Inside Events: IRONMAN
6 Sep, 2017By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Senior Manager of Public Relations, Dan Berglund
Sports Destination Management: Can you provide a brief history of the organization?
Dan Berglund: During an awards banquet for the Waikiki Swim Club, Naval Officer John Collins, stationed in Hawai`i, his wife Judy, and his fellow athletes began debating which ones were the fittest: swimmers, bikers, or runners. John proposes combine three of the toughest existing endurance races on the island - the 2.4-mile Waikiki Roughwater Swim, the 112 miles of the Around-Oahu Bike Race (originally a two-day event and 114 miles), followed by a 26.2-mile run on the same course as the Honolulu Marathon. “The gun will go off about 7 a.m., the clock will keep running and whoever finishes first we’ll call the IRONMAN,” Collins recalls. On February 18, 1978, 15 competitors, including Collins, came to the shores of Waikiki to take on the first-ever IRONMAN challenge.
From an unlikely challenge that began on the tranquil shores of Waikiki, IRONMAN has grown into an international sensation inspiring millions through world class events, life changing athlete experiences, and the emotional stories told. IRONMAN has helped create and nurture a sport, a lifestyle and a strong community of passionate athletes striving for the ultimate fitness goal and to prove that “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE®.”
SDM: What are the numbers like now?
Berglund: IRONMAN now operates a global portfolio that includes the IRONMAN® Triathlon Series, the IRONMAN® 70.3® Triathlon Series, 5150™ Triathlon Series, the Rock n’ Roll Marathon Series®, Iron Girl®, IRONKIDS®, International Triathlon Union World Triathlon Series races, road cycling events including the UCI Velothon Majors Series, mountain bike races including the Absa Cape Epic, premier marathons including the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon and other multisport races. In total, IRONMAN has gone from a single race to more than 200 events across 50 countries.
SDM: Is there any seasonal information on its events?
Berglund: IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 (the half-distance version) triathlons take place year-round throughout the world, with participants able to register online anytime. The prestigious IRONMAN World Championship takes place in Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i every October, which participants can qualify for via designated races. Similarly, there is a qualification-only, IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship, which rotates globally every year and this year takes place in Chattanooga, Tennessee this September. For the first time, the IRONMAN 70.3 Championship will be a two-day event with the professional and age-group women racing on Saturday, September 9 and the professional and age-group men racing on Sunday, September 10.
SDM: What are the participation trends?
Berglund: Many beginners start with a sprint or Olympic distance triathlons to gain some experience at putting a swim, bike and run together. Experienced endurance athletes will likely have no problems with an IRONMAN 70.3 before preparing for the full 140.6-mile IRONMAN triathlon. From 2010 to 2017, the number of IRONMAN races has increased from 26 to 40 and IRONMAN 70.3 races increased from 43 to 104 events globally with registered athletes at those races have gone from approximately 93,000 to 260,000 registered athletes.
SDM: What are the demographics of those who participate?
Berglund: While in most IRONMAN or IRONMAN 70.3 events, anyone 18 years of age or older can participate, they average age is 40.
Our athletes are generally Type A, educated and very successful and of course many of whom are inspirational and aspirational
83 percent are home owners
92 percent are college educated
44 percent of our athletes influence financial decisions at their place of business
It’s awe-inspiring on how many people sign up from all walks of life. An IRONMAN triathlon is one of the most challenging single day sporting events in the world, but if you have an open mind and the drive, you can do it, inspiring the IRONMAN mantra that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.
SDM: If a new location is interested in hosting IRONMAN events, what’s the best way for them to explore a potential opportunity?
Berglund: We have a heavy vetting process, but are always open to speaking with communities who would like to host an event. Interested communities should contact the IRONMAN Headquarters in Tampa, Florida at 813-868-5940.
SDM: What kind of inroads have you made about recruiting women to participate in the event?
Berglund: In 2015, IRONMAN began seeking to identify and diminish primary barriers to entry for women by launching our Women For Tri™ initiative, mobilizing advocates to encourage and engage female athletes to test their abilities, overcome challenges, and realize the full depth of their potential. Our Women For Tri Facebook forum is a great place to discuss all things women, training, and triathlon.
SDM: Do IRONMAN events work with charities?
Berglund: Since 2003, over $50,000,000 has been provided through IRONMAN Foundation programs to more than 6,300 local, regional, national and global nonprofit initiatives. Through these partnerships, IRONMAN athletes are powerfully linked to the community and together we leave the IRONMAN legacy behind in our race communities long after event day. All registered athletes have the opportunity to make use of our Your Journey, Your Cause fundraising initiative to transform their undertaking into a selfless cause, all of which are 100% tax deductible.
SDM: What type of media coverage does IRONMAN enjoy?
Berglund: A programming fixture on NBC since 1991, the IRONMAN World Championship special has garnered 54 Emmy Award nominations and earned 16 Emmys along with many other accolades. The 90-minute show has provided viewers an all-access experience from the air, across the barren lava fields and under the water of Kailua Bay during the 140.6-mile challenge that takes place annually in Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i. The show has combined human interest profiles and coverage of the pro race throughout the years.
SDM: Any other news?
Berglund: On June 2, 2017, IRONMAN announced the acquisition of Competitor Group Holdings and their flagship Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series. The acquisition established IRONMAN as the largest running event producer in the world by adding 30 world-class Rock ‘n’ Roll events to their porfolio. Since the debut of the signature Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series in 1998, it has innovated the running industry by infusing the course with live bands, cheer teams, and creating a block-party atmosphere for participants and spectators. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the series.