Will Corporations Kill Endurance Racing—Or Save It?

From Outside Magazine
By Aaron Gulley

Life Time Fitness recently purchased the Dirty Kanza 200, the latest in a string of indie races to be scooped up by major corporations

Last month, Jim Cummins, the co-founder of the Dirty Kanza 200, announced that Life Time Fitness, a national chain of workout facilities, had agreed to purchase his event. The announcement caps the race’s stratospheric rise from a grassroots ride with 34 participants and a few pizzas afterwards in 2006 to the country’s premier gravel race with 2,750 cyclists and a three-day expo in 2018.

The acquisition of the DK200 adds to Life Time’s growing portfolio of endurance races, including Colorado’s Leadville Race Series and the Chequamegon Fat Tire Festival in northern Wisconsin. It also marks a trend of large corporate sponsors snapping up small races and events. Most notably, Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese conglomerate, purchased the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), owner of the Ironman Trademark, for $650 million in 2015. Since then, Dalian has added both the Absa Cape Epic and the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series to its portfolio.

These sorts of acquisitions might be good for business, but it’s easy to wonder how they will affect the quality and experience of the races that are absorbed. “I think there’s a lot of conversation about how big corporate owners might homogenize events,” says Mike McCormack, founder of the Breck Epic, which Dalian courted for purchase this year. “You can make a case that these sorts of deals can improve an event. You can also make a case that they do not.”

For his part, after careful reflection and lots of input from the city of Breckenridge, much of it negative, McCormack decided to pass on WTC’s purchase offer. “We felt like we measured the soul of our event differently than they would have,” he says. WTC’s intent to grow the event from its current roster of 600 riders to 1,500 after four years was one of the biggest reasons McCormack declined, as he worried about the impact on the trails and the town. “They wanted to make it really big,” he explains. “But bigger isn’t better. Better is better.”

Eric Mamula, mayor of Breckenridge, says it was a difficult choice, but that he feels McCormack made the right decision. “It would have been great for business, but the truth is we’re already busier than we have ever been,” says Mamula. “We’re a little town, and there’s already event fatigue here. There’s always something going on. So I think people just worried about the Breck Epic getting bigger and bringing in more people. I think people didn’t want it to turn into a Leadville.”

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