On the eve of Ironman Penticton’s 30th anniversary, there are major changes in the windfor the popular triathlon.
On Tuesday, city council received a letter from Graham Fraser, who has held the licence for the race since 1996, saying that he was relinquishing control of the Penticton race to the World Triathlon Corporation. In 2009, Fraser’s company, North American Sports, sold its interests in other Ironman races to WTC, but had retained Penticton, where he is also part-owner of the Penticton Vees Junior A Hockey club.
The WTC itself was purchased in 2008 by a private firm, Providence Equity Securities, who have since been expanding the company’s interests, including purchasing an Australian group of triathlons and Ironman races earlier this year.
“New ownership in any business usually brings forward change. Changes in operation, changes in strategy,” said Penticton Coun. Judy Sentes, former president of the Ironman Canada Race Society.
“We were hearing all kinds of rumours. We knew that Graham had completed a transaction that returned the licences he held for the American Ironmen, but we knew that he had negotiated to hang on to Ironman Canada,” said Sentes, adding that she felt Graham would have preferred to continue holding the licence for the Penticton race, but the WTC had changed their strategy, requiring the licence back.
Fraser’s leaving will mean changes, Sentes said, but it is too early to say how it will affect the Penticton Ironman. There had been informal discussion with Fraser in recent weeks, she said, but the Tuesday letter was council’s official confirmation, and an in-camera meeting has been scheduled for next Tuesday to begin discussing the situation.
“What is going to happen in 2013 is still on the table. Rumour is kind of hard to deal with,” she said, adding that the city’s next move is to discuss what this means for the community and what the options are.
“We don’t know the answers at this point, but we are going to find out,” said Sentes. “There will be something here, but the definition of it is still to be determined.”
While not speaking for council, city manager Annette Antoniak said it was likely that the city would, in the future, want to hear from the community as part of the process.
“I think everyone acknowledges what the Ironman triathlon does for the city of Penticton and obviously want to retain an event of this stature,” said Antoniak.
There are already almost 3,000 athletes signed up for this year’s race, said Sentes, proof of its ongoing popularity.
“The interest is still there, even though one of the WTC strategies has been to grow the field of Ironman events,” said Sentes. There are now 16 in North America alone, with the Louisville Ironman falling on the same date as Penticton. “There are many, many more in the world than there used to be. When I became involved, there were six,” said Sentes.
But whatever the future holds, Sentes said, the next step is to get through this year’s race.
“Our focus is not to distract from this year’s race. This year’s race is the 30th, that’s celebratory,” she said. “The things that have happened through Graham’s management of the race have been phenomenal.”
Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said he has also seen growth in the reputation of the Penticton Ironman under Fraser’s management, and the influx of 3,000 athletes is a huge economic benefit to the community, especially coming at the end of August when the tourist season is beginning to wind down.
Over that time, according to Ashton, The Penticton Ironman has developed into one of the best on the circuit. Everyone he talks to, he said, and others he hears from, tell him that Penticton is the No. 1 race overall.
“And that’s above Hawaii,” said Ashton. “When you talk about an organization being able to get up to 4,000 volunteers, that’s phenomenal for any community.”
Ashton is similarly complimentary to Fraser on a personal level, saying that during his time, both as councillor and mayor, he has always had a good relationship with Fraser and his company.
“Graham is a firm believer in Penticton, a property owner in Penticton, a majority owner of the Penticton Vees,” said Ashton. “In my opinion, Graham has always had a place for Penticton in his heart.”
In 2010, the year after Fraser sold most of his Ironman races to the WTC, the city negotiated a five-year promotional fee with Fraser, similar to ones imposed on communities by the WTC. The first year’s fee was $30,000, rising to $60,000 this year and topping out at $75,000 in 2013 and 2014.
That fee, said Sentes, has been covered by the fundraising efforts of the Ironman Club so far, but she isn’t sure that will happen this year.
“There will be information we expect to receive Tuesday,” said Sentes adding that, regardless, the city will honour the contract and ensure the fee is paid.
Antoniak explained that the promotion contract is with Fraser, and will have to be renegotiated with the WTC.
Sentes said there is much that will be under discussion by council at their closed-door meeting.
“We want to keep all our options open at the city. It is our intent there will be something here, we just haven’t been able to make a decision on that, because we haven’t got all the information.”