As of today, Challenge North America is no more. In its place, the organizers behind the well-received Challenge Daytona and Miami races are branching out and creating a new endurance sports brand, CLASH.
“The fierce competitions push athletes to finish and succeed while the body is ready to quit, a clear clash of desires every athlete faces,” CEO Bill Christy said in the company’s press release. “What began as a vision to provide world-class triathlons at speedways has blossomed into something bigger that will give all endurance athletes an entertaining and rewarding experience at top-rate facilities.”
That’s right. The new brand will also be expanding its specific style of racetrack events to four venues in 2022 and three more (as yet unannounced events) in 2023, and they’ll be adding a number of non-tri races to these event festivals.
“We’re never going to give up on our roots from triathlon,” said Christy in an interview with Triathlete, “but we needed to be something other than a triathlon company.”
A TV product?
Christy comes from a NASCAR background. His wife, Lesa France Kennedy, is the executive vice chair of NASCAR. If you know race cars, the name France means something. Her grandfather founded NASCAR. Their son used to drive and now works in the family business.
When Christy, who ran medical device companies, started to get into triathlon with his son it made sense they would look to NASCAR for inspiration. When he wanted to put on a race, they turned to their backyard Daytona racetrack.
In 2018, Christy partnered with the Challenge Family brand to bring Challenge races back to the U.S. with the inaugural Daytona event. It was supposed to be a fairly standard middle-distance race finishing on the famed Daytona track. But an odd turn of events and bad weather ultimately made the pro race a shorter standalone event done entirely as laps around the racetrack within the stadium—and a new model of race was born.
In 2019, Paula Findlay and Lucy Charles battled it out on the track under the lights. And then in 2020, with COVID cancellations creating a lack of races and with the newly formed Pro Triathletes Organization partnering to put up $1 million for a championship race, the Daytona event attracted top athletes and very well-received TV coverage.
According to the company’s internal numbers, the Daytona livestream had around 500,000 viewers, and the TV highlights show that aired on NBC and NBC Sports Network ultimately had 1.4 million viewers who came in and out of the show.
That’s a lot for triathlon. And that’s the success Christy now hopes to duplicate.
“We think they’re getting better with every race,” said Christy of the TV coverage. As a built-in benefit of his connections, Christy’s been able to tap into the NASCAR production team and utilize their TV knowledge. They also have a race that’s entirely within a racetrack, making it easier to shoot and commentate on.
At the inaugural Miami event this past March—even without the PTO money behind it and only a $50,000 prize purse—the race attracted another deep field (Jan Frodeno won) and another 160,000 sustained viewers on NBC Sports Network. The TV production also premiered a few new NASCAR-like features, like moving leaderboards and little flags pointing out the pro athletes with their sponsor logo on the graphic—which Christy says the pros will ultimately be able to sell and get money for. He also says the graphics are going to get even better.
And he’d better be right. His whole business model is predicated on it. For comparison, the Crossfit Games makes about $64 million on its broadcast and that’s the comparable product they’re aiming for. Right now, the Daytona and Miami shows did better than IndyCar (a comparable broadcast in that same spot) and took out ESPN in that timeslot, according to their internal numbers—but the idea now has to be to turn that into a profitable deal, to make money, to make triathlon something beyond a mass participation registration driven business, and to be able to sell off the pros doing pro athlete things.
“Ironman has a very different business model than we do,” said Christy. “We’re a TV production business” that also puts on an age-group festival where you can celebrate with family, do a mountain bike event or a running race, and then have a glass of wine.
NASCAR-style festivals at NASCAR tracks
So what will those age-group festivals look like?
“We want people to walk away and say ‘that was a cool race,'” said Christy.
The events won’t be tied to a specific distance—though they will all be middle-distance and not longer. They’ll be dictated somewhat by the specifics of the track and what makes sense. They also won’t all be triathlons. In Daytona, that’ll be the 100K tri for the pros on the track and a standard middle-distance for the age-groupers. At the new event at the Watkins Glen track, the age-groupers will race a 1.2-mile swim, 50-mile bike, and a 10-mile run. You can also do a WineK instead of a 5K and registration will include tickets to the massive wine festival taking place the same weekend (and, yes, they expect those 10,000 slightly inebriated wine enthusiasts to also spectate). In Atlanta, where the event will be held at the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta—a 2.5-mile road course track northeast of the city, there will also be a mountain bike course and an enduro team relay format (think Ragnar, but not called Ragnar).
While Challenge North America will be no more, the triathlon components of these CLASH events will still earn athletes spots to the Challenge Championship in Slovakia, according to Challenge Family CEO Jort Vlam.
“We have a great relationship,” said Vlam. “We will be working together, although separate companies, to enhance both brands where synergies exist.”
Does that mean Challenge, as a brand, is done in the U.S.? Not necessarily. “We, Challenge Family, will look at all market opportunities as they present themselves,” he said.
The flagship CLASH Daytona race will be held in December, and everyone currently registered for Challenge Daytona will be transferred over. It will be followed next March by the second running of Miami, and then come the new events:
- Daytona, Dec. 3-5, 2021
- Miami, March 11-13, 2022
- Watkins Glen, July 8-10, 2022
- Atlanta, Nov. 12-13, 2022
In five years, Christy hopes to have 15 events across general endurance sports, not just triathlon. It’ll be a festival; it’ll be a “tri-cation,” as he calls it; it’ll be an age-group experience with a TV product and visibility for the pro athletes to promote themselves. “We know where we’re going,” he said.
Registration for the new races is at clash-usa.com.