“Restructuring” is an honorary four-letter word in the sports business industry, and when obstacle course race (OCR) owner BattleFrog started tossing it around, the response from athletes was immediate and strong. Most comments from racers included two syllables and one finger (or at least the digital equivalent of it.)
Make no mistake, this is a company that has done some major branching out lately. In December 2015, the company was announced as title sponsor of the January 1 Fiesta Bowl – a move that brought a lot of attention and served notice that BattleFrog was a force to be reckoned with in the sports business industry. When the BattleFrog Obstacle Race College Championship series aired on ESPN in late June and early July, it only cemented that placement.
Except that somehow, over the summer, things changed. In late August, the obstacle race community heard rumblings that something was happening within the BattleFrog Series. According to MudRunGuide, “for a brief time… all the social media accounts seemed to have disappeared and all signs were showing that BattleFrog Series would join the OCR graveyard.”
Shortly thereafter, the social media and Web presence of BattleFrog rebounded – at least conservatively. The Twitter account, website and Facebook page were still up and running but the Instagram page had been taken down.
The website contained only this statement that included the information that it would be cancelling all races in 2016 and 2017 (that would mean all races, period) “in order to refocus its efforts on restructuring product alignment and media programming.”
A separate statement noted that the company would focus its energies “on its two highly successful media properties featuring the top Obstacle Course Racing athletes on both the collegiate and professional level. “
In other words, perhaps the organization would be sponsoring only those events that already had a TV contract.
Racers were quick to respond to the note, using the BattleFrog Facebook page to make disparaging comments.
“So, after getting the B.S. e-mail saying that our race scheduled less than a week away was cancelled, they had the audacity to send not one, but two, e-mails asking me to rate their customer service,” noted one. “Are you kidding me? Zilch. Zero. Hoping whatever ‘media-related’ events that this company is part of fail miserably. That's what I think of your customer service.”
If indeed, BattleFrog is throwing in the towel on its commercial races, it won’t be the first OCR company to do so.
“When OCR was just starting its growth, we did see plenty of people trying to jump on the bandwagon, as it were, and create their own races without an understanding of all that was involved,” noted Obstacle Race Media owner Matt B. Davis in an article in Sports Destination Management. “And as anyone who puts on sports events of any kind already knows, that’s not a recipe for success.”
BattleFrog, however, seemed to have a successful track record. Only, as Davis noted in a separate article on his blog, the company’s business strategy was less than sound, which meant it was only a matter of time until the ship went down.
“While surprising news to some, there were many in the community that have been waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop in the wake of low registration numbers. Through 25 of the 44 proposed 2016 races, BattleFrog was averaging 978 finishers per race. Assuming a 20 percent no-show rate, that number slightly rises to 1,174 per race. Conventional wisdom for a traveling race series of that size tells us that somewhere been 3,000 and 4,000 registrants is the breakeven point financially.”
In addition, Davis did a podcast interview with BattleFrog’s principals, Kevin Jones and Ramiro Ortiz. The interview, which began cordially, became terse when Davis began asking harder questions regarding finances and racer numbers.
So while from the outside, as recently as this summer, the race series appeared sound, its decision-making was anything but, according to Davis.
“They only thing they were ever strong with was spending money,” he notes.
On the website of the next Fiesta Bowl (to be presented Saturday, December 31, 2016), the name of BattleFrog (not surprisingly) is nowhere to be found and, in fact, the title sponsor is noted as National Bank of Arizona (NB|AZ).
BattleFrog has not yet responded to multiple requests for comment from SDM – although it did send a notice asking how their customer service had performed.