The Challenges for Challenge

Such hope, such promise is now at risk. As many know, Onefortypointsix Media is a huge fan of the Challenge Family brand of triathlon. Challenge is everything that is good about our sport. A CEO who actually races, events that are truly spectacular and an unequaled focus on the athlete experience. Challenge has made it their mission to find out what the athlete wants out of an event and then delivers it. This is why Challenge Atlantic City in its inaugural event went over so smoothly. So much so that it did not feel like an inaugural event. Stephen DelMonte and Rob Vigorito left no stone unturned in their mission to bring a world class long course triathlon race to the Jersey Shore. They were successful, very successful but there are clouds on the horizon that could tarnish all of their hard work.

In what was originally rumored to be a purchase where Challenge acquired Rev3, it has now been confirmed by Challenge CEO Felix Walschofer it was instead a merger between Challenge and Rev3. At face value, it would seem this was going to be a wonderful fit. Both are small companies with a high emphasis on athlete experience at their events. There is no question Rev3 has always put on great events. I experienced the inaugural Rev3 Maine and it was the finest race I had ever been part of prior to Challenge Atlantic City. Yes, I know…what about Ironman Lake Placid. We will get to that in a moment. One would believe that merging 2 athlete-centric companies into one powerhouse would be a magical thing for our sport. The early results show that may not be correct.

Positive images and good reputations take far longer to build than they do to be destroyed and some of the recent actions of “Challenge3” have been rather questionable and go to the heart of maintaining Challenge’s hard won positive image created by the continually flawless execution of Challenge Roth.

For instance, making Challenge Ambassadors completely out of Rev3 people does not necessarily help the Challenge brand. Allowing all of these “Ambassadors” to run around social media offering codes which will give the athlete discounts on their race entries only works to cheapen the brand and the image of Challenge. Has no one thought this through? How does Challenge aim to wean the athletes off of these discounts? Will Challenge be forever known as “The Discount Tri Race Company”? You asked about Ironman Lake Placid before. Well the fact is, it is an iconic race where even a 16 hour back of the packer gets treated like a pro triathlete. Now do you think you will ever see a social media post where WTC says “Send us a picture of you swimming in the snow and get 50% entry fees to Ironman Lake Placid”? Of course not!!! This is what makes the recent marketing campaigns so troubling.
Look, as long as you have more than 15 people enter the water at your event, you are doing better than the 1978 Hawaii Ironman. You don’t have to discount your brand. You cut your rates to attract people who may not have purchased your product AFTER you have made every attempt at market penetration. Challenge already enjoys lower registration fees than WTC as a way of focussing on the athlete. Why cut that even more?

Challenge in this journal’s opinion should have stayed Challenge and had 2 races. Challenge Atlantic City and Challenge Rancho Cordova. One on each coast. You live in the heartland, make the choice and make the trip. You grow slowly, organically. You improve the race every year and every year see a few more sign-ups. You offer enticements rather than give your race away through poorly organized discount code campaigns. Challenge Family owns the rights to one of the finest enticements imaginable by being able to offer Age Groupers the chance to earn slots into Challenge Roth, which is in our opinion the finest long course triathlon on the planet. You say it can’t be done? You say you need a ton of races around the country to grow the brand? In 1999, the first and only Ironman event in North America at the time was tucked away in the Adirondack Mountains at Lake Placid NY. Don’t tell me it can’t be done.

What I find troubling was when Felix was interviewed on the Breakfast with Bob show. That interview while a pure home run offered a few competing visions between his philosophy which he shared on the show and what has actually transpired. For one, Felix makes a great point about growing organically and through word of mouth. RIGHT ON!!! That’s how it should be. He correctly assails private equity investment into our sport as short sighted but what has actually happened puts the vision into question.

Rev3 seems to be more vocal and more influential than Challenge in this relationship thus far. This is creating a situation where the Challenge reputation is put on the line through what can only be described as amateurish marketing efforts. Challenge needs to discuss with Rev3 their continued partnership and how Challenge wishes to be viewed by the triathlon public going forward here in the states.

Rev3 puts on really great family focussed events but Challenge spends $4 million to build a transition area in Dubai and spends $100,000 to build a “stadium” for one weeks usage in Roth. Challenge must remain classier and above things like discount coupons if it wishes to be taken serious by the US audience as a long term world player.

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