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Is Primal Quest too big to fail?
posted Tuesday, April 14, 2009 by Yak @ 8:40 AM - 15 comments

The field for Primal Quest Badlands stands at 32 teams. Last year it was 58 and in 2006 it was around 90.

That's a 45% decline in attendance since last year and a whopping 65% decline since the Utah edition...which in hindsight was likely it's financial heyday.

32 teams at $11,500 per team is $368,000 in organic revenue...not including cash from sponsors.

So how much is Primal Quest taking in from sponsors? There's no way to know for sure, but we can make an educated guess. Looking at the sponsors listed on the official PQ website and their 2009 rate card I get $270,000...IF...and it's a big if...every sponsor at every level paid full price for their sponsorship package. If you've ever worked in the sports marketing industry you know how likely that is.

So far we're at $368,000 + $270,000 which is $638,000, but we're still missing a big chunk of change.

There are 5 partners listed on the site for which we don't have sponsorship rates...2 broadcast partners, 1 presenting sponsor and 2 state sponsors. It's safe to assume that all of these paid something north of the most expensive package for which we do have rates...the Segment Partner which goes for $20,000.

I have NO idea what any of these top line packages are worth. If you're a sports marketing guru and think you have an idea please post a comment and educate us. It may be that the broadcast partners didn't pay anything...or that SPOT is simply providing tracking units and free use of their service.

Lets err on the side of overestimating and say that for these 5 packages combined PQ took in twice what they got from all their other sponsors....we'll call it $500,000.

So now we're looking at $368,000 + $270,000 + $500,000 which is $1,138,000 in total revenue. We'll even round up and call it $1,250,000.

That's a lot of money, but it pales by comparison to what was spent on prior editions when the Watkins' were writing the check.

To give you an idea of what I mean consider that in a May 2007 interview with Stephen Reginold, The Gear Junkie, Don Mann was quoted as saying:
Last year, we spent $100,000 on the ropes sections. We spent $100,000 on the horse start. We spent $2 million on the web site.
The number I've heard floated for the entire event in 2006, soup to nuts, was on the order of $4M. That's a lot of duckets and a more than 3 times our imaginary working budget for the 2009 edition.

So what does all this mean?

Nothing really. It's's raining like cats and dogs here at Checkpoint Zero corporate headquarters and I'm just thinking out loud.

It's certainly possible to produce Primal Quest...and do it well...for a LOT less than what's been spent in the past. Don and company proved that last year.

What I wonder is at what point will they have to make sacrifices that have a material impact on the things that in the past made Primal Quest what it is (was).

Remember that early on PQ's tag line was "the world's richest expedition adventure race". That was changed last year to "the world's most challenging human endurance competition".

The race is now longer, and by extension, arguably even harder than ever before, but I don't worry about safety. There are too many smart people at the helm with too much experience. They're not going to send people into the wild without the staff, communications, transportation, etc to ensure their safety.

PQ has never left the continental US, but as of this writing there's been no news about a US broadcast since Voom bailed on the US market.

The cash component of the prize purse has been trimmed substantially from $250,000 to $100,000 last year. The website says that over $175,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded in 2009, but I don't know how much of that is cash vs prizes.

At what point is Primal Quest just a long race?

Does a paring of the "bells and whistles" detract from it's appeal?

Is a lack of TV exposure making it more difficult for teams to lure financial support from sponsors or it is it just the economy stupid?

Is it enough to get a well run and REALLY long suffer-fest for $11,500 or should racers expect more?

What do you think?

Post a comment and lets talk about it.


Anonymous Jim, Buffalo said...

I think with the way TV is going these days, heading more and more into the reality world, that is the way the PQ or some other race needs to go. We adventure racers are usually in it to test ourselves against whatever is thrown at us, but for the sake of the sport and its survival, it needs to be more. I know bringing up "Eco-Challenge" bothers many people but I think it can be brought back to TV like it used to. Elements of survival and storytelling went on that developed the sport, culture and racers. I believe this could easily be done with support from TV stations like the Travel Channel. Many more ideas from this but I could go on and on. This is just coming from a concerned ARer wanting the most from his sport. Many knew Team Eco-Internet or the Aussies. Team Montrail and SCARAB. The Brazilian Team, Team Buff and even Team Go. Nike Elite and Earthlink now. You really had team favorites(at least I did) and you could enjoy watching the competition unfold just like cheering for any other pro sports team. Well, time to get off my soap box.
Happy Adventuring!

