Chattanooga lands five-year Ironman deal

photo More than 2.600 participants take part in the Ironman sports competition in Frankfurt, central Germany, Sunday, July 7, 2013. Athletes from 55 countries are competing on a race course which includes 3.8 kilometres of swimming, 180 kilometres of cycling and 42.195 kilometres of running.


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photo Triathletes run while unzipping their wetsuits as they cross onto land at the finish the first phase of the Ironman 70.3 triathalon in Boulder, Colo., Sunday Aug. 4, 2013. Roughly 2000 competitors swam, biked and ran in the event.

Chattanooga has a lengthy history of hosting swim competitions, biking events and road races, as well as triathlons, which combine the three sports.

On Thursday, the Chattanooga Sports Committee landed the monstrous stamina test known as the Ironman, which starts with a 2.4-mile swim, continues with a 112-mile bike race and finishes with a 26.2-mile run. The five-year contract will bring an estimated $40 million to the city, with the first of the Ironman series competitions scheduled for Sept. 28, 2014.

"It's a perfect fit for both of us," Steve Meckfessel, the managing director for Ironman's global operations, said Thursday. "We're as excited as we can be with this announcement of a long-term partnership. We do races all over the world, and we're operating in over 20 countries and are in markets such as Melbourne, Australia, and Frankfurt, Germany. We're in markets like Lake Placid, which has great Olympic legacy, and now Chattanooga.

"It's a fantastic day, and we couldn't be more thrilled with the way the community has reached out to us and organized themselves."

The annual $8 million economic impact would make the Ironman the most profitable sporting event for Chattanooga since the formation of the Sports Committee in 1992. The previous high of $7 million was set in 1997, when 589 softball teams invaded for the National Softball Association "A" World Series girls' fastpitch.

Sports Committee president Tim Morgan said the $8 million figure assumes there will be 2,500 participants, which he added could be conservative considering 2,750 competed at an Ironman series event in May at The Woodlands, Texas. The Head of the Hooch rowing regatta is currently the most profitable athletic event for Chattanooga, providing more than $4 million annually, including $4.8 million in 2011.

The largest economic impact provided by the Football Championship Subdivision title game, which was held at Finley Stadium from 1997 through 2009, was $2.65 million in '07, when Appalachian State won a third straight crown. The most the Southeastern Conference women's basketball tournament provided was $1.95 million in 2000, which was the last year that event was housed at McKenzie Arena.

According to Bill Kellick, the director of communications for USA Cycling, the national championships in May generated 3,750 room nights for Chattanooga and provided an economic impact of $1.5 million.

"We have a very affluent demographic that likes to come in for three or four or five nights at a time," Meckfessel said. "They bring family and friends, and what is not reported in that $8 million number is that athletes who live within that four- or five-hour drive will come in throughout the summer and spend a weekend biking and running on the routes to get familiar with the course and the community.

"For our athletes, this is a lifetime achievement and a goal they focus on many, many months, if not several years, to get their bodies in shape."

The 2.4-mile swim will start at the Kenco building off Riverside Drive. The participants will navigate the Tennessee River to Ross's Landing, which Morgan said will be the "general transition area and general hub of activity."

Once at Ross's Landing, the competitors will begin their 112-mile bike race that might include Raccoon Mountain but not Lookout or Signal.

"The bike course will look like a giant lollipop," Morgan said. "They will ride out from Ross's Landing to a loop that will be conducted twice before riding back to town and the transitional area."

The 26.2-mile run will consist of two 13.1-mile loops.

"We will work with Ironman to make this a wonderful experience for all of the athletes as well as the Ironman organization itself," Morgan said. "After we define that success, it will showcase that our community is prepped and ready to host major sporting events again."

Chattanooga will be among 11 cities in Ironman's United States series.

Meckfessel, who works out of the Ironman office in Tampa, said detailed discussions with the Sports Committee, which is under the umbrella of the Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau, began about six months ago. He added that five-year commitments are common.

"These are as complex of any special event that you will ever come across," Meckfessel said, "so for us to come in for one year and put all the sweat equity and resources into one event doesn't work for us or the host community."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.