Monday, September 28, 2015

IronMan Made $180 Million And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

According to a September 11 article in The Guardian, the privately-owned entity known as IRONMAN will make an estimated $180 million this year. The brand is worth an estimated $650 million.

The best quote from the piece is this: “Jianlin (IronMan’s principle owner) knows a thing or two about making money, and a sport with no stadium costs and whose events are largely staffed by volunteers is an appealing business model.”

On Sunday, September 27, as I went about my non-IronMan business of normal life, I had to drive three times into and around areas on the IronMan path. Not once did I get to see any competitors, but I did witness hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers lining the roadways. I watched volunteers on Saturday piling up paddleboards and kayaks, canoes and rafts, so volunteers could be on the water to help ensure the safety of the swimming leg on the Tennessee River.

There were volunteers dressed up in Minions costumes, volunteers in all sorts of neon jackets and vests, volunteers with face paint and picket signs, standing at tables with Hawaiian themes and Arctic themes.

A sport whose events are largely staffed by volunteers is an appealing business model.

We debate over the injustices of minimum wage. We argue about a college athletic system where schools make tens of millions off the “sweat labor” of athletes who don’t have time for (and often don’t care about their) education. What doesn’t bother any of us a lick, apparently, is volunteering our own time and effort -- at no cost whatsoever -- so that some wealthy investors can walk away with a dizzying amount of profit with far less overhead thanks to those really sweet folks from Chattanooga and elsewhere.

Isn't that, at the very least, just a little odd?

Of course the volunteers aren’t putting out that effort and enthusiasm for the IronMan brand. Of course not. Most if not all of them are doing it for the amazing athletes who have, according to the same Guardian article, invested some $4-5,000 each in training, preparation, entry fees and accommodations.

The athletes have to pay. We volunteer to support the impressive paying athletes. And the people behind the scenes happily cash checks that make the Tennessee Lottery look kinda skimpy.

The “Chattanooga economy” is expected to see some $11 million due to the IronMan’s event this weekend. Maybe the volunteers are all about that. Maybe they are completely OK that their uncompensated time and effort helps keep the economic engine of their town running strong mostly for a lot of other people. And if that's the case, viva freedom of choice!

Bottom line, none of this is exactly charity work. None of it is for a Great Cause anymore noble than me volunteering to spot people at CrossFit or at a Reebok-sponsored Spartan Race. It’s not a food kitchen. It’s not supporting a homeless shelter or for cancer research. It’s volunteering time, energy and enthusiasm to help hand an economic windfall over to a small collection of people who aren't in the race, most of whom will continue to lobby for and support minimum wage remaining exactly where it is, most of whom are in favor of a system where our wealthiest continue to distance themselves in profits from the least of their employees.

I guess when it comes to volunteering, if it feels good, Just Do It (TM).

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