April 14, 2009 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

Let's face it, sport these days needs 'major' sponsorship to thrive (the key word is thrive…not survive). And most big sponsors need to appeal to the mainstream to make the economics of a sponsorship work (esp. now!). And to appeal to mainstream America, for example, the 'story' needs to be dramatic and emotional (e.g., human interest). (BTW, these are two of the strongest traits of AR!) However, to make this happen, a good 'story teller' is also needed (eg, sales!). Unfortunately, AR has very few good 'story tellers'. Mark Burnett was the last good story teller the sport had. Once Mark left the sport, it hasn't been the same.

April 14, 2009 at 4:06 PM  
Anonymous Rob said...

As one of those that paid the 11,500, I have no doubt that Don Mann & Company will put on a good race and that i will suffer plenty. But I ask myself, What's wrong with the sport, when i can catch nearly every obscure sport in the world on cable and AR gets near zero coverage. I loved watching Eco Challenge on TV, even when I was just a smoking, drinking office-bound bureacrat.

Yes, make it a reality show. Put a camera/mike on my hat, helmet & bike and those of my teammates and let them show what reality-suffering is all about (and the really awkward conversations & fights had between teammates, if that will save the sport. We need sponsors, sponsors want exposure, TV is the best exposure.

SC2/Synergy Racing

April 15, 2009 at 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I agree with Rob, get AR on TV for the masses. If AR is going to grow, potential sponsors need to know that their product is going to be seen. What is the point of sponsoring a race when only the racers know about the sponsorship. (That being said, I buy only Salomon shoes because of their sponsorship, and similarly favor other sponsors.) Give other companies a reason to want to sponsor AR. Get the premier events on tv. ESPN shows tractor pulls, skate-boarding, and even poker! Why not adventure racing? I can't believe they can find an audience for X-games but not for Primal Quest.

Search ESPN's website for "Adventure Racing" and the only link is a 2-year-old article about Danelle Ballengee's training accident.

Without coverage, PQ is great for the premire adventure racer, but does nothing to grow the sport. It is accessible only to the sponsored or wealthy athletes. Intermediate teams that might like to give it a go are excluded because of finances. To me, races like the MIX, Berryman, and Endorphin Fix do far more to grow the sport because they are not cost-prohibitive. Intermediate racers who want to make that jump from sprint races to expedition races can afford those. The organizers of those races are putting on races that are quality AND affordible. No, they don't get coverage either, but at least they allow participation by just about anyone.

I have a hard time believing that with the resources available to them, PQ staff can't get it on ESPN or even Versus considering that it's run during a relative dead time in national sports. No NFL or College football for a couple weeks yet, NHL and NBA playoffs are long over, and MLB is in the middle of the summer "none-of-the-games-really-matter" stretch. It seems like something like PQ could really be a nice bit to fill the void.

April 15, 2009 at 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Clay said...

What AR lacks is indeed mass media exposure. If someone inquires as to your interests and you mention 'adventure racing' more often than not get a puzzled look. However, if you add it is like Eco-Challenge to the description...then the light bulb comes on. Whether you have top multi-sport athletes, elite military teams, 3 playmates or Anakin Skywalker...there has to be something to entice viewers and something to sell to the networks so that they can in turn sell the advertising.

