The little pond of obstacle racing has been shaken with the news yesterday about the restructuring of the BattleFrog Race Series, resulting in multiple races cancelled, and many employees laid off.
As with any big news, there are more questions than answers.
What does this mean? For the racers? For the staff? For the industry?
The impact is, indeed, threefold.
Many racers are losing their favorite obstacle series. BF was not the best employer, however, they always boasted customer satisfaction. We loved their races.
Many are pissed. Despite the company’s promise to refund all registrations, some have already booked flights and hotels to race locations (the Michigan race is cancelled mere four days before the event was scheduled).
Others have been counting on the upcoming BF races to qualify for the OCRWC, and will have to scramble to find an alternative event.
Season pass holders, past volunteers and ambassadors are also affected. In an interview with 3-seconds, Romero Ortiz said that every outstanding obligation the company planned to deliver on. I, for one, would be curious to see how the free race entries and potential future races that the season pass holders would be missing out on will be addressed.
For a racer, it always sucks to see a race go away. Yet… please remember that this is NOT ABOUT YOU. Some folks seem to be taking this decision way too personally.
“How dare they?”, they exclaim in their righteous indignation.
How dare a business restructure a business? [Yes, this is a rhetorical question].
Now, if it WAS all about me, I may be lamenting the fact that I would never get my damn band back.
COMPANY / STAFF
BF has been leaking money from the beginning – an issue that they attempted to fix in a series of seemingly half haphazard moves, from laying off all race managers to cancelling Sunday events to bringing on a new CEO.
The company has been long criticized for poor management – some disconcerting recurring themes included long hours, low pay and lack of recognition of its employees. While most racers were happy with the events the company put on, I’d argue that for most companies, valuing customers over its staff is usually the beginning of the end.
BattleFrog was sued for patent infringement by ModTruss, a company that specializes in “custom, safe, temporary building solutions”, and promises to build almost anything, anywhere and to hold any weight. They provide modular engineering solutions, such as hinges, mounts and, yes, trusses, and support anything from movie sets to sporting events. [For a titillating discussion of rectangular beams, accused obstacles and the exact definition of the word “same”, go here.]
While ModTruss lost the lawsuit, no doubt, was yet another money drain for BattleFrog.
At least on the surface, BF did not seem concerned. Until… it was.
A business decision is a business decision, yet the direct impact on staff is the most heartbreaking aspect of any restructuring. Many BF employees lost their jobs overnight, including a wave of recent hires, some of whom relocated across the country for an opportunity that seemed so lucrative at the time.
Many of these folks also learned who their friends were. In the last 24 hours, members of the community showed their true colors – some mostly preoccupied with getting “the scoop”, spreading rumours, and putting together frog-themed memes, while others reached out to the individuals most affected, offering support.
With one of the big dogs out of running, other obstacle race series get a bit more of the pie. Already, racers are looking at their freed up calendars, and checking out Savage Race, Spartan, Bone Frog, Tough Mudder events.
Yet BF restructuring is more than just the outcome of poor management – it signals a bigger shift in the industry.
The registrations continue to decrease (a much anticipated BF Toronto 2016 brought in a measly 500 racers). Few weeks ago, Mr. Mouse of the original Tough Guy, announced that January 2017 will mark the last of his signature events, after 30 years running. And last year (or the year before?), Hobie Call announced returning to full-time work after being unable to make a living as an OCR athlete.
The industry shot itself in the foot via its very nature.
For most participants, obstacle races are characterized by the bucket list “been there, done that” feel that the regular marathons and triathlons do not have. Plenty of runners sign up for the same marathon year after year, training harder, and aiming to beat their personal records. In OCR, lack of consistency and standardization, along with rampant cheating, makes the year to year comparison of performance fairly meaningless.
For the adrenaline junkies, an event that everyone AND their mother (literally) has done, carries little appeal. They are on to something else.