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were critical, probably three-quarters of respondents in both these online venues were supportive of Ironman after it rescinded the program.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.