I also agree with the statement that if Poker (also included....Bowling, Rodeo, wrestling, etc....) can be televised...then anything can find a niche with the networks. To make it have to find the angle that in AR's case is also the human interest story. I was disappointed in the ESPN coverage of the 2006 PQ event (don't get me was great to have exposure). They sent a film crew to the gulf coast to follow a local team there that had lost everything (gear, homes, etc...)in Katrina (worst natural disaster in US history) and still continued their training amongst the debris of New Orleans. That is the stuff that people will remember yet none of that footage was included. To reach a mass audience, you have to find mass appeal and the coverage was primarily a physical one. Imagine if the marketing for the program had been something like ....After losing everything in 'Katrina', a Louisiana team fights back to cross the finish line at toughest race on the planet. Almost like getting people to watch 3 Playmates run around in the woods, or 2 former professional cheerleaders on Amazing Race....

April 16, 2009 at 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yak, your calculations should deduct for the amount of entry fee that has been waived for the top 10 teams from last year. Not sure how many of those are returning, but if they are, I believe their entry fee in 2009 was waived or reduced as part of their prize purse. Also, some teams on the 2009 list are 2008 teams who had their entries forwarded--so that is not new money.

April 17, 2009 at 4:01 PM  
Blogger Yak said...

Good point Anonymous.

At this point it's pretty clear the race is on regardless, but if I had to guess I'd say there's very likely a fairly substantial revenue gap at play.

I've always been one of PQ's biggest fans (current race management would likely argue because I refuse to delete unfavorable comments)...I spent my own money to cover the Tahoe and Utah editions, but I've also poured a lot of blood, sweat, tears, time and money into building CP0 (the brand, site and team), developing Checkpoint Tracker which has enabled numerous promoters to produce online coverage for next to no money and put together the Checkpoint Tracker Adventure Racing Series...presented by Inov-8...and it very often seems like a fools errand.

PQ charges $11,500/team and there's no prime time TV and the cash prize purse is less than 50% of what it used to be.

USARA does nothing new year after year and continues to masquerade as a non-profit governing body...they're not...they're a for-profit company that does ZERO (pun intended) advocacy for the sport. They should be lobbying the USFS on behalf of promoters, awarding prize money, cross promoting and/or partnering with USAT...tangent alert...don't get me started :-)

Can you imagine if all the money spent on PQ went to the smaller promoters that are gonna still be trying to squeak by when PQ is gone?

April 17, 2009 at 4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, Yak, you have it wrong about the USARA. Go to their home page and they clearly state that adventure racing is sweeping the nation. Wait, I'm wrong as that was posted on their site going back several years.

Second, I'm not convinced that AR even needs Primal Quest. If Primal Quest has not been able in the past few years to get large sponsorships, television coverage, and all that, what makes anyone think that to continue beating that dead horse will somehow make it come alive.

Third, and still on Primal Quest, 32 teams and very few are international teams. Compare that with the upcoming Untamed New England AR. Nearly as many teams registered and decent international representation.

Does adventure racing need large national sponsorship or media coverage to survive and even grow? NO! Adventure racing will survive and/or grow because people want to test themselves physically and mentally. If you want to be on television, put on 200 pounds and try to lose it or sing poorly.


April 21, 2009 at 7:32 AM  
Blogger Yak said...

You forgot starve yourself and stand on a pole while balancing a plate on stick to win a cheeseburger :-)

April 21, 2009 at 11:31 AM  
Blogger A Fan said...

Here's the bottom line

They're not making nearly as much as you think in sponsor money, they're not taking in nearly what you think in registration fees. They're putting this on for far less than you can imagine, though are very resourceful and will do a good job with what resources they have. I know this as I'm an Adventure Race Director.

While we adventure racers want TV coverage for our team, and feel that race coverage is what makes the show great, it's not for the masses. Mark Burnett knew this better than anyone, what sells on TV is HUMAN EMOTION. That means Team GO at the back of the pack and the fat guy with blisters, that means horses bucking off contestants, that means leeches in Urethra's and knee high bat guano. Get that back and find a way to do it without sending 80 camera crews (too expensive) and we'll have AR back on TV. It's the MOST important thing that can happen to this sport.

AR will go on as it is and evolve into a club sport, which is fine and cheaper for us, but unfortunately doesn't give us the ego boost that mass recognition does. US Orienteering clubs will pick up the slack and O will evolve more and more toward AR.

