Home > News

Did complex logistics and high-price accommodations sink Ironman Alaska?

Low registration numbers cited as reason for cancellation, leaving local triathlon community gutted

Photo by: Donald Miralle/ Ironman

Last Friday we reported that Ironman had cancelled its event in Juneau, Alaska. The statement from Ironman (see below) alluded to “weather challenges for the first year event,” and said that “despite having a wonderful host community, we have a made the difficult decision to discontinue Ironman Alaska.”

Next year’s race was supposed to take place on Aug. 6 – registration had been open for the event for about four months.

We’ve reached out to both Ironman and Travel Juneau for more details about the cancellation, but so far all we’ve received is the above statement. Local news reports provide some more insight, but not much.

“Liz Perry, president and CEO of Travel Juneau, said the Ironman Alaska triathlon organizer called her to say that the decision arose from economic concerns like inflation and the potential for a recession,” Adelyn Baxter reported in a story posted on the Alaska Public Media website. 

“We have not burned any bridges with them,” Perry is quoted in the story. “They are ever so grateful to the community of Juneau for everything that we did for them, and they want to keep that door open for the possibility of a future event.”

The event brought in a reported $8 million to the local community, with the local region collecting upwards of $20.2 million in sales tax revenue, which was more than had been expected, according to local officials. Travel Juneau is reported to have paid a $50,000 license fee to host the race.

“The contract at this point has been terminated,” Perry told the Juneau Empire. “This was not mutual, this is not something we wanted.”

“This is certainly an emotional blow to the community,” Perry continued, .“It is strictly a financial thing on their side.”

JUNEAU, ALASKA: General aerial views of Ironman Alaska on August 7, 2022. (Photo by Donald Miralle)

Low registrations

The Anchorage Daily News quoted a local athlete and coach from Juneau, Jamie Bursell, who said she had been in contact with race director Colleen McDonald and was told “it was a financial decision based on low registrations and economic factors within the industry.”

Bursell said the local triathlon community in Juneau is extremely disappointed that the event won’t be taking place next year. Last year 60 locals signed up for the event, Bursell said, and she expected that number might grow in 2023.

“It’s super disappointing,” she told the newspaper. “My athletes, and me too, we’re sort of gutted. It was significant to us that Ironman chose Juneau for a full Ironman.”

“People here have a mentality to work through hard things,” Bursell said in an interview with Triathlon Magazine. “A lot of local people signed on to Ironman Alaska. A lot of us run outside all winter long. We look for things to do that are fun and exciting – we love an adventure. We had such a great group in 2022. We thought it could be a bigger and better thing.”

Despite the reports of the challenges athletes faced in terms of accommodations and travel to Juneau (as we reported earlier this year), Bursell said that the local community was extremely supportive of the event.

“Had they (Ironman) told us that the cancellation was a possibility, I know a lot of movers and shakers here and we know they could have made it happen,” she continued.

“The locals and the support that they gave was absolutely phenomenal,” Bursell said. “The Ironman Alaska (Facebook) group was unbelievable – offering housing, offering people rides. Even now some people are writing in from the Ironman Alaska page. A man from Italy had already planned to come here. A local couple said that they would be honoured to host his family.”

According to Bursell, he’ll hardly be alone – she’s seen reports of other athletes who intend to make the trip to Juneau next summer. Bursell is hopeful that a local half-distance event might get organized for the same date.

Game of numbers

Ultimately it would appear that Ironman is making a business decision when it comes to Ironman Alaska. Many athletes who have commented on the decision on Facebook have expressed their frustration over the lack of transparency. Last year’s race had 865 participants. Based on the challenges athletes faced to compete at the event this year, it’s easy to imagine that the registration numbers weren’t looking to be any larger in 2023, and Ironman wasn’t ready to put on a race of that size.

All of which leaves a number of disappointed athletes – including Bursell and the local Juneau community, along with the many athletes from around the world who won’t be able to attend this “bucket-list” race.