By Darren Heitner
In 2010, Spartan Race ran its first event and miraculously inspired 1,500 people to show up and complete an obstacle course built to challenge even the most fit competitors. Three years later Joe De Sena, CEO and Founder of Spartan Race predicts that a total of 650,000 people will compete in the 60 events hosted in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. While FORBES colleague Mike Ozanian says that Professional Bull Riding is the fasting growing American sport, De Sena believes it is actually the sport of obstacle racing that has experienced the greatest growth in recent years.
However, despite the hundreds of thousands of competitors taking part in the Spartan Race events and many others performing the daily workouts provided by De Sena’s company, Spartan Race is not yet profitable. It has received an investment from Raptor Group Holdings, but De Sena says the funds from that investment have not been touched by his company. ”For us it has really been about growth and reaching a bigger audience and changing lives,” said De Sena in an interview with FORBES. ”If we are changing lives we will figure out a way to make money.”
De Sena is passionate about allowing others to tackle a gauntlet of exciting obstacles, including throwing spears, leaping through fire, aerial traverses over water, challenging rope climbs, and barbed wire crawls. He cares about inspiring people to not only be athletic, but also to live a fitter life. When he laid out his initial plan for Spartan Race on a napkin in his kitchen, De Sena’s idea was to break people down and then rebuild them. The ultimate goal was to create a sport from scratch that would eventually become a part of the Olympics. De Sena is not quite there, but the signs are promising based on recent business developments.
One boon for business was the creation of a partnership with Reebok, which began in January 2013. The Spartan Race tour was re-branded as the “2013 Reebok Spartan Race Series,” and De Sena says that while initially he had reservations concerning entering a relationship with Reebok, it has become the perfect partner. ”They live, eat and breath the same exact message and mission,” said De Sena. He also noted that Reebok has benefited tremendously from the association with his platform. ”The amount of eyeballs that we’ve been able to send them – they’ve been able to announce a growth of 11% in sales due to that relationship.”
The next step for Spartan Race is to expand its offering through a deal with NBC (parent company - NYSE: GE), which will allow the network to air 8 episodes per year focusing on the events, with the final episode featuring the Spartan Race World Championship. This year’s World Championship in Killington, Vermont is to be held on the weekend of September 21, includes $250,000 in cash and prizes, and will become the first ever televised extreme obstacle/adventure race event on NBC. A 90-minute TV special on the World Championship will air on the NBC Sports Network on October 19.
Spartan Race was voted Outside Magazine’s Best Obstacle Race in 2012. De Sena has come a long way in three years, and an even longer way since 2005, when he created something called “The Death Race,” which was a 24-hour race that included a waiver with the words, “I may die.” ”The phrase ‘I can’t’ doesn’t mean anything to me anymore, not because of my ego but because I know anything is possible,” said De Sena. That statement is likely to continue to inspire other individuals to participate in Spartan Race and companies to flock to the sport of obstacle racing.
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