But until we have HUMAN EMOTION in AR on TV, the public just isn't that thrilled. And our little TV view niche can't cover production costs to put it on.

April 21, 2009 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger Yak said...

Oh, I agree with you...I think they're bringing in a LOT less sponsor money than I included in my imaginary budget...I was being overly generous to lend credence to my argument.

I also agree that the PQ folks are INSANELY resourceful...and talented...and ambitious.

The fact remains you could pay full price for the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge AND buy tickets for your entire team to fly to the middle-east, be spared NO details and then place 21st and get your money back with your cut of the MASSIVE prize purse for what you'll spend driving to SD for PQ.

Despite what we might all desire...and the best intentions of PQ's hard working, well-meaning, and selfless staff (and volunteers) some point you DO have to go gently into that goodnight...if not for the sake of the sport...for the sake of your own sanity, finances, legacy, etc.

I applaud Don Mann for his Herculean efforts to keep PQ alive. The thing support is no way to live.

Look, I'm a dick for saying any of this...I know that. You think I don't know that PQ race management is reading this? I was born at night, but not last night.

They gave me an earful last year for not deleting unfavorable comments. Notice they don't allow comments on their site?

I stopped caring about what other people think a long time ago.

April 21, 2009 at 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Toby said...

Look at how the evolution of the sport of AR has progressed since the inception of Eco-Challenge. MB started by airing EC on of all places MTV and as part of the original X-Games. Most of us older folk were inspired by those early events. Inspired enough to get off the couch and out on the course. The coverage of Eco-Challenge progressed to the Discovery Channel and ultimately the USA Network in prime time. EC allowed Mr. Burnett show the Hollywood folk tat he could continue to crank out reality-based shows such as Survivor. Eco is really the show that launched the reality television boom that litters our sets every night now.

What Mark did was bring an epic event down to where, as a viewer, you were either rooting for a team or cursing at someone like one of my teammates in New Zealand felt the sting of. The work of the entire EC crew, the exotic locations, the epic courses, and the human interest/drama allowed the show to garner huge ratings.

As a result, domestic event sponsors such as Fogdog, Hi-Tec, and Balance Bar all promoted high profile sprint and 24-hr series races until 2003-04.

Once MB/EC's television contract with the USA Network was completed...his production company had shows that may have made more money, but certainly took fewer production hours and logistic issues. While as a racer, I am sad that Eco is no more, I can not fault MB for moving forward with his career.

But, with the death of Eco came the slow demise of our sport. Without that premier event to hang its hat on, other sponsors slowly dropped out of the sport as well. If you add up the lost event sponsors, dropped team sponsors, lost television exposure in '03-'04 the dollar amount is greater than $15 million.

I go to races now and people have no idea who David Kelly, Teri Schnieder, Jason Middleton, et al are. Lots of folks don't have any idea who Danelle Ballengee is.

PQ was a great concept developed over burgers by three friends. The idea was to bring the best racers from around the world to the States for an expedition length race...and with hope Don and his team will be able to restore the race to that.

Maybe the entry fee makes it prohibitive to the average racer. BUT this is an expedition race and not all of us are cut out for the distance. The thing to remember is that putting on a race, any race, here in the States has tons of hidden costs insurance being on. While speculative, after what happened in Washington, I would think that underwriting an event with the inherent risks of PQ is not an inexpensive thing.

I don't think we can sit and judge on the cost of the race, the "income", sponsorship incentives and such until we actually try and put together an expedition length race here in the US. Be freakin' happy that an event like PQ, while not for everyone, exists!

I consider myself fortunate to have raced both EC and PQ as well as the Cal-Eco Series, Fogdog, Balance Bar, the Wild Onion...all races that no longer exist.

The internet makes it easy to get your sport exposed. Carry your own camera on the course. Post it on your website or on YouTube. Edit it on your computer. Or, buy the network airtime and hire a production crew to shoot the race. Instead of naming the things wrong with our something about it.

