Spartan Race excels in tapping into the zeitgeist of self-motivated warriors. Athletes find physical, emotional and even spiritual nourishment through competing in extreme obstacles (think: fire pits, vertical walls and muddy terrain with belly crawls under barbed wire) course racing.
Along the way, the global events operator crafted an impressive sports-tourism success formula by developing strong partnerships with host communities, suppliers and vendors. Spartan Race events regularly attract thousands of people to their venues, creating winners not only at the course, but in the local host communities, where the economic impact is measured in the millions of dollars.
Come race day, the efforts of organizers, participants and tourism officials intersect to make these events special. Here’s the perspective from each side of the Emerald City Open (part of Spartan’s U.S. Championship Series) in April presented by Snohomish County, Washington, at the Meadow Wood Equestrian Center in Snohomish.
Mike Morris Vice President of Production, Spartan Race
Mike Morris say he’s seen how the organization’s mission of “changing lives by getting people off the couch and providing a medium to get out and complete an obstacle course” is more than a saying.
“The brand has extended beyond races we conduct to include training certifications, coaching and international competitions,” Morris says. “At the core, though, it’s our race series that attracts most of our customers and brings people to our different venues.”
By the end of 2017, Spartan Race will have held 62 event weekends domestically and more than 100 races internationally. Various race products accommodate different ability levels and interests.
“The Seattle Super and Sprint [Emerald City Open] is fairly typical of our weekend events,” Morris says. “The weekend was special in that it was the first event of our U.S. Championship Series. We did a live-stream broadcast online with 500,000 viewers and videotaped for an upcoming televised airing on NBC.” Morris reports 8,000 racers and 3,000 spectators attended.
In selecting a site, Morris looks to CVBs and tourism partners for help in finding a great venue that makes operational sense. Spartan is looking to maximize efforts with economics (securing grants and funding options) and resources such as parking, traffic control, day labor and permitting.
“Spartan believes in a long-term mutually beneficial relationship with communities,” Morris says. “We want to be in town for multiple years. We know our event is just as important for the neighbor down the road to have a pleasant experience as for the thousands of racers, local hotels and restaurants.”
The belief is that what a local community considers a win will be viewed similarly by Spartan. “We know we need local support on the economics front to make our events successful,” he says. “In return, we bring in millions of dollars in revenue.”
Tammy Dunn Snohomish County Sports Commission Sports Development Director
Dunn describes April’s Spartan Race weekend as a resounding success for her community. Beyond the 2,612 room nights and estimated $3.2 million economic impact, the race was an opportunity to educate visitors about what distinguishes Snohomish County from Seattle.
Namely, Dunn points to the outdoor activities available that are a natural fit to Spartan’s audience. “The weekend gave us a fantastic opportunity to market our county to a market that enjoys and is attracted to the assets we have,” she says. “Visitors discovered our assets for hiking, kayaking, mountain biking—all the outdoor activities participants and spectators of Spartan Race events like to do. Visitors are going to return because of the hospitality they received while here for the Spartan Race.”
This was the second Spartan Race event Snohomish has hosted. In 2015, the county held its first Spartan Race on the same private property, Meadow Wood Equestrian Center. Dunn’s team assisted in site selection and made the necessary introductions. Once the contract was signed, the commission was critical for locking in key details to make the event a smooth operation.
“We worked to identify supplemental parking and helped facilitate obtaining a financial award through the local Tourism Promotion Area Grant,” Dunn says.
Dunn remains impressed with the professionalism of the event company.
“Spartan Race is an extremely well-organized business,” Dunn says. “They are professional, accessible and easy to work with. They take great care of the athletes and ensure their safety. So much goes on behind the scenes to make these events a success; they are working months in advance and have solid planning.”
Alyssa Hawley Spartan Race Participant
Spokane resident and construction worker Hawley (pictured above) has won several Spartan Race events. Yet her first-place finish in April was extraordinary because it came in front of a hometown crowd filled with family and friends.
“My family is everything to me,” Hawley says. “To have them here at the finish was extra-special.”
Hawley began participating in Spartan races two years ago, in August 2015. She’s competed in more than 20 since, including in California, Washington, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
“What I love about the sport and Spartan races is that they test me in many ways,” Hawley says. “They test me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Every course is different and is going to test you in different ways, whether through the terrain, the different obstacles or [through] weather. That keeps it fun and exciting.”
Part of the allure for Hawley and her competitors is the unique setup for each race. [Participants] receive a map upon arrival but aren’t allowed to preview the course, nor do they know what they’ll find until they are in the throes of competition.
“You don’t know the exact distance, and while some of the obstacles are indicated on the map, some are identified as ‘classified,’ so you don’t know what is going to be there until you are upon it,” Hawley says. “You want to be prepared for anything.”
Hawley appreciates the level of racer support she finds with Spartan. “It’s so organized,” she says. “Everything is well-laid-out in the registration and sign-up process. You’re told what to expect, what to bring, where you need to go, and you are given specific directions.”
For Hawley, the sense of community found among the racers, volunteers and spectators is what makes Spartan Race events so enjoyable. “Everyone is so helpful and friendly; the on-course volunteers are there encouraging you, giving you the rules of the obstacles and there to cheer you on,” Hawley says.
Like many racers, Hawley took advantage of her weekend to explore beyond the race. So, what does an extreme athlete do after competing in a grueling obstacle course race? “I went hiking and exploring on some of the local mountain trails,” she says.