IM-newbie friendly atmosphere, not to mention having the option of signing up months in advance rather than a full year. The problem is that most IMers seem to snub their noses at these independent races—it’s the m-dot or no go mentality, and it’s a little silly. It’s like saying you want to wear jeans, but there aren’t enough Lucky Brand ones to go around. What about Levis? They’re less glamorous but definitely available. And honestly, why do you need an m-dot to be an ironman? My first race wasn’t a WTC event, but I wouldn’t consider the distance anything but an ironman. As long as triathletes insist on having all those tiresome m-dot logos on every piece of clothing/race equipment they own, then races will—and should—sell out quickly (except Arizona, which took 4+ months to sell out). As the sport continues to grow, more races will be added, though they'll probably close just as quickly.

As for first-timers doing an iron distance, that’s risky but completely fair. As you pointed out, they’re signing up a year in advance, which is sufficient time to train to FINISH an ironman, though I’d want to do a half in there just to see how my training was coming along. Perhaps I’m defending myself here; I was signed up for three iron distances (2 m-dots) before I’d even attempted one and having spent less than a year in the sport. Still, it’s first come, first served; your decision to take the plunge should be made before that Monday morning after.
There’s some magic in a WTC ironman over an independent one—that’s for sure. But for the cost and the hassle (I was completely unimpressed with IM WI) it’s a toss up if it’s worth it. If you insist on an m-dot, virtually instant sell-outs are what you’re going to get, but don't think that's the only road you have to take.

Bolder said...

i'm thinking of writing a post called 'how i get into the Moo '07'.

it would probably get thousands of hits over the next year...

like Roman, my first attempt i realized i had not checked a waiver box, so i immediately shut down.

next attempt, i started the process in both Firefox and IE in separate windows.

but, i decided NOT to use my Ironman ID on Active.com, and use my existing Active.com ID -- which I think was key.

AND, i decided not to check Trisport Transport, magazines, or anything that may require a page out to a different server.

finally, since i had been through this before on IM Florida, I stayed the course and held me breath and did NOT touch the browsers as they were inching along.

entire process 29 minutes end-to-end. time to key in info, about 10 seconds.

sadly, the hardest part to getting the Ironman title is getting registered.

i am SERIOUSLY bummed that you will not be there competing with me, but more bummed that it was ONLY for technical reasons.

if i knew, i would have wrote this up into a post before hand.


Baun said...

Mishele K,

Um, I think I agree with you... :). Not sure I understood your entire position, but my basic position was that the Ironman entries should be EARNED (how you actually determine that, that's a different issue!). You're right, the Ironman events themselves are not the only full iron distance events, but they are PRESTIGIOUS (deserving or not). That's just the way it goes in life -- some things are more special/prestigious than others, true or not. That's why I made the comparison to the Boston Marathon; it's just another marathon race, but you have to qualify to get in (or go through a charity). That makes it prestigious because not every runner can race it just because they want to.

Also, entry qualifications are entirely different than championship qualifications. (And yes, I'm fully aware all Ironman events are qualifiers to the Kona championship). So, just because you qualified for Boston doesn't mean you're any type of championship runner or going to qualify for the Olympics. But at least you met some non-completely-newbie-runner standard.

That's the point I was trying to make for an Ironman race registration/entry. (I'm a complete newbie myself, so I'm making this point against myself!) All I'm saying is, Ironman races are special, so MAYBE there should be some type of "qualification" to be able to just register for one. Just like a runner has to strive and work to make it to Boston (as an average runner, not some pro or elite), "average" triathletes should maybe have to strive for an Ironman race? Like you said, there's a ton of other full iron distance races out there that you can "prove" yourself on with the distance. I was just trying to put myself in the shoes of a "veteran" triathlete who may have worked 2-3 years to get to Ironman only to get shutout due to registration, or someway eliminate the ridiculous frenzied fight for a spot like it's a concert ticket. It shouldn't be whoever can click the fastest gets to go to Ironman.

Anyway, who knows... and who cares! We're all spitting in the wind anyway. Like we have any influence with the WTC.

I do want to say with all sincerity that you ROCK! Damn, 3 full iron races (2 IM's) in your first full tri season! Congratulations on your finishes and good luck in your future races.

triathlonmom said...

Iron Pol,
I was thinking the same thing. They really should add a few more races. And although it gave me a hearty chuckle...I vote 100 percent for an M dot race in Williamsburg, VA, less than an hour from my house. Where's the petition Nancy? I'll sign. Will we be swiming in the James?

tarheeltri said...

Iron Pol, the root of the supply problem is a city's ability and willingness to host an event like this. There's a very good article relating to this in the current Triathlon Life mag. If a city meets the course requirements of an IM event, what incentive does it have to allocate police and medical resources and shut down streets for essentially a day?

It's one thing to host a marathon that draws upwards of 20,000, in some cases 30,000 runners, not to mention spectators, but IM's draw in what? 2000?

While lines at the local Starbucks may be long (when are they not?) IM events probably don't bring in enough hotel and restaurant revenue for a city to care, unless they have a city manager who has personal preference for it.