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Ironman CEO Update: Here We Grow Again

Ironman CEO Andrew Messick offered up a “state of the nation” address at last week’s Triathlon Business International (TBI) Conference, emphasizing that this is an “extraordinary time in the industry” and that every where in the world the sport is growing.

Ironman CEO Andrew Messic speaks at the 2016 Triathlon Business International Conference.
Ironman CEO Andrew Messic speaks at the 2016 Triathlon Business International Conference.

With the recent acquisition of Lagardere Sports, Ironman has not only added a number of ITU’s flagship events to it’s already huge race calendar, but it has also dramatically increased the number of running and cycling events in its portfolio. Members of the industry were provided an update on the world of Ironman from CEO Andrew Messic in Marina Del Ray, California, last week during the TBI conference. Here are a some of the highlights from his presentation.

The sport is growing

Between 2013 and 2015 athlete growth at Ironman events was 22% in the Americas, 75% in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and 19% in the Asia-Pacific regions. South America has seen significant growth – for example, in 2012 there were 2,265 Brazilian athletes in the Ironman system. By the end of 2015 that number was 4,550. In Ecuador the numbers were even more impressive – 128 in 2012 and 1,244 in 2015.

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Messic attributes much of the growth to the addition of new races – during that time frame new full-distance and half-distance races were added to the calendar in Brazil, while a new 70.3 race took place in Ecuador.

“The creation of the Brazilian races created more athletes,” he said. “Once they join our sport its our jo to keep them there.”

While Ironman hasn’t created any races in Russia, they have seen an 80% growth of Russian athletes through programs designed to make it easier for them to attend other European events.

China

Ironman was recently acquired by a China’s Wanda Group, so it comes as no surprise that there’s considerable expansion planned in Asia.

“As a consumer market, it’s happening right now,” Messic said. “China is already the biggest car market in the world and there continues to be an enormous amount of growth.”

Two new Ironman races are planned for later this year in Xiamen and Hefei, “smaller” Chinese cities with populations of seven and five million respectively. Chinese participation has lots of room to grow – in 2012 there were 75 Chinese who participated in Ironman events, last year there were 398, including two who competed at the Ironman World Championship.

Women’s participation

The creation of “Women for Tri” last year has helped Ironman increase women’s participation, Messic said, pointing out that the group was tasked with focussing on North American participation initially.

“Our goal is to increase female participation by 10% in the next five years.”

In North America women’s participation at Ironman events has grown from 29% in 2012 to 32% in 2015. 2016 registration numbers have already seen a boost to 34%. The rest of the world hovers between 17 and 18%.

Lagardere

The acquisition of Lagardere Sports, which owns a number of ITU WTS events, provides Ironman with an opportunity to “cross promote with the ITU,” in part through the sharing of media rights and allowing the company to come up with “compelling content packages.” Ironman will also dramatically increase its reach around the world. They will put on more than 20 events in Germany in 2016, and seven in New Zealand.

“There are opportunities at every level for scale,” he said.

Catch up to running

“We’re dramatically behind running everywhere,” Messic said, pointing out that women’s participation at running events can be as high as 65%. “Solid, pragmatic marketing programs is the key.”

To entice more runners to the sport, Messic feels there’s one simple question:

“Can you figure out a way to position triathlon as their next great challenge.”