The following is an excerpt from our weekly newsletter- If We Were Riding. The rest of this week’s musings and the latest from Live Feisty Media can be found here

by Kelly O’Mara

The above photo isn’t me. It’s from Maxence Derreumaux. He shot a bunch of really good photos from the Spartan Race in “San Jose” (it was actually pretty far from San Jose) this past weekend, which you can check out on his Instagram page if you want to get a feel for what the thing is all about.

Free Race Photos

Now, Maxence gave me permission to share this photo, so just fyi, I didn’t steal it. But people stealing watermarked race photos is obviously a perennial debate.

The business model in running and triathlon tends to be that a race photographer (often) pays the race director/company to be allowed to shoot photos. The race company then sends you tiny watermarked proofs of your photos by email. You then can choose to buy the originals, and the race photographer makes money. Increasingly, race photographers are offering a $10-for-one-digital-photo option and lower-res, cheaper packages — which is a good call. Or, potentially, you could copy the pixelated, watermarked images and not pay the photographer for their work. (I recognize this isn’t great, but honestly, it doesn’t feel like you’re stealing high-quality, non-watermarked photos that can be reused for lots of stuff. That’d be messed up. It’s more like you’re standing in a bookstore and reading a magazine instead of buying it. And, anyway, the big change in this debate really came with the rise of camera phones and the internet and when Facebook went from being a place you just wanted to show something to a friend to a place where you’re a Brand.) But this isn’t really about the stealing v. not stealing photos debate. This is about the fact that Spartan gives you race photos for free.

Here are some things Spartan charged us for: $10 cash for parking, $40 if you wanted closer parking, $5 to check a bag (which came with $5 Spartan cash redeemable only at the merchandise tent), $20 for a spectator, $30 if you buy the spectator pass at the door. There was even a guy driving a golf cart from the parking field to the race, charging $2/per person for a ride.

My point is: Spartan knows how to make money. If they can get you to pay for something, they will. And, yet, they give you good race photos for free.

Why? Because it’s a better business decision for them in the long-run. 

Every time someone changes their Facebook profile to a Spartan race photo with a little Spartan logo in the corner, it’s free marketing. Spartan knows this. Obstacle course racing, generally, knows this. The mass proliferation on social media, the social marketing, spurred by these free photos, is a huge part of why obstacle course racing became so popular so quickly. What happens now is obviously a whole other question, but this is one lesson I think triathlon could learn.

High-Quality Live Coverage

The other thing Spartan does, apparently, is very high-quality Facebook Live coverage. It was sponsored. It had commentators and drones and reporters out on course. Sure, it wasn’t 100% as good as what you’d see on TV, but it was way better than what you see for almost all running or triathlon races.

And there were thousands of views and comments. A whole community. A market. Think about what triathlon could learn from that.

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