A trend toward prohibitive expense in triathlons?

Thanks to a tweet from Jeff 6, I learned that IronMan announced their IronMan Access Program yesterday.  Through Ironman Access, athletes can pay a $1000 subscription fee and gain priority registration to one or more IronMan events worldwide, and a second chance for the IronMan World Championships in Hawaii (oh, and other bennies... 2 VIP event tix, a Kona DVD, a magazine scrip, etc.).  

They also get a membership card.  Don't forget about the membership card.

This $1000 does not go toward registration for the actual IronMan distance events.  In 2011, the Florida IronMan General entry fee is $575.  IronMan Foundation charity spots go for twice that.  Of course, this does not include airfare, bike transport, meals, or lodgings.

So how valuable is early registration?  IronMan events do sell out, some more quickly than others.  For example, Ironman Louisville (KY) is still open; however, IronMan Florida has a history of closing out quickly*. The fact that some races sell out and others do not suggests that the IronMan access won't necessarily keep those unable to afford the program out of the sport; however, they may not be able to race at the location of their choosing.

The comments at the Triathlete Magazine forum and others seem to reflect a some of these views (or at least, they did at the time of this writing).  One poster argues that the new fee is one step toward locking the middle class out of the sport.  Others question the program's potential success.  However, triathlon is many things.  Among them, triathlons are expensive.  

I'm sure triathlons are expensive to put on.  But given the limited number of Access spots, unless this is to offset costs for everyone else, I don't see how the Access program would do more than generate more profit.

I am the example of a budget athlete: I compete against the clock, not at an elite level.  Triathlons are fun for me.  I don't require a high end bike. (I'll wait for those of you who train with me to stop laughing...)  If you gave me Zipp wheels or aerobars, I'd probably have no idea what to do with them.  But there are plenty of toys out there for people who do.

J6 pointed me in the direction of a New York times article that breaks down the average spending of a triathlete.  It repeated numbers I've heard before, from Danny Serpico and others - the average income of a triathlete is approximately $175,000**.  The average yearly expense of the sport? $22,000.

I wanted to compare the costs of a budget athlete with something that must be closer to the average... but then I found that someone had generated something like it for me.  Check out the SquawkFox article here.  Even the budget athlete can expect to spend a considerable amount. 

(Sidebar: I'd love to have the budget that their 'budget athlete' does.  Feel free to donate to the SwimWriteRun Massage Program. Kthx!)

Incidentally, the TriTalk podcast broke down the benefits in seconds-gained for some of those accessories.  He focused on olympic-distance, but the exercise was a cool one.  Check out that podcast, and others, here.

So... what's the big deal about another fee?

I think it's hard to say right now.  I'm curious what the response will be after this program has been in place for a while - Ironman Florida opens on Nov 1, so it may not be dramatically impacted by this new program.  

I do wonder if this will begin a trend toward increasing fees and generating perks for those who can afford it.  USA swimming saw a technological 'arms race' in bathing suits in recent past: lots of people were shelling out money for hydrodynamic suits, which led to the charge that speed was becoming something an athlete could buy.  I don't know that this holds much water (heehee... sorry..), since records have been broken since the institution of the ban. But it's a disturbing idea for those who truly love a sport and the essence of human competition... the idea that speed can be purchased, rather than trained.

Consider the spirit of IronMan: if the event is to highlight what is humanly possible, shouldn't the events be accessible to people even if they can't afford the perks program?

To be fair, high entry costs are not exclusive to IronMan events.  Recently, another runner told me about a 50-miler race that was set up on the same day as the JFK-50, by people who were tired of the high fee and the unpredictable lottery entry. (I didn't get the race info, but when I do, I'll post it up) Putting the two events side by side, I (the budget athelete) am likely to pick the rebel-race.  At least, most years.

Back to the questions... 

is the financial commitment to training and entering an event like Ironman already so great that it's silly to argue about another fee?  

Or is part of being an IronMan 'making it work' - by spending more efficiently so that you have every opportunity to get to the starting line?

Do you think that moves like this will give a bump to local/grass-roots/non-brand name events (like the example of the JFK50?)  

*Of course, I believe that Ironman Event volunteers have an opportunity to register ahead of the general public. So, if you have someone who can afford to travel to Florida and stay to volunteer for the event, is this so different than the extra $1000?  I wonder if IM will get less volunteers now...

**I do have a whole host of questions about this figure - are these people triathletes because they can afford it, or do are they successful people that naturally gravitate toward IronMan triathlons as a means to workout/compete. Just as there are many Type-A CEOs, I'm sure there are many Type-A athletes.  But that's another topic.

Have an opinion? Question?  Argument?  Leave it below.


  1. The membership card is LAMINATED. :)

  2. UPDATES: the program has sold out. Just that popular, or has it been shut down?

    Check out some of the fallout here: http://www.facebook.com/Ironmantri

  3. @ Jeff - I hear it's made of Unicorn skin. ;)

  4. Read all about the birth of, backlash against, and death of, the program.