Ironman Heads to the Hills With UTMB Trail Running Deal

The Ironman Group is extending its reach in the world of endurance sports through a partnership with UTMB Group, the development arm of leading international trail-running event host UTMB. The Ironman Group is the largest organizer and operator of mass participation sports globally, hosting more than 235 events in 50-plus countries, with over 1 million athletes annually in non-pandemic years.

As part of the deal, the pair will launch a new international trail-running circuit, the UTMB World Series, which will bring the world’s leading trail-running contests together. With events across six continents including Europe, Asia and Oceania, the series will begin as early as 2022 as an inclusive circuit open to all runners. Thousands of UTMB World Series qualifiers across the globe will serve as a gateway to the World Series, but participating in a qualifying race will not be mandatory to compete in the Series.

By combining UTMB’s trail-running expertise and community of athletes and The Ironman Group’s experience operating endurance events on a global scale, the goal is to expedite the sport’s steady growth. Financial arrangements of the partnership were not disclosed.

The Ironman Group is owned by the private, family-held holding company Advance, whose portfolio also includes Condé Nast, as well as stakes in media companies including Discovery and Reddit. Advance acquired The Ironman Group in 2020 in an all-cash transaction reportedly valued at $730 million. Husband and wife Michel and Catherine Poletti founded UTMB.

“The legacy of excellence and leadership by the Poletti family and UTMB is unparalleled in trail running,” Andrew Messick, president & CEO for The Ironman Group, said in a statement. “Their ability to create transformative and enriching experiences registers deeply with us as the world’s largest organizer of endurance events, and together we look forward to bringing the deep-rooted values, spirit, and camaraderie of trail-running competition globally.”

The original UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) races were first held in 2003. The brand has since established UTMB International events across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and South America. The 2021 iteration of the UTMB races, back after a COVID-forced hiatus, sold out for the 16th time in a row with 10,000 participants registered across all the races.

A mountain ultramarathon in the Alps through France, Italy and Switzerland, the Mont-Blanc course will now serve as the home of the World Series Finals. Unlike the Series’ other events, access to the circuit’s finals will require qualification.

The World Series schedule will be announced later this year, but events are already confirmed in Spain, Thailand, China, New Zealand and Australia in addition to the Mont-Blanc race.

The hope is that the new series and Ironman partnership will serve as a step toward making the sport both more accessible and more mainstream. The UTMB brand will gain access to The Ironman Group’s platform, community of athletes and its extensive portfolio of global and series event sponsors. In turn, the UTMB deal will bring The Ironman Group deeper into the world of trail running internationally.

Several of Ironman’s trail-running events that are already executed by UTMB, including the Tarawera Ultramarathon by UTMB in New Zealand, the Ultra-Trail Australia by UTMB and the mozart 100 by UTMB, which takes place in Austria, will be part of the inaugural World Series.

“More than ever, we want to share this [brand] with as many people as possible and allow everyone to participate in an event organized in the same spirit—and with the same quality standards—as the UTMB Mont-Blanc,” said Catherine Poletti, president of UTMB Group. “We are certain that combining our experience and what the UTMB brand represents, with the ability and expertise of The Ironman Group, is excellent news for the world of trail running and for all its players.”

The Ironman Group has made a number of moves in the last several years to grow beyond its core triathlon business and expand its presence outside the U.S. For example, in 2017, Ironman added to its event portfolio through by purchasing Competitor Group Holdings, Inc. (CGI), presenter of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series, which had a strong U.S. presence as well as international iterations. Today, The Ironman Group’s holdings include international triathlon, running, mountain bike, road cycling and other multisport competitions as well as popular virtual racing events introduced in 2020.

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