Endurance Sports Sidelined by Virus Join Race for Federal Relief

A new sports advocacy group founded by the organizers of events such as Ironman triathlons and Spartan Race obstacle competitions are seeking help from Congress to compensate for the impact that coronavirus social distancing policies are having on their multi-billion-dollar industry.

The Endurance Sports Coalition has been lobbying for the replenishment of a small business loan program designed to help struggling businesses keep workers on their payroll, in addition to underscoring with lawmakers the industry will need further help.

The House on Thursday is expected to give final passage to a coronavirus relief package (H.R. 266) that would allow an additional $310 billion in lending for the Paycheck Protection Program, which ran out of money last week.

The coalition said it has 700 members, who include national governing bodies such as Running USA, USA Triathlon, USA Cycling, and the organizers of the Tough Mudder races and the Rock & Roll Marathon series. Some of the organization’s members say they might not not survive the economic downturn if they don’t receive help in the next phase of federal aid.

“Many of these events, which have long and broad histories, are organized by small businesses that are at risk of disappearing,” said Joe De Sena, the founder and CEO of Spartan, the organizer of the Spartan Death Race, which includes a barbed wire crawl.

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) competes in the bike portion of the 2019 Dignity Health Medical Group IRONMAN Arizona on November 24, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona.

The endurance sports industry employs a half-million people, including officials, timers, coaches, and trainers, according to the coalition. The annual revenues of the organizations total more than $3 billion, though organizers argue the economic impact is even larger when elements such as sales of athletic equipment and the travel and accommodations that surround the events are taken into account.

There are 50,000 endurance events every year that draw participation from about 30 million Americans, according to the coalition. Its members, which include for-profit as well as non-profit organizations, predominantly depend on participant registration fees for revenue, a stream of funding that has dried up as mass gatherings have been banned worldwide to help stop the spread of the virus.

Endurance sports have a number of champions in Congress, including three-time triathlete Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a co-chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus who has introduced a number of biking-related bills throughout his career and regularly sports a brightly colored bike lapel pin.

“The endurance sports industry supports thousands of jobs and has helped millions of Americans lead healthier lives,” Sinema said in a release sent by the Endurance Sports Coalition.

‘Rifle-Shot Approach’

The coalition hired ML Strategies to lobby on its behalf, according to disclosures filed with the Senate last week.

Anthony DeMaio, one of the lobbyists on the account, said the main priority is to raise the profile of the endurance sports organizations with members of Congress who may not have considered it an at-risk industry. The group also wants to ensure stimulus funds were replenished to give their members a chance at receiving some of the money.

“I’m not saying this industry is more deserving or more impacted than everyone else, it’s just uniquely impacted,” DeMaio said, adding that it’s still unclear how much assistance these organizations will need.

The sporting events were some of the first to get canceled and will likely be among the last to come back to life once social distancing measures are gradually lifted, he said.

DeMaio said the direct lobbying effort is focused on “the people who are in the room where it happens.”

“We want to be the scalpel or the rifle-shot type approach rather than the scattershot approach,” he said, including talking with congressional leadership, appropriators, top members on the small business panels, and members who sit on committees with jurisdiction over sports: the House Energy & Commerce Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at mwilson@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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