Thirty years is a long time for an annual event to survive. Ironman Canada did more than survive in Penticton; it prospered, united the community and in large part defined the city.
Ironman’s chaotic beginnings and its development into one of Canada’s most well known and major annual athletic events, and the thousands of stories of individual accomplishment, perseverance and disappointment will never be forgotten. Nor should they.
Ironman the event must be separated from Ironman the enterprise. It is the enterprise of Ironman that is under scrutiny in light of the City of Penticton’s decision to cancel its agreement with the current Ironman Canada ownership group.
The city is entirely within its rights to withdraw from the WTC/IMC arrangement. Ironman Canada is also entitled to enter into, or cancel any arrangement with the city or WTC that is in its best interest. It is a private business, and legal remedies exist for any breaches or material damages arising from the decisions.
On the face of it, Ironman appears to be a profitable enterprise. The math on the entry fees alone suggests millions are taken in each year. Presumably sponsors pay the organizer to participate and promote their products and services. Any large sum of cash attracts the attention of competitors and will almost always motivate partners in such an enterprise to look for ways to get a bigger piece of the pie.
In the end, Ironman Canada, for internal reasons, chose to end its relationship with both the World Triathlon Corporation and the city, leaving the door open for alternatives.
To its credit, the city facilitated a credible process of identifying the best alternative, relying on a wide spectrum of stakeholders in the event. Further, the process appears to have provided WTC, the Ironman ownership group, every opportunity to retain the event, but ultimately chose the Challenge group.
Mayor Ashton indicated the new arrangement is a “vastly” better deal for the community, however, could not provide any figures. While entry fees are the most visible source of revenue, merchandising licensing fees and sponsorship revenue generally makes up the largest portion of event revenue. Reportedly, the new arrangement provides the city, through whatever organizing body is ultimately formed, the authority to charge and collect those fees, which lends credence to the mayor’s assertion.
Still to be determined is what form the entity that operates the event will take. Whether a registered society, or a corporation of some kind, the city, as the event licence “owner” will still be legally and financially liable for damages and losses from the event. This is a significant change from the previous arrangement, where IM Canada bore the liability.
The city has made a decision, based on the best input from stakeholders, to create a new enterprise to operate what is arguably Penticton’s defining event. For taxpayers, the issue must be to balance the exposure to risk we have accepted against the perceived and potential financial benefit the new event provides the community.
The city’s track record of late, with respect to creating or promoting enterprise, from the SOEC, the hockey dorm land issue or the changes at the chamber of commerce operations, has been less than stellar. Arguably, there are mitigating circumstances in each instance and the city has faced criticism, some unfair, over the outcome of each.
No government, at any level, is suited to running business; they cannot deliver effectively the basic services for which they exist. This has little to do with the competence and commitment of the people in government. It has everything to do with the disparate interests, externally and internally, those in government feel they must serve, and the lack of any real consequence as a result of failure. Worse, there is rarely an acknowledgement of failure on the part of government.
The City of Penticton is to be commended for being proactive and moving decisively to secure its interest in both the event and the enterprise. Despite inevitable pressure from some in the community to retain control, the sooner the city can separate itself from the event at the governance, management and operational levels, the more likely the new event can flourish, and mitigate taxpayer risk.
Mark Walker is the publisher of the Penticton Western News.