Yesterday’s official press regarding the that United States Obstacle Course Racing (USOCR) launching as the official sanctioning body for OCR initiated a boiling cauldron of controversy, optimism, speculation, and questions. As with most press releases, this one provided the pertinent information, but did not have room for all the details. Those missing details sparked much of the discussion throughout the OCR ranks. Sam Mansfield, CEO of USOCR kindly talked with me for over an hour and responded to some of the questions floating around all the OCR Facebook spaces. I will state publicly that he sold me on the ideology of USOCR. Yesterday, Dirt in Your Skirt provided an excellent commentary on the announcement and I hope that this Q&A will provide further clarification to some of the burning questions in everyone’s minds. While there was much more to our conversation, here are the condensed (in some cases, very condensed) answers.
You have probably read many of the questions and comments regarding yesterday’s press release. How do you respond to the speculation by many that this is simply a for-profit venture and will not add value to the sport and/or its athletes?
We are aware that an introduction of a for-profit company into the space would likely draw speculation at first. However, the idea for a national sanctioning body was not to make cash. There are many other avenues we could have taken if personal profit was our goal. We simply saw that the industry and the sport had an overwhelming need with regard to safety and insurance. We have spent the last 16 months speaking with people at all levels of the OCR industry to determine those exact needs and devised a plan on how to meet them. What most people do not know is that USOCR will actually be injecting a substantial portion of the revenue back into the sport in the form of marketing and PR support for the racing companies. We will be releasing more about our support initiatives in coming weeks.
The term “sanctioning body” invokes images of legalistic standardization of races, almost the polar opposite of the unique, varied, and therefore, always exciting aspects of obstacle racing that drew many to the sport. Can you provide insight that will calm the fears that races of the future will be standardized with regard to types, number, & difficulty levels of obstacles?
Our philosophy embodies and supports the rugged, free, and wild sport that “needs space to breathe.” Trust that we “get it.” We don’t want to touch the obstacles, nor the terrain, nor the distances. We will work within the sport to gather, aggregate, and deliver data that will aid everyone in securing adequate safety standards and maintain insurability of OCR races in general. If the safety and insurance issues are not addressed, the sport of OCR will become uninsurable and none of us want that to happen.
A couple of the big questions by those caught off guard by the announcement are “Who are these guys?” and “Who decided that they get to be the sanctioning body?” How would you respond to those questions?
If not us, then who? If not now, when? The sport of Obstacle Course Racing is at a critical crossroads. Without a sanctioning body and some changes to the way the sport operates, there is a good chance Obstacle Course Racing will be an un-insurable sport in the next three years. My business partner and I are both endurance athletes and have been studying the sport of Obstacle Course Racing for over a year. To be specific, we used a technique called “waterfall product development” to develop USOCR. This is a strategy used in software development consisting of 4 primary steps: 1) observe the issue, 2) develop a strategy to solve the issue, 3) Release the design and let people hack away at it, and 4)Re-design based on the feedback. We went through this 8 times ! This was not just Mark and Sam’s idea. We gathered insight and perspective across a variety of race directors, professional athletes, parallel governing bodies, and OCR enthusiasts to develop USOCR.
Do you have plans for involving more OCR athletes in the development of the USOCR and if so, what will be their role(s)?
Definitely. Athlete input has been and will continue to be crucial to our planning and development. As I said before we have had discussions with numerous athletes already, but going forward the governing board of USOCR will have at least 3 spots for OCR athletes.
The press release is pretty clear that the USOCR developed around the premise of insurance — a major issue to both OCR companies and athletes alike. Does the USOCR have current and/or future plans to drive regulation of OCR beyond safety and insurance?
No. The regulation that USOCR has developed is completely focused on safety programs and insurance package development for our sanctioned events. Other initiatives, particularly those surrounding rules of competition and national ranking, are being developed but we will rely heavily on the perspective and guidance of our professional athletes and the race companies themselves to determine the future of our proprietary system. It is important to note that the USOCR Board of Governors will be comprised with a number of members, but race companies will hold the majority vote. Decisions made by USOCR will in essence be made by race companies and athletes.
How do you think the USOCR will affect the push by many for OCR to become a recognized ‘sport’?
We are providing a missing piece. All recognized sports have sanctioning bodies. It is vital that an independent entity be established to provide structure to support it. USOCR is the first step of doing this.
Along a similar vein, the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships (OCRWC) recently announced they will be holding a race agnostic, sport-wide world championship race. How, if at all, do you see USOCR collaborating with and/or competing against the OCRWC?
USOCR is an unbiased OCR advocate. Both of our organizations are interested in advancing the sport. We like OCRWC and are currently in discussions with them to determine exactly HOW we can support them going forward.
On the surface, it makes sense for many of the smaller and start-up races to become sanctioned in order to provide legitimacy to their races. What are the incentives for the established players (Spartan, Warrior Dash, etc.) to participate in the sanctioning process given that they already have a stronghold position in the industry?
While they may not need the sanctioning to solidify them as legitimate races, the Big 3 stand to benefit in many of the same ways that the smaller races will, particularly through better insurance, marketing, membership retention, and national rankings of athletes.
Given that obstacle racing is a growing international phenomenon and is very popular in many other countries such as Australia, do you envision that the USOCR (emphasis on the US) will be involved in the global market?
Right now we are content with concentrating on the United States. Other countries should be taking care of their own regulations. Of course, we are happy to assist organizations in other countries at developing their own sanctioning bodies.
Anything else you would like to say to the average racer who fears that a for-profit company is trying to change a sport that they love?
We have heard these fears, but USOCR is not trying to change the sport that we love. In fact, we are trying to preserve it. We are simply a company that has been developed to help manage the safety, quality, and longevity of OCR — not tamper with the culture of it. We just hope that everyone can trust that we know, understand, and respect the OCR ideology.