Breckenridge wrestles with idea of proposed Ironman takeover of Breck Epic
July 6, 2018
With the future of one of its most successful locally grown sporting events up in the air, more than 60 members of the Breckenridge community turned out at the town rec center on Thursday night to ask questions and comment on an Ironman takeover of the Breck Epic multi-day summer mountain bike race.
By the end of the 90-minute session, a straw poll conducted by Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula suggested the majority of the assembled crowd is interested in working with Ironman, albeit, as Mamula put it, "with slimming parameters.
"This is super in the air," Mamula said, "and depending on the day of the week and who I'm talking to (on the council), it's one way or the other."
"Look," the mayor later added. "If the council says on Tuesday that, 'this is valuable if the price is this, the number of riders is this,' then Ironman either says yes or no. Or if the council says, 'this is too much for us. We are just going to say, 'no,' that's the decision."
If the town council decides to enter into a deal with Ironman, the company would still need to work out a plan with the U.S. Forest Service and Summit County.
The Chinese-owned Ironman, via its U.S. Midwest regional director Frank Lowery, is pitching to the town that it badly wants Breckenridge to serve as the host for "the premier mountain bike event in North America."
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Under Ironman's direction, the Breck Epic would maintain race founder, owner and Summit County local Mike McCormack as event director.
But aside from ownership and cost to the town, the big change would be that the Ironman version of the race would serve as a qualifying event for the annual South African Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage-race, which has been referred to as "the Tour de France of mountain biking." Ironman bought the Cape Epic two years ago and is now in the process of launching a series of international qualifying races globally.
And as part of the deal between the WTC and the town of Breckenridge, Ironman is asking the town to provide $350,000 annually to cover broadcasting and operational costs.
Mamula said that figure is more than the town gave to other cycling events that have come to Breckenridge. Rather, he compared the price to the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts.
The cost to the town would also include a three-percent annual inflation escalator over the course of a 3-to-5 year contract. But speaking to the crowd of Breckenridge locals Thursday evening, Lowery emphasized that Ironman sees its investment in Breckenridge as long term.
Lowery stressed Ironman's specific interest in Breckenridge is in large part due to the race history, infrastructure, connections and relationships McCormack has built over the past decade.
Lowery said Ironman prefers not to go into communities and build brand new events. He said it's effectively the difference between launching a new event in two years rather than taking over the Breck Epic and running it as soon as next summer.
But when pressed by a community member, Lowery was clear that if Breckenridge isn't interested in doing business with Ironman, that the company would find another place.
"For us," Lowery said, "we've invested a ton of money and a ton of time and a ton of marketing to build this Epic series."
Lowery also said Ironman would treat its acquisition of the Breck Epic more as a partnership, deferring to and taking input from McCormack and the town on relevant matters. It's a notion McCormack echoed as many locals in the room were skeptical of Ironman's corporate motivations and requirements.
"It's important for me to say everyone I've dealt with at Ironman have been awesome," McCormack told the crowd.
In responding to questions from the crowd, Mamula said town council discussions have led to potentially asking Ironman for an event starting date as close to August 15 as possible. With that, he said there shouldn't be any issues regarding housing and sanitation for racers and accompanying visitors at that time of year, citing a 30-percent booking rate for hotels in the town at that time annually.
For the first year of their takeover of the Breck Epic, Ironman's race would target 500 total riders, with 800 by the third year before capping out at 1,000 to 1,500 athletes in subsequent years. McCormack has told the council the current Breck Epic sees slightly fewer than 600 riders and 2,000 total visitors in town.
One of the other major talking points Thursday was Ironman potentially closing Main Street for daily starts and finishes. Mamula was adamant the council was not open to closing Main Street for all six days of the event, though two to three days of closures lasting several hours are being considered. With that, Lowery stressed that any Main Street closures would only include the street, not the sidewalks, enabling local merchants to remain open.
Lowery was also adamant that the Breck Epic would not evolve into an event only for global elites.
"So if you're asking if you can sign up for the Breck Epic every single year? Absolutely," he said.
There was pushback from several members in the crowd about whether the $350,000 price tag to the town to host the event was worth it. In response, Lowery stressed that the town would make its money back in terms of the kind of international exposure — particularly via broadcasting, marketing and social media impressions — that the race would provide the town.
A couple of members in the crowd also inquired as to whether the council has helped to subsidize McCormack's Breck Epic in the past and if the council is open to subsidizing McCormack rather than entering into an agreement with Ironman.
Mamula said compared to other similarly-sized events, the town has not helped to finance McCormack, though it's been a discussion point in years past. The mayor did add that there's been some chatter amongst the council about a Plan B of investing in McCormack rather than Ironman, though nothing has been formalized.
As for McCormack, when asked directly if he'll still run the event without an Ironman deal, he was blunt.
"We are looking for a lifeline and Ironman has it," he said.
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