Want to own your industry? Don't think vertical integration; think participant continuum.

Participant what? I know, that's what I thought. But stick with me--this is a cool business strategy.

Here's another in my series in which I pick a topic and connect with someone a lot smarter than me. (Check out some previous installments at the end of the article.)

This time I talked to Scott Dickey, the CEO of Competitor Group, a privately-held sports marketing and management group that owns and operates running, cycling, and triathlon events (including the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon series) and magazines like Triathlete, VeloNews and Competitor(Disclosure: I subscribe to VeloNews.)

From the outside looking in, you've created "synergy" (dislike the word but in this case it fits) between your various lines of business.
The events and the magazines/websites definitely feed off each other. We look at it as an ecosystem. We're in the business of participant-based sports, not fan-based, so we see it as a participant continuum.

Once someone has made a commitment to train for an event, we engage them in a dialogue for that as a journey as they get ready for that culminating moment. The event itself is the celebration of everything that comes before: Training, gear, health and wellness, an active lifestyle.

That's a good point. For your customers, actually starting the event feels like hitting a finish line. I made it. I'm here!
Absolutely. And then you think, "Let's go back and do it again." Once you know you can do it, you're hooked.

We love our business, we love what it does for self esteem and health, but at the same time we're trying to build a world-class sports marketing platform with an audience that is really attractive to advertisers and sponsors.

You also get the opportunity to build up a tremendous amount of good will: If you help me train and prepare for, say, one of your marathons and it's a great event, it's like we did it together.
Hopefully so. That's why we see the actual event as the culminating celebration. We feel like we're in the business of two things. We help people focus on living a healthy and active lifestyle. We're also in a tourism business.

People who are motivated to train for endurance events also like to travel and experience the world--so we give them the opportunity to do that and a reason and excuse to celebrate.

You do basically an event a weekend. That means you're a little like a traveling circus in terms of logistics and operations.
We're more like a rock concert. We definitely have a rock concert model: With the Rock 'n' Roll marathons alone we keep 12 trucks on the road all year round. The event side of our business is definitely a tour operation.

Speaking of shows: You destroyed the marathon paradigm--early start, early finish, typically a rural segment--with your Vegas marathon. I would have never imagined a night marathon.
Again, our Strip at Night marathon in Vegas is all about the celebration. Super fast course, great weather in December, the course is already lit, thousands of people watching.

And we definitely give it a Vegas feel: There's a run-through wedding chapel so people can renew their vows (last year around 30 couples got married); we'll have the single largest running Elvis contingent; tons of people in costumes; white Bengal tigers at the start line; showgirls; live music; pyrotechnics--it's truly a spectacle.

It's not about qualifying for the Boston marathon or trying for a personal record--although some people do--it's about living a really healthy life and playing hard and working hard.

That also changes the focus--and your target customer.
We like to focus on the journey of the people at the back of the pack. Thirty-five to 45% of our marathon participants are first-timers. At our Rock 'n' Roll marathons 65% of the runners are female. We attract health-oriented people running for a cause, running on a getaway weekend--they're a very passionate audience.

They're also an audience that is tremendously focused. You can't train for and run a marathon or a half marathon if you aren't disciplined and motivated.  But still, it's about your journey.

That's why we do so many half marathons and even mini-marathons. We try to bring people to the starting line so they can feel the energy and excitement. Once you feel that, you want to stay a part of it.

Which automatically feeds into the participant continuum.
We take a comprehensive approach. We provide information about training, gear, nutrition, fitness--all the stuff you're already interested in because you're into what we do.

When you provide good content in a compelling vertical platform, you can aggregate a fragmented industry in a way that is meaningful for participants and for advertisers and marketers.

And have a lot of fun doing it--because every weekend we get to see people accomplish something they've dreamed of and worked really hard for.

That's a very cool business to be in.

Check out other articles in this series: