Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Economics 101

News about the economy swirls all around us. You cannot turn on the radio or the television these days without hearing about turbulence in the economy. It is everywhere and becoming an excuse and a reason for anything and everything.

Case in point: the hotel we stayed at in Tucson posted a letter in the room informing us they had cut back on small things because of the economy. In my opinion – that was unnecessary. If your business is helping people get away for a weekend by all means do not remind them of the economy. Did mentioning the economy help them do business any better? And did it make me want to say oh, poor hotel. Oh they are suffering from the economy. Maybe I should donate $20 to them per day so they can put coffee filters back in the room.

(insert answer “uh…….no”)

Come on! We don’t need reminders. We get them every month by way of mail or paperless statement. Our portfolios are growing smaller every month, our 401Ks are shrinking into 201Ks. We’re losing money, worried about money and more than ever consumed by money. We get it.

So what is happening in triathlon?

In my view, nothing. Nada, zip, in fact throw in some Zipp 404 wheels because your 401triathlons are growing and growing strong.


I’ve thought about it – why in a struggling economy can a leisure sport continue to flourish. How can something that is an accessory in someone’s life can continue to grow strong? Losing jobs, cutting back – how is it that someone can make sacrifices everywhere else yet continue to funnel funds into their hobby?

Simply put: triathlon makes us feel good. Sport is something that keeps us grounded, healthy and gives us hope. It also gives us a sense of control. Everything else is storming around us, unpredictability in our future, ambiguity in our jobs yet at the end of the day the one thing we can control is our participation in sport. We cannot outwardly rage about our frustrations at work because we cannot afford to lose our job. We are stuck and pent up. So, we beat ourselves up and release with triathlon. We take it out in the swim, bike and run – we get it out and it feels good. Not only that but we can still achieve in sport. Ever feel like no matter how hard you work at work you will never get ahead? Nor get to that next level? Not in sport. Sport is one of the few places you can work hard and still improve. It’s a fairly safe and reliable return for your investment. 100 percent of the time if you do the work, you will get at least 1 percent better. Can you match those rates?

Seems that if you don’t know if you’ll have a job tomorrow, knowing that you can still participate in something productive and meaningful to you is worth the cost.

Don’t believe me that triathlon continues to grow while other markets fizzle? Here we go: I need to point no further than the Ironman announcement last week. How many immediately dropped over 500 bucks for an event taking place next May? I just saw an announcement that Ironman Utah is nearly full. It takes place over a year away!

Now think: how is the economy is hurting our sport?

From what I’ve seen, it’s not. There is a continued growth and participation – especially in Ironman. Why? How? And especially why Ironman which costs how many hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time it’s all said and done?

Ironman seems to be the ultimate example of what the sport does for people. Let’s recap: my job sucks, my manager is a chucklebucket, home life is stressful, the economy has tanked yet…I can still accomplish something. I crossed the line after 140.6 miles – it is a tangible accomplishment that tells me I am a good and worthy person. My life has meaning – again.

Know what I mean?

Simply put, we want what it means. I don’t think so much that people want to swim, bike, run 140.6 miles (really, ick) – they want what it means. What it means is so much more than what it actually is. What it is: expensive and painful. What it means: something more than just being out there for up to 17 hours and traveling 140.6 miles. It is like the little green mermaid on the Starbucks cup. She is more than just a mermaid on a coffee cup, she means more than a brand – she means opportunity, affluence, relaxation, an experience.

Bingo: Ironman has nailed the experience economy.

And that is why the sport will not die. Or at least Ironman will not die. The little races will suffer a bit yet the Ironman brand will continue to grow strong even as the economy fades. Ironman promises to deliver the ultimate in experience – you give us...what is it now, 550 bucks (?) and we give you the time of your life. We pit you against what feels like death at times. We have not only nailed the experience but brought in the physical. And that is what makes it powerful – it’s a physical draw. I mean, a Borders book store is also an experience (I don’t go there just for books, I go there for quiet, coffee, relaxation, to feel smart) – but Ironman? You will physically get tugged in a way that no book store will tug you. No cup of coffee in a sophisticated setting will make you feel this good. In Ironman you will find yourself faced with something epic and you have to respond. And if you get through it you will feel like your own hero. You overcame yourself. And that, in life, as far as an experience goes…is huge and cannot be replicated anywhere else – except perhaps sky diving (but trust me Ironman is much more bang for your buck, you are guaranteed up to 17 hours so in terms of miles per dollars I think it’s a better value).

Seems that with the state of the economy today, Ironman has it made. They have nailed the experience. People want an experience and if you can give it to them they will pay for it (look at Starbucks…). No one needs a 4 dollar cup of coffee but in our chaotic world they do need to feel like they are relaxing and treating themselves. People need Ironman. They need to feel like they have reached something big. The more tumultuous the world and the economy gets, the more they seek out experiences like this to find a purpose, validate their efforts, gain some control and accomplish something.

But that is just my two cents on my dime store blog. And according to today's market, my two cents is currently worth about one-half of one cent. Remember when my views were worth a full penny?

Damn economy!

Know what I'm going to do because of that? I’m going to post a letter.

Here goes:

I’m cutting back on blogs because I cannot afford to think and communicate any more. I hope you’ll understand. I’ve had to make some cutbacks on the number of words that leave me each day because I suspect in an effort to make up for a $294092829 deficit the state of Illinois will start taxing my words with an added tax on the sassy ones.

Oh my good word help me. I better watch my mouth.


Molly said...

I hear ya. My bike shop is still jam-packed every time I go in there. There's something to be said for people making space/time/money for their health, I guess.

Gee, while we're at it, are there any training tools I need or should have? :)

JTri's said...

