SBJ/20080915/This Week's News

Equity firm buys Ironman parent

Providence Equity Partners’ purchase of the parent company of the Ironman Triathlon continues a recent trend of private equity investment in endurance sports.

Rhode Island-based Providence paid an undisclosed sum for World Triathlon Corp., which stages or licenses rights to 53 Ironman and half-Ironman distance events annually.

Providence’s new holding company, World Endurance Holdings, will move World Triathlon headquarters a short distance, from Tarpon Springs, Fla., to Tampa. World Triathlon had been located in the offices of ophthalmologist James Gills, who bought the Ironman brand in 1989 for $3 million from Valerie Silk, the former race director of the annual Ironman world championship in Hawaii.

Providence manages $21 billion in investments, focusing on media, communications and entertainment, and is best known in sports for its stake in the YES Network.

World Triathlon Corp., born
from the original race in Hawaii,
holds the Ironman trademark.

Andrew Cole, spokesman for Providence, said no management changes are planned and that World Triathlon President Ben Fertic will continue to run the company as part of World Endurance Holdings. Like other private equity firms, Providence typically holds assets for five to seven years before selling.

“We see significant opportunities to leverage our experience in media and the Internet to help bring the Ironman brand and athlete experience to the next level,” Cole said.

World Triathlon spokeswoman Blair LaHaye said the deal grew out of talks in recent years between Fertic and two Providence board members who compete in triathlons. “There was a clear connection and a good fit,” she said.

Triathletes represent a lucrative demographic. Ironman competitors have an average income of $160,000, according to World Triathlon research. Entry fees for Ironman events, which are mostly nonrefundable, average $475.

According to World Triathlon, licensed Ironman products, including races, accounted for $500 million in sales in 2007, but the company does not reveal its cut. The company has trademarked “Ironman” for numerous marketing endeavors “in association with contests consisting of running, biking and swimming.”

That distinction has enabled World Triathlon to distance itself from Marvel Entertainment, which created the “Iron Man” comic strip character in 1963, 15 years before the debut of the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. Providence’s purchase includes the iconic “M-Dot” logo, for which Silk paid a graphic designer $75.

In January, the buyout fund Falconhead Capital bought three endurance sports companies: Elite Racing Inc., which stages the popular Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons; La Jolla Holding Group, publisher of Triathlete Magazine; and Competitor Publishing Inc., a group of regional endurance sports magazines.

Falconhead formed a new company, Competitor Group Inc., and created a portal (www.competitor.com) designed as a one-stop shopping site for endurance-racing athletes.

Pete Williams is a writer in Safety Harbor, Fla.

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