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CONNECT SPORTS – Eye on the Prize

Spartan Race uses collaborative partnerships, strong organization and a top-shelf race experience in developing a premier brand.

Since its founding in 2010, Spartan Race, Inc. has excelled in tapping into the zeitgeist of self-motivated warriors finding physical, emotional and even spiritual nourishment through competing in extreme obstacle (think: fire pits, vertical walls and muddy terrain with belly-crawls under barbed-wire) course racing.

Along the way, the privately held organizer and operator of the world-wide race series has crafted an impressive sports-tourism success formula by developing strong partnerships with host communities, suppliers, vendors and municipal officials to consistently deliver a premium product participants rate second-to-none. Spartan Race events regularly attract thousands of people to their venues, creating winners not only at the course, but in the local host-communities where the economic impact is measured in the millions of dollars.

Come race day, the efforts of organizers, participants and tourism officials intersect to make these events special. Here’s unique perspective from each on the recently held Emerald City Open presented by Snohomish County at the Meadow Wood Equestrian Center in Snohomish, WA.

Event Organizer – Spartan Race, Inc.

Mike Morris, vice president of production for Spartan Race Inc., has seen how the organization’s mission of “Changing lives by getting people off the couch and providing a medium to get out and complete an obstacle course,” has helped grow Spartan Race into a unique lifestyle brand.

“The brand has extended beyond race’s we conduct to include training certifications, coaching, and international competitions,” Morris said. “At the core though, it’s our race series that attracts most of our customers and brings people to our different venues.”

In 2017, Spartan Race is holding 62 event-weekends domestically and more than 100 races internationally. Various race “products” accommodate different ability levels and interests.

“The Seattle Super and Sprint (Emerald City Open) held this past April is fairly typical of our weekend events,” Morris said. “This weekend was special in that it was the first event of our U.S. Championship Series. We did a live-stream broadcast online with 500,000 viewers and videotaped for an upcoming televised airing on NBC. Seattle was a great turnout for us – we had about 7000 racers and another 3000 or so spectators. The venue is beautiful and the local community and resources were great to work with.”

Morris noted that cooperation and partnership with local municipalities, tourism officials and community members ensures the success of Spartan’s events. He looks to area CVBs and tourism partners for help in finding a great venue that makes operational sense, help with economics (securing grants other funding options), resources such as parking, traffic control, day-labor and help securing permitting.

“Spartan believes in a long term mutually beneficial relationship with communities,” Morris said. “We want to be in town for multiple years. We know our event is just as important for the neighbor down the road to have a pleasant experience as for the thousands of racers, local hotels and restaurants. We want there to be a partnership across every aspect within the community. We think about this when we’re coming in to a community and we work with the localities, the CVBs and tourism boards. We know need local support on the economics front to make our events successful and in return we bring millions and millions of dollars in revenue.”

Tourism Officials – Snohomish County Sports Commission 

For Tammy Dunn, sports development director with the Snohomish County Sports Commission, April’s Spartan Race weekend was a resounding success for her community.

“The weekend gave us a fantastic opportunity to market our county to a specific market that enjoys and is attracted to the assets we have,” Dunn said. “They came early and stayed after the event and took advantage of the variety of offerings here. Visitors discover the natural beauty of the area and our assets for hiking, kayaking, mountain biking – all the outdoor activities participants and spectators of Spartan Race events like to do. Visitors are going to return because of the hospitality they received while here for the Spartan Race.”

Dunn estimated the weekend event had more than 10,500 in attendance, estimated 2612 room nights booked for area hotels and generated about $3.2 million dollars in overall economic impact.

“We’re the sports division of the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau and work hard to make events successful,” Dunn said. “We want to know what event holders need, provide assistance and be here as a resource for them. We help with promotion and create awareness in our community. Our businesses know when people are here for the Spartan Race and welcome visitors with open arms.”

This is the second Spartan Race event Snohomish has hosted. In 2015, the county held their first Spartan Race on the same private property, Meadow Wood Equestrian Center.

“Spartan Race is an extremely well organized business,” Dunn said. “We helped identify the venue, made the introductions to the landowner and after their contracts were signed, worked with Spartan Race to clearly understand what their needs were in terms of services and assistance. For example, we help connect them with security, police, and traffic control. We worked to identify supplemental parking and helped facilitate obtaining a financial award through the local Tourism Promotion Area Grant.”

Dunn is impressed with the professionalism of the Spartan Race organization.

“Spartan Race is a strong communicator,” Dunn said. “They are professional, accessible and easy to work with. They take great care of the athletes and ensure their safety. So much goes on behind the scenes to make these events a success, they are working months in advance and have solid planning. We were very pleased with the result.”

Spartan Race Participant – Alyssa Hawley

Spokane, WA resident and construction worker Alyssa Hawley couldn’t wait to compete in the Spartan Race Super event at April’s Emerald City Open. The elite athlete has won several Spartan Race events, yet her first place finish here was extra special as it was in front of a hometown crowd filled with family and friends.

“My family is everything to me,” Hawley said. “And to have them here at the finish was extra special.”

Hawley began participating in Spartan Races just two years ago with her first competition in August 2015. She’s competed in more than 20 Spartan Races including those in California, Washington, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

“What I love about the sport and Spartan races is that it tests all me in many ways,” Hawley said. “It tests me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Every course is different and is going to test you in different ways, whether through the terrain, the different obstacles or weather. That keeps it fun and exciting.”

Part of the allure for Hawley and her competitors is the unique set-up for each race. They receive a map upon arrival, yet aren’t allowed to preview the course, nor do they know exactly what they’ll find until they are in the throes of competition.

“You don’t know the exact distance, and while some of the obstacles are indicated on the map, some are identified as “classified” so you don’t know what is going to be there until you are upon it,” Hawley said. “You want to be prepared for anything.”

Hawley appreciates the level of racer support she finds with Spartan.

“It’s so organized,” she said. “Everything is well laid out in the registration/sign up process. You’re told what to expect, what to bring, where you need to go and given specific directions. Everything onsite is well identified and there are staff to help, it’s easy to find your start time and get your bib.”

For Hawley, the sense of community found among the racers, volunteers and spectators is what makes Spartan Race events so enjoyable.

“Everyone is so helpful and friendly, the on-course volunteers are there encouraging you, giving you the rules of the obstacles and there to cheer you on,” Hawley said.

Like many racers, Hawley took advantage of her weekend to explore beyond the race. So, what does an extreme athlete do after competing in a grueling obstacle course race?

“I went hiking and exploring on some of the local mountain trails.”