Is prize money good for OCR as a business?

Todays post is going to be very different than the norm. I wanted to talk about this topic, and voice my opinions, as well as hear what other people had to say. I’ve seen a variety of these discussions on facebook and reddit, but the majority of them seem to be focused on the wrong thing, in my opinion.

So unless you’ve been living under a rock, every OCR fan heard the news a few weeks ago that Tough Mudder was no longer going to be giving out prize money to its race winners. They emailed the pro athletes and advised them of the change for 2019. Obviously this was pretty big news in the OCR community. Hearing this probably had an affect on the Pro athletes, and I’m sure many made changes to their race schedule based on this news.

Shortly after this, Spartan Race released an announcement saying that they were raising the amount of prize money that they were giving out to 2 million dollars. This was a huge announcement, and from a marketing perspective it was genius. The potential was there for them to snap up any disgruntled Tough Mudder Pro athletes. Also anyone that had negetive feelings about the TM announcement, were instantly turned positive by the Spartan news.

The knee jerk reaction was to say that TM was going out of business and that now Spartan was clearly going to dominate the OCR industry.  People were saying this is what we need to make OCR a “real” sport and to get it into the Olympics. There was a lot of positivity about this prize money change.

But I have several issues with this and I don’t think it’s as big a deal as people are thinking it is.

First off, lets look at who these changes affects:

For Pro athletes, there’s really no debate. The TM news is clearly a negative for them, while the Spartan news is positive. If they are racing to win money, which I’m sure alot of them are, then they don’t have any reason to be at TM. Plus they now have a higher earning potential at Spartan.

But the people who win prize money are a very small amount of the total numbers of racers who show up for an OCR. So what about them? What do these changes to TM and Spartan do for the Competitive racers who are pushing themselves, but aren’t at the level to consistently win prize money?

Well, nothing really. TM not awarding money means maybe they won’t even sign up for the Competive heats of TM. For people who race Spartan, well it doesn’t really benefit you either.

So why is everyone so excited about this news???

Honestly, I have no idea. This is going to sound harsh, but Pro athletes racing at a venue aren’t a draw, in my experience. Ask a hundred people why they are at a race and 99 of them will say: for fun, to be with their team or gym members, or to see what they are capable of. I have yet to meet the person that has said: I’m here just to see *random pro athlete* race!

I’m not saying this to disparage the Pro/Elite athletes. Many of them are very nice, and friendly people. I’m just looking at this from a business perspective.

Now I know several people are going to say: well all this prize money can legitimize the sport and move it towards becoming more recognized. Sure, that’s true. But again, unless your goal is to make Pro racing your career, how does that effect you?

It doesn’t. But poor officiating does.

Every year in the facebook Spartan group pages, we see the same complaints. Little to no actual officiating for the Age Group/Competitive waves once the top ten or so athletes have gone through. People who signed up to race Elite or Age Group skipping burpees, skipping obstacles, etc. Also in a 20-30 obstacle race, even if you’re at the front of your Age Group, once the majority of the Elites and the first few Age Groupers have gone through, cameras are down and judges are in the tents reviewing the tapes.

Now look, I get it. They can’t spend all day officiating and reviewing the tapes for every single racer who signs up for Elite/Age Group waves.

However, wouldn’t it make more sense to spend money on making your current product better? Having more officials will make for a better product. Also, they should look to eliminate “volunteer” officiating and instead look into hiring trained officials. The fact that someone can sign up to be an official just so they can earn a free race is kind of crazy to me. We’ve all seen the horror stories of officials telling racers incorrect or just outright wrong rules or directions at numerous races. That can not happen. That kind of bad experience ruins a race for a future customer.

Also, there are various other quality of life changes that Spartan could do to make the race experiences better. For example, the showers and changing facilities after a race could be improved. several races last year, the water either ran out or wasn’t working. Imagine finishing a race covered in mud or clay with no chance to clean off. This happened many times last year.

More manpower at registration and timing tents would also be a great change. Who wants to spend 20 to 30 minutes after racing for hours, in a line waiting for your Trifecta medal? Not me, but I have at several venues. Don’t even get me started on the dual lines for trifecta medals at West Virginia.

From a business standpoint, I don’t see how having 2 million dollars in prize money at a Spartan Race brings them more money overall, since the majority of their customer base isn’t there to win any money.

I also think not having prize money at Tough Mudder races, doesn’t spell doom for their business model. If anything, it allows them to focus on their main audience and give them a good core racing experience.

What do you guys think about this? Pumped about thr Pros/Elites making more money? Why or why not?

Looking forward to the feedback.





  1. I mean … 2 million bucks just for a handful?? for me, I don’t think it helps the majority at all … think about it… what the average guy or girl who sign up on the open heats…
    there are many ways for Spartan to improve the overall satisfaction of the great masses, as you mentioned before having a volunteer to check and enforce the rules is not realistic.
    Also… how about instead of 2 mil, they reduce the cost of the races? i think the season pass is appropriately priced but if you think about the regular people who race here and there, and having to pay full price (without any discount or coupons) it is a huge chunk … maybe make it more affordable to those who JUST do it for the fun of it and there are not even close to get a single penny of the competitive purse… I don’t know… it’s just me…


  2. Well reasoned and I am in complete agreement. The prize money affects very few people, and the beauty of OCR is the fact that the common person is out bettering themselves as opposed to watching it at home on the TV. The standard Spartan prizes were laughably small and would barely cover the cost of race and travel if a pro depended on it. Hobie Call got out of it because he HAD to win to break even on the trip, and it became more stressful than it was worth. Aside from admiring what a trained body can do, I generally don’t give a rat’s ass about who is at a race, I’m there to race against myself and be with friends. The day this isn’t enjoyable is the day I find another hobby.

    Liked by 1 person

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