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WTC incepts, rescinds Access program

Written by: Dan Empfield
Date: Sun Oct 31 2010

World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), producers of the Ironman branded triathlon events, announced and cancelled its Access program within a day. The new program's cost was $1000 and allowed prospective Ironman participants "exclusive, advance registration" to its popular events.

The reaction was swift and unequivocal, both on Iromman's Facebook page and on internet forum boards. The Slowtwitch.com forum lit up with multiple threads on the program, such as one entitled The latest WTC money grab, which featured about 250 posts.

WTC officials appeared surprised by the reaction to its program which its CEO, Ben Fertic (pictured) described to Slowtwitch as a way to allow serial event enterers to streamline their practice. "We have certain customers who enter every domestic Ironman," Fertic told Slowtwitch. "They don't know what their schedules are going to look like. Once a place on their schedule opens up, that's the race they participate in. But they're no-shows at all the other races, and we might've filled that spot by with another entrant."

But that's not how Ironman devotees interpreted the program. The tone of the reaction was summed up by one Slowtwitch user: "A thousand dollars for the privilege of cutting in line?"
Once WTC understood the ardency, and near unanimity, of the negative response, it did not try to explain or frame the program. It simply canceled the program, unwound it entirely, and refunded money to enrollees. WTC took a further extraordinary step of releasing a video of Fertic apologizing and explaining the mistake. "If you guys think we're wrong, then we're wrong," Fertic says in the video, which can be viewed below.



Customers seem to have accepted the apology and the video statement, and feel it was delivered in good faith. While more than 90 percent of those commenting on Slowtwitch and Facebook about the program were critical, probably three-quarters of respondents in both these online venues were supportive of Ironman after it rescinded the program. One thread on the Slowtwitch forum devoted to the rescinding of the program featured a response typical of many of those posting: "They have regained some of my respect."
Still, devotees have become wary of Ironman's judgment, if not its motives. Drawing back from an unpopular or ill-advised decision has become almost routine at WTC over the past year. Unpopular decisions its made include the 8 percent prize money recalculation rule; the 5 percent Kona qualifying rule; and the ban on compression socks at Ironman events. Each of these rules were announced only to be rescinded entirely, or replaced by newer versions of the rules.

Early in 2010 WTC announced new swimskin and wetsuit rules, only to have to draw back from their rules until USA Triathlon approved rule dispensations for Ironman events. WTC's dispensations were granted, taking effect months after they were originally to have been in force in competition.

More recently, WTC has come under fire for asking for, and getting, a 60-day blackout of triathlon events in Muncie, Indiana's only usable triathlon venue, causing many to question WTC's desire to be a "good neighbor" to triathlon's local indigenous triathlon infrastructures. WTC has since signaled a willingness to work with local RDs such as those in Muncie to make sure the interests of all necessary parties are considered.

There appears to be an important voice not in the room, or not taken seriously, when these tactical decisions are made at WTC. Nevertheless, WTC does hear the blowback when an unpopular or unwise decision is made, and quickly takes steps to mitigate or replace bad ideas with a better ones. The Ironman Access program, which enjoyed a life of about 28 hours, is an example.

  

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Comments

WTC rescinding Access program is not enough 4 out of 5 stars

IronPan

Reviewed by: Steve Handwerker, Nov 17 2010 8:14AM

Hr. Krabel's article is more than fair to WTC...it's an almost-unbiased piece of journalism. I'd be curious to see how soft Slowman would be on them. The San Diego Mafia, the super-tight inside circle...all covering each other's backsides. Enough. Someone in a position of influence needs to stand up and call it like it is. Lay down the gauntlet like the athletes do on race day.

Whether the lack of foresight in-house, the poor crisis PREVENTION, growing beyond its britches too quickly, Private Equity people pushing Fertic & Co....whatever the excuse is, WTC has been for many years arrogant as a company, and everyone knows this but so many people are willing to sweep it under the rug. That the company continues to make big blunders is a major red flag that needs to be dealt with by a board of directors that cares about its product. That the company continues to make big blunders is a sign that things need to change dramatically in management. It's also a sign of weakness -- someone is not minding the store and that the wrong people are place in whatever roles they should not be in.

Meanwhile, the Challenge Roth family has had one known blunder -- the first event in New Zealand. Even then, it wasn't a colossal disaster like WTC's issues.

Back to that sign of weakness: It's yet another opportunity for better business people, at Roth or elsewhere, to take more market share. And let's hope it happens. Challenge (pun intended) and competition is healthy.

WTC is not. It's overweight and making poor life decisions. That sounds like the bad boyfriend/girlfriend we all get rid of when realize it's become unhealthy and draining on ourselves.

Misleading 1 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Richard, Nov 4 2010 6:56PM

I'd say that Facebook at least was more like 99.99% critical. Also the program would have - by WTC's own math - made it far cheaper to enter all of the races than it is now. That money would have gone to WTC though, not the local economies, and the races wouldn't have had a volunteer. It's not that the stated goal was a bad one, just that the program would have made things worse (but WTC would have been compensated).

If you guys think we're wrong, then we're wrong 4 out of 5 stars

JoshKaptur

Reviewed by: Josh Kaptur, Nov 1 2010 12:06PM

Increased race sizes, ineffective marshaling, etc impact my race (from a safety and competition standpoint) far more than an optional program for which some athletes would pay a premium. Rescinding the "Access" program demonstrates that even when we're still too awe-struck with WTC events to vote with our wallets and go elsewhere, we do have a voice. But when WTC makes a policy change that doesn't require an announcement (like increasing field sizes by ~500), the consumer doesn't have an event to trigger mass outcry/hysteria like we saw with Access.

Still, I'd like to go on record and say that I want a less crowded swim and a better enforced set of rules -- and I'd be willing to pay for it.

WTC does it again!! 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by: LHM, Nov 1 2010 7:31AM

Another blunder from the Private Equity boyz!! They really should stick to doing deals and let a well respected retired professional triathlete run the WTC. In the real world the buck stops at the top (CEO) and normally two strikes and you are out !! Fancy telling Paula NF, Natasha B, Dave S, Mark A, Peter R, Tim D and many other icons of the sport that they are not welcome to race unless they have points - these are the athletes that the "kids" of the sport have plastered to their walls, they are the foundation and history of Ironman - talk about an insult to those athletes and their careers! This latest Access blunder is an insult to the intelligence of all triathletes around the globe, nothing more than a money grab!

WTC and Vegas 4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Al, Nov 1 2010 12:23AM

Resolution in Vegas remains to be seen. The Motion for Preliminary Injunction has been filed in Nevada. Court date is in 3 weeks. The judge can issue the injunction that day. The facts in this one are very strong. If an injunction is issued, WTC will no longer have a 70.3 Championship scheduled at Lake Las Vegas on 9-11-11. This may affect the 10-2-11 5150 date as well. As with all of the other bad press for WTC this week, this too could have been avoided with some old fashioned communication.

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