It has been over a year since we first explored the state of the Obstacle Course Racing industry, and much has changed since our last State of the Union address. The explosion of obstacle racing introduced new races and ideas into the industry, but has also introduced fresh concerns and failures that endanger the industry as a whole. In this year’s State of the Union address, we’ll take much of our focus away from the advancement and demographics of the “Big Three” and dive into developments affecting the health and future of the sport in general.
Let’s start quickly by reviewing the status of our fore-runners in the Obstacle Racing industry. Using Google Trends, we have roughly correlated a race’s popularity and exposure through the number of corresponding Google searches.
- Registration cost
- Event location
- Level of challenge
Breaking this down and putting it simply: racers are looking for an event that will adequately challenge their abilities, but it needs to come at an appropriate price. Races must continue to find a delicate balance between hosting challenging and unique events while maintaining reasonable registration fees.
While the exposure of Obstacle Racing is beginning to level out, we don’t see this lasting for long. As racers look to find new adventures and challenges, new events are popping up around the nation claiming to be the next big thing in obstacle course racing. Most are copycats, simply putting a themed spin on an existing race, but there are a rare few introducing industry-changing innovation. Events like Alpha Warrior bring a Ninja Warrior aspect of high-intensity obstacles and minimal running to the everyday obstacle racer. Mud Guts & Glory is attempting to establish a “choose your difficulty” concept by introducing increasingly challenging obstacles with race “exit points.” Events like Hard Charge and the Spartan Race Championship are slated to be televised by major networks across the US and will bring fresh interest to the sport of Obstacle Racing. Friend and two-time World’s Toughest Mudder Champion, Junyong Pak, was the featured athlete in the October 2013 Runners World. As media exposure causes an influx of new participants, the long-neglected elite level of obstacle racing will need to go through drastic changes to accomodate new, dedicated, high-caliber athletes. Some race organizers are working with travel agencies to create destination obstacle races that include lodging and additional entertainment in registration packages. We can only hope that this new exposure and talent will bring forth higher quality investments and opportunities that go hand-in-hand with industry-changing startups and innovation.
Despite the introduction of promising new obstacle races, racers are increasingly weary of startup events… and rightfully so. In August of this year, Hero Rush (a race that made our Best of the Best list) filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy after struggling to make ends meet. In September, the Great American Mud Run frustrated many of its registrants when it cancelled all future events. Races such as Superhero Scramble have cancelled individual events due to lack of registrations and even Spartan Race has offered large registration discounts after struggling to fill slots for its new Stadium Sprint series. Recent failures of new races are making it increasingly difficult for startup companies to establish credibility with a hesitant consumer base. The situation has become so problematic that we have introduced “OCR Keys” on our events page to help racers determine which races are just gaining traction and which are well established.
New races have struggled to find a foothold in the industry over the past year due to various reasons. The largest and most problematic barrier to entry into the obstacle racing industry is the large up-front capital investment needed to build obstacles, secure a venue, and create the appropriate infrastructure to support the first several events. Insurance is difficult for new races to come by in the first place (and is often very restrictive), not to mention costs have increased drastically across the industry since accidental deaths at several large races and the introduction of electrified obstacles at Tough Mudder. Down the With the recent success of the Big 3, venue owners are finding ways to squeeze more money out of new races that don’t know any better. On top of it all, racers are now waiting for consistantly good feedback before they risk registration fees on a startup race, meaning organizers usually lose a significant amount of money until they demonstrate the ability to host several consistant races. As a result, local, low-budget or grassroots races will find it difficult to expand without outside investement.
In the grand scheme, race organizers continue to make solid improvements to their events as they learn from previous events and others in the industry. Spartan Race and Warrior Dash have drastically improved the quality of their obstacles and racers are starting to see brand new aluminum framed structures appearing at races around the country. Though collaboration between risk analysts and insurance companies, races are now ensuring that their obstacles and courses are more exciting yet safer than ever before. Tough Mudder’s horrendous parking situations have been improving and obstacle wait times have been reduced or eliminated for a majority of larger race series. As races dial in their infrastructure and race day procedures, we should see more creative obstacles and courses coming our way in the future.
OCR is alive and well but there is a multitude of change and opportunity lurking on the horizon, and nobody can be quite sure what the future may bring. Obstacle Racers will continue keeping a finger on the pulse of the industry and provide the lastest information and analysis as to the changes ahead. These are exciting times as we look forward to the progress over the next year of racing.
What are your views on the current state of Obstacle Racing? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!