Following yesterday’s news that Ironman has been bought by a Chinese conglomerate, many commentators have predicted further price rises or worse for the iconic triathlon brand. 220 columnist Tim Heming mulls it over.
Chrissie Wellington racing in Kona
On social forums there has been some agitation at the prospect of Far Eastern governance dragging premier long distance triathlon still further from its spiritual home in Hawaii. But this is a changing world. In our own capital city, foreign investment has stampeded at every opportunity.
Look around you. From Arsenal Football Club’s stadium to The ExCel convention centre in Docklands – home to the biggest triathlon in the world. Wanda itself is already financing a five-star hotel next to the Thames costing $1.1billion and has bought up a UK-based maker of luxury yachts used in Bond movies.
What do these examples have in common? First class service and a few quibbles over the price to the consumer… Pretty much on par with what the PEP version of Ironman delivered, then.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?
Ironman has changed hands for money before and the rumour mill was in overdrive with takeover talk, fed by Messick’s constant referencing of global growth as a carrot for suitors every time he stood behind a microphone. In the USA, the triathlon market is flatlining, in Western Europe and Australasia it is mature, but in the Far East, South America, Eastern Europe and even the Middle East – as we know from the stirrings in Bahrain – there is strong appetite.
As these societies develop and become increasingly cash-rich and diet-poor, the bucket-list goal of Ironman looks a tempting prospect. Without rapid expansion it will take a few years to retrieve the initial investment, so expect more race choice in exotic locations that will see pasty Brits struggle with heat acclimatisation and become neurotic over the local cuisine.
Racing along Tenby harbour at Ironman Wales
For the average UK age-grouper, devoted to the backstreets of Bolton or the extended transitions of Tenby, it’s unlikely much will differ, at least in the short term. Perhaps the new owners will want to put down a marker, but when you have a brand that customers are prepared to tattoo on to their calves, it would be foolish to test that loyalty. Prices will be dictated by demand and even with Ironman’s aggressive business tactics there is no shortage of non-WTC events available to keep soaraway entry fees in check.
If you are of the calibre to line up in Hawaii though, you might find qualifying becoming a little trickier. With further expansion of the 250 or so races the Word Triathlon Corporation runs, it will be increasingly difficult to win a spot on the hallowed Kona pier.
(Main image: Paul Phillips)
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