Like many sports, obstacle course racing saw its race season (and revenue) disappear because of the pandemic. I have been critical of Spartan in the past, whether it's questioning their approach to getting people off their couch or Joe De Sena's thoughts on work-life balance or the pandemic in general.
As they, like many other obstacle course race organizers, try to recover and adjust in the post-COVID world, Spartan continues to make moves that are confusing at best, alienating and self-defeating at worst. Spartan doesn't document much of this but this is one of the pluses of social media. Case in point:
To wear the Spartan shirt or not wear the shirt, that is the question: Because of COVID, Spartan didn't issue any pro contracts for elite OCR runners. But they may or may not require winners to wear Spartan shirts on the podium in order to receive their prize money (it depends on who you ask). Pros say they have been required to wear Spartan shirts on the podium in the past, but Spartan is saying they don't. O-kay. Many OCR elites have other sponsors who actually pay them and these runners feel more loyal (or contractually obligated) to wear their actual sponsors on their shirts.
In order to qualify for the 2022 Spartan Pro Team you need to...? Spartan is looking forward to issuing 2022 pro contracts but they haven't decided the criteria they'll use just yet. But don't worry, if you live in an area that took COVID more seriously than say, Florida, and therefore had limited opportunities to race in your area, they'll factor that in. Trust them, it's going to be fine.
Spartan Games is coming back: I loved the first iteration of the Spartan Games. But there was frustration from participants in how the competition was run, and I heard anecdotally through podcasts that other OCR athletes were asked to participate but didn't because Spartan refused to tell them what the Games entailed. I understand Spartan wanting to keep the element of surprise, but if you watched the Games, it was intense and people got injured. For elite athletes, their bodies are their livelihood, so I respect the decisions of those that didn't want to take that risk.
Spartan Cross League: This sounds kind of cool and based on another podcast I listened to, could be a way for the sport to get more exposure through televised events. Then I found out that like Dekafit copying Hyrox, this is not a new concept. Sigh.
Spartan, I mean, OCR becoming an Olympic sport: Every Olympics, the discussion around OCR becoming an Olympic sport is discussed. I'm working on a separate post on this topic (stay tuned!), but Spartan recently came out with this article that proclaims how great Spartan is and why Spartan, oh wait, OCR should become an Olympic Sport.
So what does all of this mean? A few things:
If you're pissing off the pro athletes in your sport that's going to have a downward spiral effect on your brand. We're not talking athletes with millions of dollars in endorsements. This is a small, niche sport. Many of the pro contracts were basically travel stipends.
If you're pissing off the pro athletes in your sport you're not going to draw these athletes to your events, thus decreasing visibility of both your brand and the sport of obstacle course racing.
This sport is not just about Spartan. These athletes, like many other athletes in other sports, have their own sponsorships and these sponsors deserve to promote their brands too in the athletes they sponsor (and potentially pay better than Spartan).
If you keep copying others' ideas, you won't be seen as the pioneer or leader you self-proclaim you are. You'll be seen as a follower.
If OCR becomes an Olympic sport, it will happen because the OCR industry works together to make it happen, and not because Spartan dictated it.
I am far from an elite athlete, but as long as I continue to do Spartan races I feel like I'm an enabler. One of my 2020 goals was to run a Trifecta (run a Sprint, Super and Beast race in a year). Once I complete the Beast in September, I'm not sure I want to be associated with this brand.
What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Let me know your thoughts below.