Ironman eyes San Luis Obispo County
April 6, 2011
Ironman, one of the world’s most renowned and challenging triathlon events, could make its mark on the Central Coast, and pump its iron fist in the form of an economic impact that could amount to several million dollars.
Real estate developer and hotelier, John King of King Ventures, single-handedly approached Ironman several years ago and has since lobbied to attract the king of triathlons to San Luis Obispo County for a future Ironman event.
Ironman’s interest has been more than peaked. This week one of organization’s race directors traveled from Washington State to tour the area and informally meet with local community supporters and city officials.
While the courtship is in the initial phase, Ironman says San Luis Obispo County is in the running to host one of the global event series, which are qualifying events for the world championship Ironman in Kona, Hawaii and Ironman 70.3 in Lake Las Vegas. Nev.
“I think it’s gorgeous. I love the ocean. It’s a beautiful site, just beautiful,” said Ironman Race Director Keats McGonigal while looking at the panoramic Pismo Beach view from the SeaVenture Resort.
“Long-term I think we do want to get a full Ironman qualifying race in California,” McGonigal said. “We had one in Camp Pendleton in the past, prior to 9/11, but we have not brought it back.”
Each race could bring 2,500 to 3,000 athletes plus their supporters to the Central Coast, selling out many hotels for several days at a time, and boost tourism spending during a seasonably slower time of the year; King says he is directing the organization to a late fall race date.
Ironman’s target demographic is just the kind of visitor San Luis Obispo County is looking for—one that has discretionary money to spend. For the race alone, each athlete pays as much as $600 to compete.
The median age of its triathletes is 40 years old, with an average household income of $161,300. Most are international travelers who are married with children and 22 percent prefer luxury accommodations when traveling, according to Ironman’s U.S. market demographic research conducted by Mediamark Research, Inc.
It is one of the reasons Ironman’s economic engine has boasted a powerful punch across the country where host cities have reported millions of dollars pumped into their economies. A similar sized race, the Ironman Louisville generates more than 13,700 hotel room reservations and has an estimated economic impact of more than $5.2 million on the Louisville metro area, according to the Louisville Sports Commission.
If Ironman selects San Luis Obispo County for an annual race qualification location, the organization would likely commit to a five-year deal beginning with a 2012 or 2013 event at the earliest.
McGonigal says he envisions the full race, an Ironman—the triathlon sport’s marquee challenge, would begin in Avila Beach with a 2.4-mile swim to Pismo Beach, then a 112-mile bike ride through wine country, culminating with a marathon (26.2-mile run) that would finish in downtown San Luis Obispo. Two banquets, a vendor exhibition, and after party would be among the festivities.
Besides the race route, Ironman is considering many other factors in its determination of whether the San Luis Obispo County venue would work, such as athlete safety, overall cost, traffic control, infrastructure (hotels, restaurants, event venues), and city services.
Among the key factors, community support is also essential. Ironman events rely heavily on volunteers—a minimum of 2,500 would be needed to “assist in executing a safe and professional event.”
Cities would need to step up as well. As many as 100 police officers could be needed to control traffic and security, along with 50 licensed medical professionals that would be required to provide “comprehensive care for participants.”
As part of the deal, Ironman says it donates $25,000 to not-for-profit organizations in each host community.
“Ultimately it needs to be a success for everybody,” McGonigal said.
During McGonigal visit, King brought out other local hoteliers and city officials to meet the Ironman representative and to show him the support is here.
Noreen Martin, owner and CEO of Martin Resorts was enthusiastic at the possibility of Ironman coming to the Central Coast.
“It increases the ability for our county to be known as a true tourism leader,” Martin said. “Tourism is seen as one of the number one economic indicators. I think having Ironman come to our county would be a large benefit to SLO County.”
“We keep trying to entice them, and entice them,” King said. “We just can’t give up.”