has become one of the most widely anticipated and iconic sporting events in South Africa. We caught up with the event coordinator, to explore what has made this annual race such an institution. WHEN WAS THE FIRST IRONMAN HELD IN SA? Although Ironman was f irst held in South Africa in 2000 in Gordon’s Bay, the current format of the event was first held in 2005, with the first full Ironman in Nelson Mandela Bay.
The Gordon’s Bay event is not in any way affiliated to Ironman South Africa in Nelson Mandela Bay. Event organisers, World Endurance Africa Holdings (previously known as Triangle Events), brought Ironman back to SA in 2004 staging a half Ironman (known as Ironman 70.3) in Nelson Mandela Bay as a test event. A year later, in 2005, the first full Ironman took place in Nelson Mandela Bay. This year Ironman South Africa celebrates its 10th anniversary in Nelson Mandela Bay. YOU HAVE A GREAT LINE-UP OF SPONSORS – HAS THERE ALWAYS BEEN STRONG CORPORATE INTEREST IN THE EVENT?
Ironman is an established international brand and carries massive brand appeal worldwide. The Ironman mantra of ‘anything is possible’ as well as everything that Ironman represents, such as endurance, strength of the human spirit, determination, overcoming the odds and passion, resonates not only with athletes but with spectators, corporate sponsors and is able to align with corporate sponsors and their brand messages. Ironman South Africa is an international sporting event and the biggest annual sports event in Nelson Mandela Bay. Naturally, the event attracts extensive media attention both nationally and internationally with some of the world’s best Ironman athletes travelling to SA to compete.
From a demographic perspective, the average Ironman athlete is in the LSM bracket 8 to 10 with high disposable income. These are goal oriented, driven individuals often holding inf luential positions. This allows sponsors to talk directly to a highly segmented target market and communicate their brand message to potential clients. Ironman South Africa offers corporate sponsors access to this premium target market through various touch points in and around the event. THE EVENT IS GROWING IN POPULARITY EVERY YEAR. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS DRIVING THIS GROWTH? At its most fundamental, the growth in popularity is largely due to the shift towards an active, healthy lifestyle in SA. This shift has become a trend and since the country is home to some of the world’s biggest and most iconic endurance events across various disciplines, it makes sense that athletes continually seek to push boundaries. Ironman is seen as the next step as athletes are able to combine swimming, cycling and running – all very popular individual disciplines in SA.
Internationally, Ironman South Africa is known as one of the most wellorganised events on the global circuit and in addition, the spectator support in Nelson Mandela Bay is of the best in the world, with well over 77 000 spectators supporting.
Last year’s winner, Ronnie Schildknecht, was convinced that the crowd thought he was South African as a result of the support that they showed him. Right up until midnight, the finish line will be packed to capacity as the spectators wait to cheer on the last athletes. We will also see the highest number of international athletes participating this year, with 22% of the field coming from abroad. IRONMAN IS NOW A BIG BUSINESS IN ITSELF – WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE AS THE EVENT GROWS IN STATURE? There are many challenges we face as a business. One of the biggest challenges right now is accommodating the demand for the races. With Ironman South Africa, Ironman 70.3 SA and the 5150 African Triathlon Series events selling out annually, athletes are crying out for another Ironman or Ironman 70.3 race in SA. Despite this demand, we take into consideration various aspects before establishing additional events. We are committed to rolling out events in a responsible and sustainable manner. We have worked hard to grow the triathlete pool in SA through our events so while we are continually looking at possibilities in establishing additional events, we try to avoid diluting the current athlete pool at existing races.
Naturally, as the event grows and more events open, the demand on the staff also grows. The World Endurance Africa Holdings team is a small, closeknit group and the company currently organises eight events annually with over 13 000 athletes across these events. One of the biggest challenges therefore is delivering a world-class race experience across each and every event with a small but extremely dedicated and passionate team. Most of the fundamental business aspects are done in-house, such as marketing, media, public relations and logistics down to the actual race execution and implementation.