The mud run industry will likely take in more than $200 million in revenue in 2014, and it's expanding. The Outdoor Industry Association reports extreme-event participation is nearly double what it was a decade ago, and SportsBusiness Daily estimates more than 2 million people compete each year. To this point, races from market leaders like Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash haven't been mainstays on live television, but that's about to change.
The TV deal
This week, NBC Sports Ventures, a division of Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) NBC Sports, announced a "strategic alliance" with the oldest of the "Big Three" mud run brands, Spartan Race. The deal's financial value is undisclosed, though the network says it is a multi-year arrangement.
Beginning later this month, NBC and NBC Sports Network will broadcast the Spartan Race World Championship in November, as well as five earlier Spartan Races, according to a press release. The events will also be streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra, which is available for desktop and mobile devices.
Spartan Race previously partnered with NBC to televise last year's World Championship, so it's hard to think the latest deal shocked competitors. In fact, given that mud runs now look set to receive more media exposure, this latest development is good news for the entire mud run industry.
"The skill and excitement of obstacle racing is something that athletes and sports fans of all disciplines can appreciate.... We are looking forward to growing the fan base and obstacle racing business together with the help of NBC Sports' unique promotional and marketing support," Rob Simmelkjaer, a senior VP with NBC Sports Ventures, recently said.
Spartan Race's CEO, Joe DeSena, echoed the sentiment: "By amplifying the level of visibility for the sport of obstacle racing, we're taking a huge step toward our mission to pull people off the couch and get them living fit. We have big dreams for this sport, and exciting times are ahead."
Mud runs currently aren't a spectator sport, but with NBC's help, there's no telling how many fans will jump on board. The network also works with other extreme sporting events like the Dew Action Sports Tour and Red Bull Signature Series. The latter, which covers everything from snowboarding to BMX, typically draws over 6 million viewers per quarter, according to the company.
If Spartan Race can merely generate a third of this audience each year -- amounting to 2 million people -- its TV viewership will be as large as the industry's annual racing population. That'd be an enormous accomplishment.
The bottom line
Already home to three $50 million events -- Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and Spartan Race -- there's clearly a market for this type of event. But questions still remain.
Will TV viewers watch to the same extent they've watched extreme sports in the past? Will advertisers follow? And, perhaps most important, will regular coverage on NBC push more people to actually race? The answers should become clear in a few years.