Loss of Spartan Race another shot to local economy

(Brad Davis/The Register-Herald) Spartan racers labor through one of the final obstacles before the finish as they tackle The Beast, the longest and most difficult of three courses, during the 3rd annual Spartan Race stop at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in 2019.

As the fallout of the coronavirus continues, West Virginia has seen a number of casualties impacting the tourism industry. 

Bridge Day was one of the first major dominos to fall. The State Fair fell as well. And now another annual event has followed — the Spartan Race.

On Tuesday, Spartan officials announced its decision to cancel the rest of the of its obstacle course races and trail events for the year, citing the Covid-19 pandemic. Included in the cancellations was the event scheduled for the last weekend of August at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County.

The event, which draws crowds of 10,000 annually, has become popular amongst participants, so much that the obstacle course company made it the site of its 2018 North American Championships.

Adding to the draw is the fact it's one of the few events on the schedule that offers participants a shot at the trifecta – a series of three courses, varying in difficulty. Completing all three in a span of a year gives participants all three medals needed to complete the trifecta. Under normal circumstances participants would have to travel to various events throughout the year to achieve that goal.

Now that opportunity along with millions of dollars in revenue are gone.

A study published by WVU in 2018 noted that only 12 percent of the racers and participants that year were from West Virginia with the other 88 percent from other states or territories. The study further showed the event generated $4.6 million in output in the West Virginia economy, generating $66,000 in selected state and local tax revenue, supporting around 30 jobs in total.

Those numbers, while damaging enough, don't account for the added bonus of exposure the state receives.

"It's had a huge economic impact," said Lisa Strader, the Director of Visit Southern West Virginia. "It brings a lot of people here from a lot of different places. The first year in 2017 we were a sponsor and there weren't as many people because it was a new location but a lot of the racers loved it and it spread by word of mouth. They said if they had known there was so much more to do in the area they would've booked longer trips, so the next year that's what we saw. We saw more people not only show up but they participated in other activities in the area like rafting. 

"It's just a huge loss for the community this year. The racers populate hotels from Nicholas County all the way to Mercer County when we have the event. They eat at local restaurants and really help the local economy. Spartan kept in touch with us the entire time and let us know this might happen. Obviously low contact sporting events have been cleared but with so many people from so many different areas traveling to one place, it was juts a better idea to not have the event and they wet ahead and cancelled their schedule for the year."

The study published by the Bureau of Business and Economics Research at West Virginia University backs up Strader's claims.

In surveys conducted by Spartan, at least 62 percent of those polled said they stayed in a hotel or motel with an additional nine percent staying in a rental or camping in some capacity. Furthermore, at least 71 percent of those polled stayed more than one night with 15 percent extending their stay past two nights. Only six percent said they would not return to West Virginia with 64 percent giving a solid yes and 30 percent responding with maybe.

"It hurts everybody to some extent," Strader said. "They shop, they dine and we are funded by hotel taxes. This impacts the city and county budgets when the income isn't coming in.

"Between this and Bridge Day and the State Fair, we've seen a lot of stuff canceled," Strader said.

"If you're looking for the upside though, people are still interested in travel," Strader said. "We're still getting a lot of calls and information and we take that as a good sign. The state parks have seen an increase. Our local cabins through this region are staying relatively full as well so there is optimism we can get back to normal once things settle down."

As for the future of the event in West Virginia, nothing has been addressed yet. Based on the positive feedback and resources Spartan has put into it — making it the site of the championships and allowing participants to earn the trifecta in a weekend — Strader remains optimistic it will.

"I think it provides a unique experience and the feedback has always been positive," Strader said. "We haven't talked about the future yet but this was scheduled to be their fourth straight year here. I can't see why they would't be back but we'll have to wait and see."

Email: tjackson@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @TjackRH

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