SBJ/October 8-14, 2012/Events and Attractions

From a trot to a gallop: After adding triathlons, HITS will launch running festivals

One year after stepping into the triathlon business, the Saugerties, N.Y.-based HITS equestrian company is launching a running series. The series will include six two-day running festivals in 2013, though the company has not determined the location of the events.

Like its triathlon events — which feature races of five different distances — HITS’ running events will feature a marathon, half-marathon, 10-kilometer, 5-kilometer and one-mile race, held on the same course.

“We think the business model with five distances is appealing to [runners],” said Tom Struzzieri, CEO and president of HITS. “That works with our ability to create economies of scale.”

Struzzieri has hired Boulder, Colo.-based event promoter Barry Siff to oversee the series.

Siff, who oversaw the Colorado-based 5430 series of triathlon events, said he is looking at Oceanside, Calif., Hartford, Conn., and similarly sized cities to host the events. He said the company hopes to attract 5,000 to 10,000 runners to each of its events.

“We’re not looking at Chicago or L.A.; we want cities just a little smaller than these,” Siff said.

HITS’ two national series of endurance events pits the company squarely against the Competitor Group, owner of the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series, and the World Triathlon Corp., owner of the Ironman brand of triathlon races.

HITS’ triathlon business was modest in its first year. Through nine of its 12 races, the company has attracted 5,300 total athletes. Its largest event, in Palm Springs, Calif., attracted 1,100 athletes. It signed national sponsorship deals with Chicago-based High Tower financial and Hammer Nutrition energy products.

The company’s registration numbers don’t compare with 62 Ironman events, which regularly attract between 1,500 to 2,000 athletes and have a wide range of bike, shoe and other gear sponsors. But Struzzieri said his goal is for the HITS races to have a smaller, more grassroots feel.

Struzzieri said the series lost money in its first year and that he is “still a few years” away from breaking even. The successful equestrian events, he said, subsidized the loss. In July, he became sole owner of the company, purchasing a share from the private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners.

He said the triathlon series would return in 2013, and that he has adjusted registration fees to give customers steep discounts for signing up early.

“Our first-year numbers weren’t huge, but they were about where we thought they’d be,” he said. “This was new territory for us. We learned a lot.”

Fred Dreier is a writer in New York.

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