Around here, some triathlons that traditionally sold out, no longer do. These are not IM distance, and they have made the questionable decision to raise their rates this year. An Oly that I was looking forward to went from 125 last year to 145 this year, and I realized they'd found my just say no point. Only a $20 difference and yet I can't stomach the price. Instead, I'll have more triathlon a la carte with centuries, 10ks and open water swims. Will it be the same? Nope. But, I'll enjoy myself tremendously and the prices won't keep me up at night. I will still pay the price for a half IM and that will have to satisfy my triathlon dreams this year.

Jennifer Harrison said...

Great post! I was JUST ranting about this with Jerome on HOW the economy has not effected Triathlon yet! AND that we would not give up our sanity and hobby/fun unless things were SOOOO bleak. I couldn't agree more with Triathlon is booming!!! And, I love it. :)
But I am tired of all the media hype on the negative, for sure. I can barely watch it anymore.

Jen said...

Great post! I'm going to Starbucks :)

Meredith said...

I am at the bike shop, with a race registration flier in hand, latte in the other, on my cell phone, and contemplating purchases of tubes, socks, a new helmet, perhaps some compact cranks......well, you get the idea......

ADC said...

You are sooo right. I really am tired of listening to all. And I have seen people I worked with being made redundant and I just try to not listen to all that stuff. I agree that ironman will not suffer but at the same time you have to look at demographics of ironman - I have read somewhere that a very high percentage of ironman participants are, what we call. "middle class" which will be less affected than the working class. But who knows!

Wes said...

For those of us that have been doing triathlon for a while, we have reached critical mass. We don't need new equipment. All we need is entry fees and travel expenses. It would be interesting to see how this has affected our vendors. I think that side of the story will be a bit different.


I agree and disagree with your statement about triathlon and the economy. It has definitely affected me personally for the upcoming season. I typically race 5-10 times per year. This year, I haven't registered for one race yet. People who are REALLY hurting, i.e. struggling with the basics, just can't afford the money for the registration and travel in many cases. If I do race, it will be at local, shorter races--the less "prestigious" races often have smaller entry fees.
Also, FYI, a recent article in one of the triathlon magazines addressed the economy and ironman distance races in general. The AVERAGE income for an ironman competitor is $160,000. Our family doesn't even make half that amount. I guess if you make over 6 figures, you're probably going to be able to continue to afford this sport. Those of us who don't, however, will be affected.
While I continue to train, swim, bike and run, this will probably be an off year for racing, and I can contribute that directly to the way the economy is affecting our family.
Good to know that even in tough times, though, there are always those who can "keep on keepin' on".
Good post!

Paul said...

Liz, I think you're exactly right. The owner of my LBS told me that his business is up 45% over this time last year. One local race series added two new events for 09. Another race series has nearly sold out all their events. Triathlon is gonna be fine.

GoBigGreen said...

Turn off the TV. Focus on the small stuff, daily stuff. Like getting your brick done, working,picking up your kids ( or dog) from school, making dinner. Eating M and M's. The "change" most people voted for wont happen as we sit glued to the TV and the newspapers.
And living in the north, with snow falling in late march means we all want to sign up and pay for a reason to feel good. Tri wins!

Keith said...

Not to diss trihardchik, but 'average' can be a very slippery term. All it takes is Bill Gates, or a big time pro athlete, or a movie start, to enter an IM, and the average income skyrockets. Also knowing the median income, or the mode, gives you a much better grip on the real picture.

Wes makes a great point. Once you've got the gear, this isn't a particularly expensive thing to do. Though I wince every time I shell out yearly pool fees.

During the great depression, movie theatres did just fine, even though that would seem to be a frill. But a small fee got you inside, warm, and a chance to escape your troubles for a while. Anybody that can think of $ when they are grinding out a tough set isn't working hard enough.

teamjon said...

Being a coach ,I have noticed that my mix of clients has changed a lot, even though the total number hasnt changed too much . The older athletes, 50 + had to back off due to the impact to their retirement 401K ( now 201K). They are thinking about the impact to retirement. The younger athletes 25-40, have increased. If they have jobs they are not thinking about retirement and 401Ks , they still want to enjoy life and do what they want, no matter what the cost.

Pete said...

If you're into triathlon and you haven't lost your job or don't fear you will, I doubt you are going to stop doing triathlon. But you may pull back a little bit on the margins. That's me. I'm doing IMCDA again this year, and will do other shorter-distance local tris, but decided not to do Wildflower, not merely to save on the entry but also the travel expenses. On Wildlfower Day I'm going to build my own half-iron triathlon. Meanwhile, my guess is the continued inflow of newbies will make up for whatever slackening is taking place. (Although, I am a little surprised that a week after Ironman St. George was announced, it's still not full. It's new, sure, but it's also just six hours' drive from the LA basin...)

Fe-lady said...

I am a teacher (retired, working two days a week with a daughter in college.) I only race in my home state anymore as going to IM events and even traveling up out of town really adds up with gas,room, food...don't EVEN get me started on the entry fee and having to have the best gear.

I opted out of Coeur D'Alene this year and am signed up for AZ. It's in my backyard so why not.
Wildflower, Oceanside, Catalina Island-well they will just have to take a back seat and be memories for me for a while or forever.

I am glad I have been able to participate in this sport for over 25 years and didn't feel the pressure of having the "best" bike, wet suit, tri apparel and all the bells and whistles in those early days. The elites rode their road bikes, and we partied with them afterwards-no dividing line in the 80s.
Now we have a huge bunch of egos trying to sell us products and packages. Sometimes I want to just not be associated with the sport anymore because of this "better than thou" attitude.
I am thinking of starting my own business called "away from the maddening crowd-the NON experience" and just take people riding and running where others aren't.
my two cents.