Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Life Time Fitness Announces New Series For Gravel & MTB

 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Yesterday it was revealed that Life Time Fitness would have a six event series, half of it on gravel, half at MTB venues, and that the series would be exclusive and pay out $250,000.00 for the winners. The story can be read on Cycling News here. The series would have 20 men and 20 women only. These elite athletes would have to submit resume's for consideration to be included in the series. One of the considerations being  "feedback from the applicant on how he or she is “helping to grow cycling in the U.S. through their activities.”"

The gravel portion of the series would include Life Time's "Unbound Gravel", The Big Sugar, and the Crusher In The Tushar. The MTB portion of the series would include a new marathon distance MTB event at Sea Otter, the Chequamegon 40, and the Leadville 100. 

Noted on Twitter in responses to this by athletes I would consider 'possible people of interest' for this series were the entry fee and what Life Time expects athletes to do to get money to ride. First off, the entry fee for any one of the 40 participants is reportedly $1250.00 a head. Life Time suggests that,  "Athletes will have until February 1st to secure these dollars, and are encouraged to empower sponsors to support you in this."

Comments: Life Time making a series? Expected. Life Time making the series exclusive to 40 athletes and including MTB? Life Time making them pay an exorbitant fee to participate AND suggesting athletes source sponsorship to cover expenses? Unexpected and......odd. I get that having a Pro only spectacle draws in more eyeballs, sells more sponsorships, and gets the cycling industry into a tizzy, but it is about as 180° from the current temperature of social issues and events as you can get.

It also is about as far as the East is from the West when you consider why gravel events grew as big as they have. Life Time states in the story linked that, ""After many years of declining participation, we’re experiencing a groundswell of growth,..."" Well, does that have anything at all to do with Life Time buying up two of the biggest gravel events and two of the most iconic MTB events in the country? I think that the answer there is "Yes!" Those events are huge, and they have been, grown as they were from grassroots ideas and people. And did Life Time have anything at all to do with THAT? The obvious answer is, "No! They had nothing at all to do with that!" Credit there goes to the founders, RD's, and the past participants of the Crusher, Leadville, Chequamegon, and the DK200, NOT to Life Time. 

How soon people forget, especially when the marketing arms get a hold of the reins of these old events. This is nothing more than a corporate take-over and a cashing in on equity which was built up by others. Is that wrong? No, not intrinsically. The "Market" shall dictate who is successful, so if you have a beef with Big Corporate entities, don't support this. But many will, and ....ya know- it's their choice and right to do so. 

But I would like some honesty from the folks at Life Time, at least. Here....let me fix that quote for ya: "After many years of declining participation, we decided to buy a few very successful, built from grassroots events, and we feel like we have a product with which we can now make a decent profit with going forward." THAT is what really is going on here.


NY Roll said...

You lost me at 20 men and 20 women. My take away is that I am paying a high entry fee to pay Professional athletes to continue their life style. This is not what I am seeking to do with my entry fees. I am looking to enter an event in an area I have never or seldom rode before. I use the race to give me a reason to travel to another part of the nation. Nothing is holding me back still from doing that, but knowing I am paying a premium fee so others can live their instagram lifestyle and not have the fee go to a charity or even corporation directly makes me scratch my head. Yes, Lifetime puts on a great large race format, I have experienced a few of them, but sometimes not knowing where your money goes is best. This is one of those times. BTW, their Austin Rattler race was awesome, and I have heard good things about the new Austin venue.

Guitar Ted said...

@N.Y. Roll - I think it is even more farcical than what you think. The high entry fee for something like Unbound (triple digits, something like a dollar per mile or less than that actually) is NOT going to partially cover having those 40 athletes there. (Assuming they can get 40 athletes to pony up $1250.00 a head to enter the series) Their portion of the entry fees is about 208+ bucks a head, so they are paying out as well.

