M+A contributor Ryan Josti interviews United States Obstacle Course Racing (USOCR) cofounder Sam Mansfield.
M&A: First off: thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions from us at MudandAdventure! So covering the basics, What have you accomplished to-date? Are you happy with what you’ve been doing behind the scenes thus far?
USOCR: Ryan, like many startups we have had our share of successes and shortcomings to date; however, I will say that progress has been overwhelmingly stacked in the “success” column throughout our development. Mark and I have focused primarily on aligning national service partners for race companies to assist them in augmenting their control of race production costs, and providing for better foresight in budget planning. Ultimately, the partners we’ve aggregated make the race production process more cost effective for both race companies and runners all the while increasing over all quality. In synopsis, since most of this will be released publicly in coming weeks, we’ve initiated contracts with multiple national service partners, amassed a sizable group of race series partners, and are finalizing build out on a website that will be second to none in supporting and growing OCR in the US.
M&A: As you are a sanctioning body, I have to ask: do you have any sanctioned organizations at this point?
USOCR: We are working with twelve race series at the present. Our model is loosely based on that of triathlon which, in regards to this question, means we can onboard new race series on a quarter-by-quarter basis.
We expect to onboard new races (single events) and series (multiple events) throughout this and coming seasons.
M&A: What can you do (offer) to an organization that may approach you to sanction their event(s)?
USOCR: Let me sharpen one detail for you: though “sanctioning” is an important part of what we do in the race space, “development” for the race companies is just as important. Sanctioning is focused around uniform, top-tier safety programming adopted and adapted by the USOCR race series, our race company partners. These series (or individual events) capture world-class insurance coverage through USOCR’s sanctioning program currently under construction by ESIX Global, the world’s leader in sports and entertainment insurance and risk assessment. Essentially, the offer on the sanctioning side is a program that is second to none in the rate vs. coverage (types, etc.) decision.
Many other companies will affiliate with USOCR to capture the stream of benefits offered through our national service partners. These events may or may not choose to work within our sanctioning program; they have options to gain better control over their P&L by utilizing our program without necessary falling under (meeting) sanctioning criteria.
M&A: This year brings many firsts, one includes competing organizations both vying to become the official unifying World Championship of the sport, what is USOCRs position regarding this? Have you communicated with these organizations? Will you be sanctioning one of these events?
USOCR: Yes, we are in ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders in the OCR network from major race series to mom and pops, gear manufacturers to distributors/ retailers, pro athletes to the average runner. As far as we are concerned all growth, in this case the stratification of the sport amongst multiple entrepreneurial entities, is a great thing. Any entity in the OCR space that is seeking to develop it and increase visibility is a friend to the sport at large, and thus a friend of USOCR. As far as supporting and/ or sanctioning these events, that is up to the event owner’s himself or herself. We anticipate that some will approach USOCR to manage drug testing, others for process improvement, and others for insurance. Time will tell.
M&A: Let’s talk details: how will you be sanctioning events? With OCR being so diversified between the amount, type, quality of obstacles, length and time, there are so many variables… what does USOCR plan do to?
USOCR: The sanctioning process is facilitated through an application process in which USOCR meets with the race series or event, and conducts a thorough (and proprietary ) examination of risk and, more importantly, implements a mitigation plan.
Diversity is not so daunting as many may think. Obstacles are innocent until proven guilty and must be monitored year on year to determine individual risk dimensions for each. This type of labor is necessary in the eyes of the insurance and someone has to take the lead on developing a funnel program to determine the exact risk dimension of the sport in aggregate. This means day in and day out pouring through data and assessing risks to build out a national program that is satisfactory for the insurance markets in coming seasons. We filter this large amount of information by utilizing a standardized data capture tool (also proprietary!) that has been designed by USOCR, ESIX, and a handful of leading race series in the US.
M&A: While most who read this love competition, a large swath of the revenue generated in OCR community are non-competitive “fun-seekers,” they likely have little interest in the professionalization of the sport, will sanctioning impact them?
USOCR: A good observation Ryan, more than 99% of the OCR community is comprised of fun runners. At USOCR we appreciate the competitor and seek to develop national support programs for the pro runner in the sport. In the meantime the name of the game is sport visibility and membership programs. USOCR is dedicated to increasing the popularity of the sport and stabilizing the features that are currently shaky. To accomplish this, we are beginning to work proactively with OCR running organizations across the US to foster ongoing benefit programs to attract more runners to the sport.
We have also designed a robust USOCR membership package where runner can purchase an annual membership and enjoy benefits for the year that should increase/incentivize participation in events and solidify retention in a national runners community facilitated by USOCR. This member package is ideally designed to be beneficial to both “competitive” runners and the average two-a-year fun runners.
M&A: What is your take on other sanctioning bodies? For example USAORA is attempting similar sanctioning/standard bearing objectives. Is there something that separates you from them?
USOCR: We love competition. Competition gives an entity something to push up against, to grow and learn from. Improvement is always easier when you have a solid reference point to define your objectives. To date, USOCR has been fairly unchallenged. The programs we have designed outperform any other firm in the space. What separates, in my opinion, USOCR from any other competitor (and the general industry attitude to date, for that matter) is that we are highly team oriented. We have worked and learned from more than 30 race series, multiple pro athletes, parallel governing bodies, etc. to develop our programs. In short, USOCR was tailor made to address the issues that our stymying growth in the OCR space. It is this highly efficient, lightweight design that will be the cornerstone of our success in coming seasons.
M&A: Looking forward give us a time-line with a few things that we can expect to see coming out of USOCR, and when we might see them
USOCR: The sanctioning program (and insurance coverage program) is on schedule for finalization this month.
Likewise, all contracts with national service partners are being finalized throughout this month and early next month
Initial race series partners (think 4-7) will be announced this month
That’s a good start Ryan!
This Q&A was accompanied by an hour long phone conversation with USOCR’s CEO Sam Mansfield which included a plethora of information on top of what he responded with here.
To be frank, as unlikely as some may seem to think it is, USOCR has real potential to be something both great for the sport, and great for the athletes. From keeping costs down for race organizations, to maintaining basic safety standards, national standings, logistics, risk management, and more. Honestly it’s a lot to take in and easy to see why many are skeptical, but it’s important to note, that to-date USOCR has been bankrolled and operated by Sam Mansfield and his team, with no funding from anyone in OCR. So for those claiming they are “money grabbers” they clearly don’t fit into that Modus Operandi.
The last bit of information I wanted to divulge is something that Mr. Mansfield was reluctant to give at first, but he understands that the masses simply want something to see: the USOCR full website (currently it is just a landing page) will go live by the end of April, and allow everyone to really see the hard work the USOCR team has put in.