Messick on Kona, Vegas, Lottery

SLOWTWITCH: You're four months into your role as CEO of World Triathlon Corporation. You moved 3000 miles to take it, and you gave up a plum, high profile position to do it. Is WTC everything you hoped it would be?

ANDREW MESSICK: WTC is a good company with a lot of really good people. But we need to get better in a number of areas. We are not as good as we need to be with our professional and age-group athletes — we need to do more than provide them with safe and well-organized races. We cannot forget the magnitude of the commitment our athletes make when they race with us, especially at the Ironman distance. We are not as good as we need to be in several outward facing areas. We need to get better and we will. It is going to be fun.

SLOWTWITCH: How's Tampa treating you? Do you miss Los Angeles, where we can't seem to keep our famous women out of jail or rehab? Do you need a care package? Maybe a Kardashian? Are you still a Lakers fan? Assuming there still is an NBA?

ANDREW MESSICK: We are enjoying Tampa. It is a great endurance and sports town. I do the 5:30 a.m. Saturday run with the Blue Sharks when I am in town, I ride up in St. Antonio and there is a great pool only 200 meters from my home. There is a strong local sports culture as well. Unfortunately there isn't an NBA team here, so I will have to travel to Orlando to watch my Lakers.

SLOWTWITCH: You just oversaw your first Hawaiian Ironman. I'm sure you had to be very happy with both the Vegas and Kona races. What went well, what do you think you still have room to improve?

ANDREW MESSICK: This was my first trip to Kona and it reinforced what I knew about the event, that it is far more than just a World Championship. Kona is a unique celebration of the sport of triathlon. The team has done a fine job in finding the right balance between producing a World Championship caliber event and a providing a stage on which we celebrate triathlon.

The 70.3 World Championship was terrific, too. The Vegas course was hard and the racing was good. It think that having the 70.3 World Championship five weeks before Kona on a tough course adds a great deal to the events.

SLOWTWITCH: You can try to get more money from each customer - selling additional goods and services to him - or you can try to get more customers. I'm sure you'll try to do both, but, will you try to drive the top line mainly through adding customers, or providing more purchase opportunities for your customers?

ANDREW MESSICK: We want to grow and to continue to provide our athletes more and better opportunities to race and to be involved in our sport. We think that there continues to be potential for us to do more within the endurance space. I am interested in trying new things and seeing what types of innovative race formats are possible.

SLOWTWITCH: In the past, when you were with AEG, picking a specific endemic licensee, or sponsor, or partner, seemed not to be your model. Rather, several bike companies might conspire to provide the corral of partners that altogether comprised your partners. Might that be a template for future endemic partnerships? Or are you certain you'll stick with the single licensee-per-category format?

ANDREW MESSICK: We had great success at the Amgen Tour of California by being mostly non-exclusive within the industry. Every sport is of course different but for our sport to grow, we'd like to find ways for as many industry players as possible to be involved with us. There will always be an important role for exclusivity but being non-exclusive within the industry means among other things that different bike companies can promote their sponsored athletes at Kona or our other races. That is good for our professional athletes, consumers, the industry and us.

SLOWTWITCH: While the Ironman and 70.3 series are unmitigated hits, I'm sure you were aware even before you came aboard that the 5i50 series was an uncertain endeavor. Since then, its trajectory is flat to downward. Will you continue to try to energize this series, or are you going to pull the plug and focus your efforts on your more successful silos?

ANDREW MESSICK: Shorter distance races are important for professionals and age groupers, so we believe that there is an important role for 5150 to play. Throughout our sport's history, athletes have raced multiple distances and our athletes tell us all of the time that they want to race multiple distances. We understand that there are limits to how many Ironman races any athlete can do in a period of time without undue wear and tear on their bodies. Shorter distance racing can help solve that problem. We have some ideas that we'll be sharing soon on how we are going to tie together the different race series for both professionals and age-groupers.

SLOWTWITCH: So, bottom line, the 5i50 is returning for 2012?


