Ironman CEO Interview - part 3

In the final instalment of my interview with Geoff Meyer I ask your questions about IPO’s, the place of Ironman and the future.

Roxii: A few of the wags on Transitions asked when the IPO was happening with one stating that “if I’m getting reamed I may as well own some of the company”

GM: The IPO coming out, I can’t see that coming. There is no two ways about it we are owned by Providence Equity, and they are good bunch. They get drilled down, it’s all about money etc., but at the end of the day they are putting a lot of money into the sport to make it bigger and better and I think that is great. New websites and data bases, global point systems that we have been talking about. Sure, one day they will sell it and move onto the next thing. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I think it’s a good thing, you will then get another fresh set of good ideas and things to go into it. Will it go public? I don’t think so.

Roxii: Do you see yourselves as an event company or a Membership company, and is there any plans to capitalise on what is essentially a “rich white guy” sport.

GM: I suppose we are all of the above. We are definitely and events organisation first and foremost. We are a bit of a tourism organisation on top of that, every event we do be it here or overseas is helped out by governments because we deliver such good economic benefits. A member base, probably yes, and we want to build that. You just met our new CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) , Jeff Gillies and he has some great ideas, and so have the new guys in Tampa. Ironman is a brand with history, and without our history we are nothing. But we know there is more competition out there and we need to look after our loyal customers, we need to be better at offering them more bits and pieces. So I think the transfer policies, the loyalty systems those kinds of things add value to that membership. I think we are better and we want to continue to be better so offering more to our customers is paramount to us surviving and growing and getting better. Because there is more competition out there, Challenge is opening up races and are losing races we are opening up races in different areas and we want to be perceived as the best athlete experience out there. So yeah I’d say all of the above.

I then began thanking Geoff for his time and expressed a hope that “Transitions” could, on occasion, call on them to clarify certain situations should they arise…

GM: Feel free, give myself or Jeff a call. Maybe it goes against what “Transitions” is (laughs), you sort of want the six pages of banter about how the swim start isn’t going to work ….. I mean we are never going to please everyone, we know that. But the reason I actually emailed back to Ben (Pee Pee) more so was his comment about the culture of the company, and I think that person he spoke to is actually outside the company not from within. You won’t find a harder working bunch of people out there. Our guys have been up since 3am this morning and probably won’t finish till 1 or 2 am tomorrow morning, the work their backsides off, they take it really personally , especially the criticism. They like criticism, criticism is gold at the end of the day because it is a ticket to getting better. They work hard they have a great culture and they do everything they can to make these events bigger and better. The criticism that we don’t care is all wrong you wouldn’t run this business if you didn’t. It’s not the big moneymaking machine that everyone think that it is.

This leads to another question that I think I have seen on Transitions. With all the new events coming on board, and I don’t just look at what Challenge is doing, but I look at the whole endurance market. You have City to Surf, Round the Bay in a day, Brisbane to Gold Coast bike rides, I worry about Dave Hansen’s corporate tri series, I worry about the two Gatorade series, those events aren’t selling out the way they used to and they are the feeders to the Ironman events at the end of the day.

Roxii: Are we losing the weekend warrior who used to do these events, are they off doing Tough Mudder and those sorts of things?

GM: Exactly and that’s why we need to be better. If people are going off and doing Tough Mudder and not doing Ironman that’s not good. But if the general endurance market is flat then it’s going to affect us at the end of the day. The events are expensive to run and I’m happy to tell you that our two biggest events, expense wise, just so your readers understand Melbourne Ironman and Noosa have a 3.5million dollar budget to run each of those events.

Roxii: Entry fees don’t cover that do they?

GM: Exactly, and that’s where I want our customers to work it out, entry fees only cover about 2 million of that. Then you have to look at sponsorship and that’s why we got government on board as partners. I’ll tell you one thing closing the roads for Ironman Melbourne was 1.1 million dollars. So the whole thing about us making a motza, is just not true.

Roxii: Maybe you could start charging a toll for the bikes (Laughs)

GM: It’s a balancing act to make all those things work, and more competition makes it more interesting. I worry more about the other mass participation events than I do about what challenge is doing. Because I know how much a 70.3 is to stage in a regional area, I know how much it costs in a city. I know how much an Ironman costs. If you only have 3 or 4 hundred people in there your pockets are going to be burnt and that’s where it’s going to be interesting. We want to keep all these other events, we want Super Sprint events busting at the seams, I want Stubbsy’s (Kerry Stubbs) events in Queensland busting at the seams because they are the grass roots of the sport. If everyone wants to forget the grass roots and jump in a run half Ironman races then we are going to go backwards very quickly.

Roxii: If you had of said 15 years ago there would be this many Ironman and half Ironman distance races in Australia you would have been called crazy.

GM: To be honest the Australia and New Zealand market is probably saturated, and that’s why we have to try and be better. If you look at mountain biking about 8 years ago it had a massive boom and there were events on every weekend, 50% of those events aren’t there anymore but it’s starting to pick up again now. When you look at the Gran Fondo market, they were everywhere now about 60% of them are still going and they aren’t selling out as quickly. Triathlon went through the roof, but now we are holding our numbers and we are growing our events which is great and what we need to strive to do and we can only do that by running better events. We do that by winning people’s loyalty and making them vote with their feet, because they want to do our events and because they are bigger and better and all the clichés.

Roxii: …and by answering the tough questions.

GM: I like tough questions, often people don’t ask the tough questions. That’s why I looked at it and thought “Transitions”, there is a lot of people on Transitions and there can be a lot of ill-informed views on Transitions and if we can set up a way where you can ask direct questions then I’m happy to do that. We are looking at doing a lot more podcasts and getting athletes to come and do an interview with Pete Murray but we are happy to get on line and answer questions as well. I think having that access to us is good. But we are a big company and running events in Malaysia and all sorts of places so we can’t be everything to everyone and we are never going to please everyone but we hope everyone respects what we are doing and sees the quality of our events and wants to continue with us.

At this point Geoff was informed that Nick Gates had just crashed on the bike course and was in medical, so we finished up and Geoff went to check on Gatesy.

I’d like to personally thank Geoff Meyer and Jeff Gillies for giving me some of their precious time on race day and answering, without hesitation, the questions you wanted answered.