Ironman Membership Program: Access For Who?
Even with the number of triathletes around the world multiplying faster than the national deficit, conquering the 140.6 mile Ironman distance remains a coveted goal shared by a relative few. Unfortunately, the Ironman is now poised to become not just a test of human endurance but also a test of wealth.
Early this week, the World Triathlon Corporation, the entity who owns the rights to the Ironman Triathlon around the world, announced a new method of entering one of their races: The Ironman Access Membership Program. Via ironman.com, the Access program is an “exclusive” membership program that provides its members the ability to register for Ironman Events 1 week prior to when public registration opens. In addition, it provides:
• Exclusive advance registration to Ironman events
• Two VIP passes per registered event
• One-year subscription to LAVA Magazine
• 2011 Ironman Lottery entry plus second chance in the Ironman Lottery program
• 2010 Ford Ironman World Championship NBC broadcast DVD
• 20 percent discounts on Ironman partner products at shopironman.com and on-site event retail stores
• Official membership ID card
With the 1000$ membership fee, which does not include actual race registration fees, this club is undoubtedly exclusive.
Prior to this program, the traditional methods of entering an Ironman included general registration or foundation slots. General registration is obviously the primary method of entering a race, and can be a nerve racking experience; some races sell out in mere hours after opening. The foundation slots enabled wealthy donors the ability to pay a large fee to race, with a portion of that fee going to charity. Finally, another win-win arrangement was that race volunteers, in exchange for their time, were allowed to register before general registration opened.
Judging from the multisport social feeds around the world, the Access Program has been one of the most controversial moves triathlon has seen for a long time. From the standpoint of the World Triathlon Corporation, the benefits and purpose of the Access Program is simple. The average salary of a triathlete is ~126,000$. Many athletes already spend hundreds of dollars traveling to race sites just to volunteer and to be able to register early. Why not charge a little extra money so racers can spend more time at work or with family instead of volunteering? Without a doubt, the cost associated with running an Ironman are extraordinary, and in this economy, everyone needs to find sources of increased revenue.
Ethically, this argument proves sounds to me. If you want to pay more for special treatment, more power to you. Such arrangements have been made in numerous clubs and organizations around the world before the time of recorded history. What is concerning to me is how this program alters the meaning of the Ironman. Personally, the allure and mystique of the Ironman has been its ability to showcase every man and woman’s body, spirit, and dedication to triumph over a seemingly insurmountable task.
The super athletes alone don’t make the race great. Its the regular Joes, the double amputees, and the cancer survivors who have seized the opportunity to prove to themselves, friends, and family what they can do that makes the Ironman special. The Access Program, threatens to upset this image by essentially stating that the Ironman welcomes all those with the dedication to train and endure, but truly caters to those with the endurance AND money. Will non members be view as second class athletes? And when will this trend stop? In the future, can we pay more money for a qualifying spot in Kona? Cash for a time deduction? How about save triathletes lots of time by allowing you to buy the right to call yourself an Ironman for a measly 100,000 dollars?
Of course, such ideas are purely hypothetical exaggerations, but the fact remains that in the eyes of the World Triathlon Corporation, money is more. Only time will tell how successful this program will be. In the meantime, I’ll just keep doing the simple stuff: swimming, riding, and running like there is no tomorrow.