Do you mind of I take a complete flyer here? Raw speculation, based only on the twitch I get in my knee when it senses something’s up?
Let’s start with this week’s news: "Premier Event Management has acquired three well-known triathlons, The Nation’s Triathlon, Philadelphia Triathlon and Lake Geneva Triathlon from Competitor Group, Inc.”
The acquiring company is owned by veteran race director Bill Burke, which is to say, these races are in good hands (heck, I think he already directs at least one and maybe all of these).
What today’s news conspicuously omitted is that the names of these races as of yesterday started with “TriRock.” This means there are only 2 remaining races in that series, which practically means you’ve already seen the final TriRock race. Why?
Could be two things. Could be that Competitor Group (CGI) has finally capitulated on triathlon and why not? Rock ’n’ Roll is where it makes its money. But it could be that CGI is clearing the deck so that it can sell the asset everybody wants: Rock ’n’ Roll.
I think it’s the latter and I think Ironman will be the buyer. Here are my reasons.
1. The Wanda Group didn’t simply buy a triathlon brand. Whatever your criticisms of Ironman (and I have a few) it produces the most complex and lengthy mass endurance events in the world, at a world-leading level, with a proven capacity to scale up. Ironman was too big a purchase, at a price too high, for it to remain simply the Ironman with which we’ve become familiar. The Wanda Group has much bigger ambitions and it is famous for moving at what even the Chinese call “Wanda speed."
2. Ironman’s president, Andrew Messick, believes in the notion of Run as a feeder for Tri.
3. Competitor Group was purchased by Calera Capital from Falconhead Capital in 2012. During the first half of 2016 the deal’s creditors, Ares Capital and Golub Capital, took control of CGI according to Sports Business Journal. Upcoming would be the 5th year the private equity firm has held CGI, already a full-term hold, but that’s moot. A PE firm may have a strategy for holding. But a lender? They’ll sell it at their earliest convenience.
4. Here are three suitors that make sense: Ironman, Life Time and Virgin Sport. The latter is the cleanest fit, as Richard Branson hired NY Road Runners’ Mary Wittenberg to build something. But I haven’t seen any progress in the year and a half since the announcement and I’m asea as to their plans. Life Time? Yes. Makes sense. If events are a revenue-generating marketing campaign for the clubs, there are a lot more running eyeballs that tri-balls. Tr-eyeballs. Get it? Ba dum tss. But I think they would’ve bought those TriRock races too. Which takes us to Ironman.
5. Ironman wouldn't want the TriRock races (it already divested itself of everything shorter than 70.3) and it won’t want CGI’s magazines (it already owned, and divested itself of, Lava Mag). The publishing arm is what Life Time might want. Its own magazine may be bigger than anything CGI Publishes, but Life Time preaches to its own. Triathlete Magazine, Velo News, Competitor Mag, these speak to a new and broader audience out there. For extra credit I’m predicting Life Time buys the publishing arm of CGI, though don’t count Felix Magowan out as a buyer of Velo News (which he sold to Falconhead to help form CGI in the first place).
CGI is not stipulating to my hogwash. Josh Furlow, President of CGI, said in the release you all read: “CGI remains dedicated to supporting triathletes of all abilities through our Triathlete media brand, while focusing on growing our core running events.” Its spokesman Dan Cruz echoed this when I asked him, saying, "On the media side, CGI remains 110% committed to the Triathlete brand. We just recently hired Erin Beresini as our new Editor-in-Chief and completed an extensive redesign of the triathlete.com website. Everything is business as usual moving into 2017.”
Still, I don’t have a good track record of getting told the whole truth in cases like this. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on anyone’s word. Just, since I have no right to a true and transparent knowledge of a private business’s inner-workings, to get it would be an unreasonable expectation.
So that’s my call. When the fight’s all done it’ll go to the score cards, and it’ll be Ironman in a majority decision. When will this prize fight take place? Sometime in 2017.