It's just kind of odd that they chose this path, to my mind, given the current climate of events and social issues. Heck, they even are asking applicants if they are going to be willing to promote the series via their own social channels. So, this isn't glorifying Insta lifestyles, or even giving them a platform to be Insta stars so much as it is a way for Life Time to co-opt their Insta followers and have a free channel to market their event X 40.

It's brilliant from their side. I gotta admit this is downright smart marketing, (And money-making), IF they can make it work, and given the opportunities for sponsorships and marketing activations that the athletes would have to put into play, this could be the makings of a juggernaut for Life Time.

Again- completely 100% not what the gravel scene is about, but ultimately I don't think they are after the people like us.

NY Roll said...

Can I apply to be a Pro for your virtual turkey burner? I am willing to pony up a 12 pack of Genesee Light.

Ben said...

Maybe part of what Dave is referencing - and something I wondered as well - is the 250K payout in prize money and where that really comes from. Even though the 40 participants have to pony up in total about 50K between all of them in entry fees, that leaves a "gap" of 200K in prize money paid back out, and I assume - not that I'm in the know of Lifetime's inner financial workings - that at some level, the other participants entry fees are going in part to pay for that 250K payout. It's also possible that I don't know what I'm talking about in this realm, and that's OK. Not that it bothers me, and I'm not planning on doing any Lifetime events next year so it really doesn't affect me. On a maybe similar note how I saw Gravel Worlds entry fee went from $90 this year to $140 next. I know they now have a full time employee and have to assume that is at least part of the reason for the big one year jump in entry fee. Good for him and the event if it grows, but I haven't signed up for that yet either for a couple reasons. Everyone can just ride whatever makes them happy, whether it costs them $0 or a few hundred I guess.

Guitar Ted said...

@Ben - That's a good point, but I think what maybe was assumed in N.Y. Roll's comment was that Pro spots on rosters are often "comped", meaning they pay nothing- or a much smaller fee. In this case, they are getting a smaller fee compared to single entrants, but for the entire series of events, so maybe a discount (ha!) for buying six at once. So, they are contributing to the pot, like everyone else is, which typically isn't what happens at gravel events on this scale.


Yeah, I don't know their business model either, but what they are doing smacks of something "Not Gravel" and that is my main point here.

Gravel Worlds: Now this is an entirely different subject. Here I think what we have is a promoter wanting to make a marquee event in gravel racing for his area (Lincoln) and for the sport in general. I know that the entry fee has jumped, but they are also expanding the roster again (1000 women, 300 head count for The Long Voyage, etc)

So, that event, by necessity, will have to expand its expenses across logistics, volunteers, materials, and more to hold such an ambitious event and make their goals. Good luck to Jason Strobehn and his team there. I applaud his vision, but yeah- That's not my cuppa tea anymore. As I've stated, maybe I am just too old and in the way, but when Gravel Worlds was 300 people, total, and the vibe was kind of thumbing at the bigger Pro events on the one hand and a gathering of the grassroots gravel riders in a very low-key, homespun kind of way- That was what I was attracted to.

When you expand the field, add in accoutrements to make an event 'feel more important', and start having to make concessions to be able to accommodate larger crowds, well that moves the needle away from what I find made gravel events become a movement which got us here now. "Big" events are not "bad", but things did not start out "Big" and there is a reason for the attraction to gravel which "Big" has a harder time replicating. It becomes less "authentic" and more.......something else.

Again- my opinion, but the Gravel Worlds thing is definitely a great example of what I feel is an event that has outgrown its original appeal.

Guitar Ted said...

N.Y. Roll - You get me a 12 of Genesee and I will give you Life Time Pro Instagram Status in all my future events. ;>)

S Sprague said...

For me, I'm thinking that someone out there is going to do a "SSWC" or Single Speed World Championship like gravel event to counter the "corporate-ness" of gravel events soon. It's just me thinking of those that don't really agree with all that's happening with the gravel event take over. Maybe someone is already planning one!?