Spartan is the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand. The Spartan brand includes race events, training and nutrition programs and products, and more than five million people have crossed the Spartan finish line in 44 countries. Children’s races, with scaled-down obstacles and shorter distances, are also offered at each event. Additionally, Spartan has long been an advocate for bringing the sport of OCR into the Olympics, and by working with the international governing body of modern pentathlon, Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne, will be able to leverage its case more strongly for Olympic inclusion.
Sports Destination Management: Spartan’s growth has been phenomenal.
Cherie Bortnick: We are the largest endurance company in the world. We had a massive expansion from 2007 to 2017 and we’re continuing to grow.
SDM: What is the economic impact for these events?
Bortnick: We have a number of different products, so it really depends on the event and the market. A good rule of thumb is between $2.5 million and $6 million. A longer event, like the Spartan Beast, tends to bring in more people because there are only 14 Beasts offered in the U.S. annually, meaning people must travel to participate. There are other factors too; if an event is held in the mountains, people may want to get there even earlier to get used to the altitude.
SDM: Everyone must want to host your events.
Bortnick: We try to be very strategic and to grow the sport different ways. There are all the different events, including the stadium events at places like Dodger Stadium and Fenway Park, which are more obstacle-focused with less running. In 2019, we’ll see some new and innovative problems being offered – some with trail running, some more urban events.
SDM: Your kids’ races are popular.
Bortnick: Those are growing exponentially. We started off adding them here and there. Now, we host a kids’ race at every single adult race. We went from having just 2,000 kids participating when we started, to having 120,000 now. This year, we’ll host a kids’ championship race.
SDM: When you’re looking for sites to host, what are you looking for?
Bortnick: We have 64 races each year in the U.S. I think about what would bring people into a city – would they want something near a beach, in the mountains, by a lake? I try to align with destinations that have other options to offer our racers as well as their families.
We’re also looking for a site with a large footprint, something that can handle not only the race but the spectators, the party afterwards, all the parking that is needed. You need to ask whether there’s enough hotel rooms and what the roads are like.
SDM: Is the Spartan demographic mostly male?
Bortnick: There’s been large growth in women racing; about 40 percent of our racers globally are women, and stadium events are closer to 50/50. We’re also seeing a lot of Millennials. It’s very apparent this is a family event; you’ll see a few hundred strollers. That’s why we always want to have other activities for spectators and families.
SDM: How long does it take to set up a Spartan event?
Bortnick: Anywhere from 13 to 14 days. We send a crew and a trailer to put up and take down the obstacles and to do all the work of putting on the race. The economic impact that brings is huge, considering we use 200 to 350 room nights for our staff alone.
SDM: Do you use local labor when you’re doing set-up or tear-down?
Bortnick: No, it’s all our crew. We take what we do very seriously and for us, incurring that extra expense is well worth it, considering we are talking about people’s safety during the race. If you hire local labor, it’s a weekend job, but for our people, it’s their passion. And the way the team works together onsite during the race is absolutely fantastic. Any issue that arises, they know how to react, who’s good at what and how to leverage talent to address anything that might come up. It’s always all about safety. We want to make sure everyone has a fun, great – and safe – time. SDM