Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My opinion on the current state of the OCR world

As with any new ‘fad’, there is a period of time that the world is trying to figure how it all works together and there is that roller-coaster effect until things settle down to a nice steady ride.  In geek engineer speak, there’s too much proportional and integral factor and not enough derivative to settle the sine wave to a nice flat line.  This is where we are with the Obstacle Course Racing industry, affectionately known as Mud Runs.

Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, to name a few, started this craze in the United States and it wasn’t long before everybody wanted a piece of the action.  What started with a few thousand people at a handful of events in the country just a few short years ago has turned into millions of participants at thousands of events all over the country.  Hotbed regions like Florida and Ohio have developed with saturation of events happening every weekend.  With Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan making millions of dollars, everybody wants a piece of that pie.  So we turn to the basic economic principles of supply and demand.  With many new things there is a demand in the beginning but very limited supply.  The supply chain grows and it’s the responsibility of the suppliers to try and not flood the market beyond the demand.  The consumer base will hopefully increase but not necessarily at a linear rate to the supply and the hope is that at some point the 2 shall meet at some happy medium and the market settles out.

The Obstacle Course Racing industry has seen its up’s and down’s this year.  Since I’m from Ohio, I will speak from that market.  In the spring we had Centurion cancel due to low registrations, they were honest with their reason and issued full refunds.  As the season progressed, Superhero Scramble cancelled Ohio for reasons of damaged equipment from a previous race and Illinois for fear of the Spartan herpes, more commonly known as swimmer’s itch.  One event I was really looking forward to was 7-SAR.  They never really offered a reason for cancelling but they did give full refunds and even a free race to one of their other events, which I still don’t think they’ve pulled one off.  Then there’s Hero Rush, they already had a bad reputation in the Indiana region for cancelling last year and not giving refunds but they appeared to have their stuff together this time.  First they cancelled the Kentucky event which was quickly followed by the Ohio event.  Both of which were given full refunds and it’s a good thing because that was quickly followed by them filing for bankruptcy protection with no refunds to their remaining events.  I should probably mention that I was registered for every one of these events except for Superhero Illinois.  I believe that the true reason for all of these cancellations is low registration.  The Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana/Illinois area is a hot bed for OCR events as there is an event every weekend within 150 miles or less from my house.  You just got real jealous and ready to move to Ohio, didn’t you?  75% of these events are local home-grown events that are put on once per year and most of them are incredible events.  Some of them are way better than any of the afore-mentioned national franchise events.

So let’s get to the bottom of this.  Who’s responsible?  Are we just riding the waves?  I say we are all at fault and yes this is part of the cycle to settle the industry.  First, the organizers are responsible for their greed and inability to properly organize.  Everyone see’s the dollar signs that the big boys have been making and think they can take a piece of the action.  What they don’t do is the research required to ensure they maximize their attendance with the least amount of effort.  Everybody rush to Ohio and host an OCR!  If you build it they will come!  All the while there is already 3 events in the state on the same day that are half the price.  There’s nothing wrong with that as long as they understand that they might only get 500 registrants just like the local event 1 hour away.  The local events are very happy with 500 registrants because their overhead is considerably lower than the guy from Florida that has a good following down there and decides to pack up semi’s and staff for a month and try to build the same course in Ohio.  These events need 1000, 2000 people or more just to break even and they simply are not going to get that attendance without doing a whole lot of research and marketing.  They come with their registration costs of $80+ and think people will be happy with that when the event 2 counties over is $50.  They charge $10 for offsite parking and $20 for spectators when the guy in the next town has all that for free.  It’s a very dog-eat-dog market that’s developed in just a few short years and most people don’t even realize it.

Now, the participants are just as much at fault.  90% of the people going to these events will only do 1, maybe 2 of these per year and it’s just so they can get a cool Facebook profile picture or get drunk with their friends.  I think this number is decreasing as the popularity increases.  The remaining 10%, which would inversely be increasing as popularity increases, are out for other reasons.  First and foremost, they’re addicted, guilty as charged.  They may be doing this as part of a routine or resolution to get fit and healthy.  They may even actually be competing and winning cash at some of these events.  Whatever the reason, they will go to 10, 20 or even 30 of these events in a given year.  To do that, they will do whatever it takes to go as cheap as possible and many times will go volunteer for half the day just so they can run it for free or a reduced cost.  This mentality typically means one of two things: they will wait until the very last minute to register and pray for a last minute Groupon or Living Social coupon or they will register very early.  Remember, with the likes of Groupon, the event only gets about half of the coupon price which is typically half of the standard price so they are only making 25% on average with those.  The bulk of them don’t plan that far in advance for all of these events and will inevitably wait until the last minute.  This attitude is detrimental to the events.  As much as we have fun at these events, we have to remember that this is a business and these ‘groups’ are out to make money.  When an event needs to know that they are at least going to break even, they have to make decisions at least 6 to 8 weeks in advance of the event just to be able to ‘pull the plug’ when most of your die-hard core runners haven’t even decided which one they are going to run that weekend.  As humans we are natural procrastinators.  If we want these events to succeed, we need to do as much as we can to support them in every way possible.  If this means actually planning out our year in advance and getting the early registration price, then do it.

My suggestion to the guys that are trying to take parts of the OCR country by storm, go to another part of the country.  Go to Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Montana or any other place where the people are starving for these events.  If you want to come to the Midwest or any other region that is already saturated, do your homework, plan way in advance, set the date and start pushing the event or be ready to be happy with 500 registrants.  As participants, we can’t sit back and wait for the last minute Groupon.  You need to understand that the underlying reason for the Groupon is because the event is in trouble and needs more people and more exposure.  The simple fact that there is one should be a sign.  Register early and get 10 of your friends to register with you.  There are many Facebook groups out there with thousands of people that go to these events.  Get organized and help the industry by supporting these events.

Hi everyone!  My name is Kevin Jones, otherwise known as the Crazy Mudder Mucker, and I am an OCR addict.  This is just my humble opinion on the current state of the OCR ‘union’.


  1. Well said Crazy Mudder Mucker! I just recently had a discussion with a fellow OCRer about this very topic and you and I see eye to eye on many things. I stated that the high cost is neccesary for a quality race because quite frankly you get what you pay for. Early registratin should be rewarded with low cost, not last minute. Although she stated that fixed pricing is best. Hard to argue with that. Just like any industry there need to eventually be a quality board to insure race quality and provide a quality system as well as possible ranking and certification. Who is gonna step up for that? Much like Extreme sports nobody is gonna be happy until its an Olympic event! Prost!

  2. I struggle with the idea of staggered pricing that increases as time goes on. On one hand, I understand the desire to try to force people to register early and reward them for doing so. On the other, I think you will get less and less people registering as time goes on and this is what forces events to turn to Groupon and then the early birds just get pissed. I agree with the approach of one consistent rate from day one. I honestly think no event is worth more than $50.

  3. Excellent article. I am a Race Director and OCR addict in sunny, saturated Florida and have to say, you hit a lot of nails on the head here.

    Fyi i am expanding nowhere near Ohio in


    Garfield: Fearless Events of FLA Inc

    1. Thanks Mud Mingle .. although I think your race would go over well up here, there's just too many other events. Stick around, this too will change .. make sure your safety bar is in place and keep your arms and legs in the ride at all times .. we are about to take another round on the roller coaster ;)

  4. Another one bites the dust and it's damaging our industry. See this news clip and read her comments.

  5. Wow there is so much much to learn about the business model for these types of things.