If we all start posting videos with the label "Adventure Racing" in the subject line...think about how many hits that might get. If we can prove to the networks, sponsors, other racers that there is a tangible and recognizable interest out there for people who want to see us doing our thing...well, we just might be able to earn some of their dollars and respect back.

Right now we need to get the sport out there as much as we can through as many different avenues as possible to as many different population groups...

Thanks for your support of AR!
Kindest regards,

April 21, 2009 at 5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Primal Quest is not too big to fail I think it's at risk of becoming too small. With no TV showing of the 2008 Primal Quest in the USA the recruitment will be down for Adventure racing domestically.

I think the recruitment issue is a perpetual problem with the AR community as racers are typically quiet / reserved and not given exposure or choose to not be exposed.

Speaking for myself, I've only kept one foot in the AR community. I've moved on to one dimensional sports like only cycling or rock climbing.

May 27, 2009 at 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Shane said...

I think the essence of what was lost (echoed in the previous comments) - is the big event that inspires and elevates the sport into the limelight. Eco-challenge is what got my fat ass off the couch, and racing. Eco-challenge is what prompted me to co-found our our area adventure racing club (now over 900 members). Eco-challenge is what prompted me to start a business to produce Adventure Races. I understand the challenges of the sport.

As to Yak's question, "Is Primal Quest too big to fail?", hell no. In fact, their fast on the road to destroying the nature of the expedition adventure race. I predict they will fail if not by next year, then the following. Again, Yak quotes:

Remember that early on PQ's tag line was "the world's richest expedition adventure race". That was changed last year to "the world's most challenging human endurance competition".

Note the key change in that tag line "adventure race" changed to "endurance competition". It's now all about pain and suffering. That's Don Mann's past (SEALs) and primary design criteria. Make it stupid hard for the sake of making it stupid hard - because "I can". Taking the adventure out of adventure race.


What I wonder is at what point will they have to make sacrifices that have a material impact on the things that in the past made Primal Quest what it is (was).

It's happened already. The race doesn't have to be 1200 miles to boggle the mind. Endurance suffering at just 200 miles is leaps and bounds beyond what most people can conceive of. Like the previous posters stated - there has to be human drama to make it work for the television boob-tubers.

But for the racers - there has to be a reason to suffer, a goal. The suffering isn't the goal - it's a byproduct of the race (we can't, nay; don't want to - escape the pain), but should never be the goal in and of itself. You need racers who do the race to love the race, love the sport. Love the challenge. Then they go and egg on their friends to put together a team and race. Then the sport grows.

When you charge someone a freaking insane amount of money - you better damn well produce a product that is loved by 90% or more of your racers. That has not happend with Primal Quest. When you get mostly negative feedback, it's a sign something is wrong - it's not right for your target audience - your mission isn't on-target.

Why do you think they have to delete the negative comments. There are so many of them. They have to quell them. The want to suppress them. They need to suppress them - they'll overwhelm the positive.

I don't say this to be mean, negative or vindictive. I hope, want, and pray (okay, I'm not religious, I really don't pray...) for them to be successful. I WANT PQ to be successful. We NEED a banner bearer for the sport. We NEED people to identify a brand, an image, a recognizable "face" for the sport.

I think there are two distinct goals that an expedition level race should have. One is what Eco-challenge did for us - it popularized the sport. People knew who Ian Adamsson was ... Nathan Fa'ave - the rivalry - they came back week after week to root on their favorites, boo the teams they hated...

Two is producing a race for the racers - one that people want to come back to. One that people will put down cold hard cash for. It's clear that Primal Quest has clearly missed on this second point. The declining attendance is a key illustrative. Yes - the economy sucks - and yes, that probably has an effect on things - but the trend is clearly an abseil off a cliff with failing gear...

It's clear that PQ has failed on the first part. Look at their media sponsors. Are you going to see PQ on your tube in the fall? Not very likely. Sadly. Very sadly...

June 5, 2009 at 6:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for Toby's comment: Thank god nobody knows who Teri Schneider is ........ her team called her "The Baggage", and she walked away from racing because she couldn't find a team....that would put up with her annoying big butt.

October 14, 2009 at 7:19 PM  

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