Felix Walchshofer on Cairns

SLOWTWITCH: Why it may be self-evident why you chose to terminate the license agreement with USM Events, I'd like to hear the reasons from you, rather than speak to my readers for you. Why did you choose to terminate the agreement?

FELIX WALCHSHOFER: Challenge Family and USM Events signed a multi year agreement to organize Challenge Cairns and we put on a very successful first year’s event in 2011. Just before the media announcement of USM/WTC I was informed that USM will be sold off completely to WTC and thereafter we asked Andrew Messick and Daryl Herbert to meet and discuss the situation and find a solution. Our proposals were denied and the only option presented to us was Ironman now organizing Challenge Cairns, which is unacceptable for us. We promised our athletes a Challenge race with the Challenge ethos and quality and we can no longer guarantee this will be delivered under USM's new ownership. As a result, it is no longer possible to run Cairns as a Challenge race for 2012.

ST: A lot of observers who watch Ironman sense that much, maybe all, of the "old regime" with which you and your father dealt is gone from WTC. There is an entirely new crew, and some have remarked to me that the former business posture struck by WTC—considered sometimes abrasive—is no longer evident. Do you also sense this, or do you need to see more, and observe longer, before you feel that this is a friendlier WTC? Or is all of this beside the point, and you made your decision based on other facts and considerations?

FW: We do not need to dwell on the past. We are living in present and focusing all our strength towards building a strong future for our sport and our athletes. Our focus is on creating extraordinary race experiences for Challenge athletes, not on multiplying commercial objectives.

ST: Challenge and USM Events built a strong brand in Cairns. I believe the race was sitting at 1300 entries 90 days prior to race start. I must assume there's a sizable license fee due you. Will you will seek to collect this license fee and consider USM in breach, or does your decision mean Challenge will forego this license fee out of principle?

FW: By USM breaching the contract we have a pending legal case against our former licensee the details of which I obviously can't discuss. In general we do not rush our decisions but think them through and only then react properly, which is also the case here.

ST: Challenge has worked hard to build a strong presence in Australasia. Is it correct to assume you'll find one or more replacements for the loss of the Cairns race to the Challenge Family?

FW: Of course we are already looking for a new partner for Australia, we have many Australian athletes who have raced with us not only in Cairns in 2011 but also in Roth, Wanaka and many other European races already. Last year we showcased what we are able to deliver and gave them an alternative to Ironman. Competition is always healthy for the costumers, as it forces the competitors to offer a better price ratio and set themselves apart by quality. This is what the athletes want and deserve, everybody can then decide what race and organization is the most appealing to them and choose. We have received a huge amount of great feedback from Australian athletes who totally understood our decision, who are disappointed to see the Ironman monopoly return and who are looking forward to Challenge returning to Australia in the near future.

ST: Has this episode soured you on the idea of licensing, and will you seek to downplay license arrangements, moving more toward ownership and production of your own Challenge events?

FW: Look Dan, both models have their pros and cons, but of course we are always looking into all options. To buy organizations and have the former owners as employees creates problems as well. Our focus is to provide the athletes with the best possible platforms to enjoy the sport we are all so passionate about.