Wednesday, January 22, 2014

As Lombardi Once Said "What the Hell's Going On Out Here?"....And How Does That Relate To The World Of Obstacle Course Racing

2013 has been another interesting year in the world of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR).   The phenomenal growth continued and looks to be off to a great start for 2014.  Although the industry has seen a number of new races come and go.  With some never getting past the announcement phase, while other races managed to collect entry money without ever actually putting on a race.  This past year also saw the first filming of a race by a major sports network.  That was NBC Sports filming the Spartan Race Championship in VT last September.  Although the resulting TV program was not quite a thrill-a-minute [Obstacle Course Racing on TV...well, it's a start!] it was a big step towards building a fan base for this emerging sport.

Speaking of championship races, there was another trend developing late in 2013.  Where last year saw new races growing like weeds, the new trend seems to be for Championship races.  So far, besides the already established Spartan Race Championship, there were announcements from Warrior Dash, OCR World Championship and well, another race called OCR World Championship.  Strangely enough, neither OCR World Championship race actually exists right now and don't seem to have the OCR racing community support at the moment.  Go figure!....growing pains I guess.

Then there was the announcement of a new OCR sanctioning body [USOCR].  Interestingly, this sanctioning body seems to have come to being by self-proclamation...kinda like the big-bang.  Not that I have any objections to this or questions about the qualifications or motives of these individuals.  It's probably a good and necessary step in the growth of the sport.  Just seems like this should grow (as my son might say) organically as OCR matures.  A coming together of the major bring order from chaos, so to speak.  But again, what do I know.  Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them and some just declare themselves great and leave the proof as a class assignment.

There's an interesting dilemma here too.  One of the major OCR promoters isn't even a race!  That being Tough Mudder.  It's not a isn't how do you have a champion when you don't even have a winner!! [Although there is a "World's Toughest Mudder" competition, which is run in a different manner than their other races].  This could actually get sticky (no pun really!) at some point for Tough Mudder.  Without timed events, they can't be used as qualifying races for any of the so-called championship races.  So they may be left as the only major competitor with a "let's just have fun" attitude.

Last April I was prognosticating on the future of OCR [see The present and future of Obstacle Course Racing (Part1) and The present and future of Obstacle Course Racing - Part Deux)] and a major shortcoming of the races is that virtually no one could see them. At the time, there were a few obstacles visible to spectators, but the vast majority of the race was out of sight.   At the Spartan Championship in Vermont, there was definitely a huge improvement in fan viewing. Quite a number of obstacles were near the festival area, including named (by me) because of it's shorter length, 2 foot clearance and relatively dry condition. Looks impressive, but not too scary to the non-racer (read: parents, non-racing spouses, kids, etc) and barely an inconvenience for the experienced racers.

So fans were able to get a view of their racers although most of the race, even this one, still takes place off stage. And how do you know when your racer would come through that area?  Go grab some food and you may have missed them...and not even know! That's double tough when you're talking about a course where the WINNING times were near 4 hours.

Another thing that hasn't changed noticeably from last year is that you still can't really track the "elite" racers at the event. At Vermont, most everyone racing was out on the course anyway as the winners were coming in.  Unavoidable in this particular instance I guess.  There really should be a separate day for the elites to run this Championship race...maybe...someday [note to self - see multiple new championship races announced recently].  But I suppose, one thing at a time.  First, they need to figure out how to cover a race and make it exciting.  Someone out there has to know how to do that!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Obstacle Course Racing on TV...well, it's a start!

At the Spartan Championship Race in Vermont last September, one of the highlights was the filming of the event for television.  And NBC Sports was there...filming away.  This was a major development in the sport.  For anyone that has been following Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) for a while, one of the key elements to stepping up the game is attracting a fan base.  And a key element of attracting a fan base is that you have to have a means of covering the event.  I was very interested in seeing how this played out.  Obviously it wasn't going to be live coverage of this race...but it was a start!

Last April I was talking about the future of OCR [see The present and future of Obstacle Course Racing (Part1) and The present and future of Obstacle Course Racing - Part Deux)] and a major shortcoming of the race is that virtually no one could see it.  At that time, there were few obstacles visible to spectators.  However, the vast majority of the race was out of sight.  Makes it tough to root for your racer when you have no idea where they are...or where anyone else is for that matter.

With TV filming then, would that help promote the sport and provide some race coverage ideas for the future?  I know I was excited to see the final product.  I saw this as an opportunity for people to see what these races were really all about.  Up to now, anytime they showed a race it seemed to be the same few obstacles popping up.  Spartan Race seemed to be excited initially too.  But for some reason the showing was postponed until a later date.  Five or six weeks later in fact.  Well, that happens I'm sure.  What surprised me though, as the new release date approached, was that Spartan Race did not seem to be promoting the show quite as emphatically as it had immediately after the race.  And for anyone who follows Spartan Race...that was odd.  Very odd!!

One reason for this may have been a change in their marketing staff.  But as important as this must have been to them, someone at Spartan Race would have noticed it wasn't being blasted around the Internet!  Another reason is more likely though.  It seems reasonable that Spartan Race had a chance to see the final product before release.  And I can't imagine they were particularly thrilled with it.  Not that it was a poor job by any means.  Just disappointing.  At the very least it wasn't able to bring across the grueling, mind-numbing nature of this course in particular or any excitement about the race itself!  Of course I wouldn't know how to go about doing this either...but I'm not a TV producer.  I saw the same exact format used on one of those "survivor" type races and, I'm sorry to say, it was dull.  Dull....dull....dull!  And these races are not dull!  Brutal...torturous...painful...inspiring...fulfilling...but not dull!!  No race should come across like that...ever.

So, there's still some work to do on this.  A lot of work apparently!  OCR is a new and exciting sport and only needs the right person to bring it across on screen.  The Super Bowl has nothing to fear....yet.  On a positive note though, there appears to be change happening in OCR.  Another step in the maturing of OCR perhaps.  More on that thought in the next post!