SLOWTWITCH: The current headline on Ironman's site announces, an "Ironman Offer to Challenge Cape Town Athletes." I'm guessing this idea was not yours. This sounds like the tone-deafness common in the pre-Messick WTC, especially on the heels of the just-canceled Clearwater 5i50. I don't see any similar offer tendered to WTC's existing displaced customers. Am I the one with the blind spot?

ANDREW MESSICK: The offer we made to Challenge athletes was my idea, and I am glad we did it. Having just gone through the cancellation of Ironman China, we have a unique perspective on the impact on athletes of canceling a 140.6-mile race. For the athletes, a canceled ultra-distance race is a huge issue. In China, the question we heard most from athletes was, "How do I find another race?" Because of our global portfolio, we were able to find other races for our Ironman China athletes. Challenge Cape Town athletes are not so fortunate — there are no other Challenge races until late January and the only ultra–distance events left in 2011 are ours. Even though all four are sold out, we felt it was the right thing to do to provide the impacted athletes the opportunity to compete.

SLOWTWITCH: You reached out personally to groups of pro athletes when you were in Boulder and again in San Diego. They seem to appreciate your approach, and are giving you the benefit of the doubt. Are you hearing that as well? Do you think it'll be relatively easy to bridge the gap between current Kona qualifying and prize money and the suggestions the best pros like Chrissie Wellington might have for WTC?

ANDREW MESSICK: We are at the beginning of what we hope is a very productive dialogue with our professional athletes. We've taken a lot of their feedback into account as we've started developing our 2012 plans. Without getting into details, I think it is fair to say the amount of money available to pro athletes in 2012 will be enhanced substantially and we'll look for new ways to get athletes and fans excited about racing. We will also look for the professionals to play a more active role in promoting our sport and our races and we hope that this will make them even more relevant to both age group athletes and sponsors.

SLOWTWITCH: You're changing your lottery rules.

ANDREW MESSICK: The week in Hawaii reinforced the correctness of our decision to change the Ironman Lottery rules: Kona is so important culturally to the sport of triathlon – for many serious triathletes, making it to the starting line in Kona is a life-list event. Kona shouldn't only be a race for the super-fast but also for the super-committed. And lady luck will still be able to grant entries too.

SLOWTWITCH: What prompted you to tinker with a system that - while by no means perfect - at least was accepted by your customers?

ANDREW MESSICK: I was sitting at the 10th Ironman European Championship welcome dinner in Frankfurt this past July. The emcee invited the athletes who had participated at all 10 races up on the stage. There were a dozen or so and I was struck that few of them looked lean and hyper-fast. Thy were clearly committed athletes – Frankfurt 10 times in a row! — but they didn't look like prototypical Kona Qualifiers. It got me thinking about the current Ironman Lottery process and how we could revitalize it to give athletes like that a better shot at racing Kona. On November 1 we’ll launch registration for our 2012 Ironman Lottery with several changes that I’m excited about.

SLOWTWITCH: No good deed goes unpunished, so, for those who'll want to punish this new lottery effort, what's your response to them?

ANDREW MESSICK: The Ironman Legacy Program will recognize those athletes who have a long history of racing Ironman but never gotten to the starting line at Kona. We want to give them that opportunity. Going back to the Frankfurt 10-timers, their accomplishment is in many ways as impressive as those who qualify at other Ironman events. It is a different type of accomplishment, but I would be hard pressed to say that finishing 12 Ironman races is in any way easy.

SLOWTWITCH: Championing finish consistency is not the only change to the lottery system. What other changes are you making?

ANDREW MESSICK: The main lottery change is to add weighting to the Lottery. So an athlete who has been a lottery participant for many years will have better odds than a first timer. I believe that it is fair for longer term athletes to have better odds to get a Kona slot than a first time lottery entrant. There are a number of other races that use weighted lotteries, and I think it is an appropriate way to reward our longer-term customers.