SBJ/June 17-23, 2013/Facilities

Ballparks take the operational challenge, host Spartan Race

Fenway Park has hosted numerous non-baseball events during its 101-year history, from an Irish Republican Army meeting to professional wrestling matches and even a John Philip Sousa concert.

The ballpark, however, had never been home to a mass-participant obstacle race before this past November, when the Spartan Race series held its inaugural urban race there — the first of a growing number of visits to big league stadiums for the series.

Photo by: NUVISION ACTION IMAGE
The success of the Fenway event convinced Spartan Race CEO Joe De Sena to seek out additional stadiums as hosts. The Spartan Race held an event in April at New York’s Citi Field, and it has scheduled September events at Miller Park in Milwaukee and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia as well as a return to Fenway in November. It also will hold an event at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium in February, and has a return date set for Citi Field in April.

Fenway Park (top) brought in the Spartan Race last November; Citi Field had one while the Mets were away.
Photo by: NEW YORK METS
“It was attractive for us to show our versatility,” said Chris Jordan, event services manager for Fenway Enterprises. “It was definitely a challenge for our operations team, but it showed us we can take [Fenway] in different directions.”

About 50 Spartan Race officials and five Fenway grounds crew employees worked for a week to erect 25 obstacles, setting up a 2.8-mile course that snaked through the concourses and grandstands. Some of the obstacles required little more effort than stacking picnic tables or tying off ropes. Others were more complex, like the 25-foot A-frame and cargo net that stood in front of the famous Green Monster in right field.

The two-day event sold out its 6,600 spots and attracted approximately 10,000 total visitors, including spectators. Registration fees ranged from $75 to $150 for the event, depending on when registrants signed up.

The race course took participants onto the warning track, but they didn’t run on the outfield grass or dirt infield. Jordan said the impact to the field was a concern, as the stadium has needed to resod grass after hockey games and other non-baseball events.

“We were nervous about damaging grass,” he said. “They agreed, and between five floors and the concourses, we had plenty of room.”

Jordan said the event will look to double registration to about 12,500 when it returns in November.

For the ballparks, the Spartan Race is another way to bring crowds when the team is away. Having hosted the Men’s Health Urbanathlon obstacle course, Citi Field officials promoted their Spartan Race on the stadium’s LED billboards and during games.

Citi Field, however, had a shorter window for its race, as the Mets were on a road trip. Heather Collamore, executive director of Metropolitan Hospitality at Citi Field, said the Spartan Race team set up in three days and then removed the obstacles in 24 hours. The race attracted 10,000 participants.

“We started the first wave [of participants] at 8:30 a.m. and we went until 9 p.m.,” said Collamore, who also attended the Fenway race. “We want to do two days next year.”

The move to ballparks marks a change in focus for Spartan Race, which traditionally holds its events at ski resorts, parklands and other rural venues. With annual revenue in the eight figures, Spartan Race is the second-largest player in the growing “mud run” category behind Tough Mudder.

De Sena said the move to an urban environment helps distinguish Spartan Race from its rivals. “I don’t know if people want to constantly be playing in the mud,” he said. “We thought an urban course would be a good way to introduce new people to our sport.”

But De Sena said stadium events do not generate profit, as the expenses are about six times greater than a traditional park or ski area race. He said his team spent just under $1 million to build a set of prefabricated obstacles, which can be set up and torn down quickly, allowing Spartan Race to operate at stadiums during the baseball season. But the fee to use ballparks ranges from the low to mid-six figures. Ballpark events also must cap their registration due to size. The rural Spartan Race events regularly attract 15,000 participants.

“It’s about exposure and brand building,” De Sena said. “We want to be a mainstream sport.”

Fred Dreier is a writer in Colorado.


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