January 04, 2017

Escape Series: Keep An Eye On This

via Slow Twitch

Written by Dan Empfield 

Bill Burke is the hardest working man in triathlon. He puts on a lot of events, mostly other peoples’: The New York City Triathlon (for John Korff). The HyVee Triathlon. Nation’s Tri. And, Escape from Alcatraz.

Many of these races became Life Time (such as the NYC Tri) or TriRock series races. Some have come full circle, Bill Burke has them again, except now he's not producing them for other owners: these races are his. A few weeks ago Mr. Burke acquired Nation’s Tri, Philly Tri and Lake Geneva from Competitor Group, scooping up the cream of what was the TriRock series. He’s added to them the New Orleans Triathlon he owns (in his own backyard), and the Des Moines Tri, which he owns, and which is the continuation of what was the HyVee Triathlon.


Let’s stop for a moment and contemplate this. Bill Burke is not a high flyer. He’s a survivor, a prevailer, and he does it through execution and production, not through risk taking. And not through laying off the acquisition cost on money guys (becoming beholden to the money guys). Somehow he ended up with what was HyVee (with the capacity to host 2000+ participants, because it once did) and Nation’s Tri (with the capacity to host 7,500 participants, because it once did) for prices that I’m not privy to, but I suspect these races were affordable. So…

Now Mr. Burke has these 5 races: his own New Orleans race, three ex-TriRock races, and the ex-HyVee race. Today these races became the Escape Triathlon Series. All are called Escape Tri (i.e., the Philadelphia Escape Tri) except Nation’s Triathlon, which remains Nation’s Triathlon. They all have prize money: $20,000 per race, and Escape from Alcatraz has upped its money to $80,000.

These 5 series races each qualify people for Escape from Alcatraz. Let’s talk about this San Francisco race. Last year everyone hyperventilated (me too, slightly) about the raise to $750 for Escape’s entry fee. Lottery entries plummeted from what I heard, from upwards of 10,000 entries (historically) to a number scarily below that. But my insiders tell me that this year those lottery entries are back up to where they were. Escape is alive and well.

Still, about 500 people who’ll race Escape from Alcatraz will qualify at these 5 races. Each race will have the typical 18 age groups, male and female, and every Escape Tri Series race will qualify 3 people per age group. There will be roll-downs, but not past 5th place in the AG. This means there are 108 possible Alcatraz slots available per series race. Further, the winner of every AG gets his Alcatraz entry waived! That means Escape from Alcatraz could see 180 people jumping off the ferry whose entries (the slot and the fee) were earned by age group wins at Series races.

It will be interesting to see if IMG (which owns Escape from Alcatraz) and Bill Burke can turn this into national series of short course racing that rivals Life Time’s series. Both the Life Time folks and Mr. Burke are personally and corporately committed to short course racing, and not just for business reasons but they feel – as I do – that short course is the backbone of triathlon.