Graham Fraser is out with Ironman
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 02:00 DAVID CROMPTON
Ironman Canada provides a huge economic spinoff for the community and special events such as this press conference with former champ Jordan Rapp (extreme left) but what does the future hold for Penticton?
Graham Fraser confirmed he will no longer be affiliated with the Subaru Ironman Canada Triathlon, while his letter to city council this week also re-affirmed his commitment to the Penticton Vees Junior-A Hockey Club.
Fraser, who purchased the Penticton race in 1996, had to relinquish his licence to IC as part of an agreement with the World Triathlon Corporation, a for-profit organization that bought Fraser's North American Sports races in 2009.
"Graham negotiated to keep Ironman Canada a few years longer than his other races," said Coun. Judy Sentes.
Fraser discussed his imminent departure from IC with Sentes and the city's chief administrative officer Annette Antoniak in recent weeks, Sentes said.
"We only formally received confirmation from Graham this week," said Sentes. "It wasn't a voluntary departure on his part."
Ironman Canada Race Society president Frank Darin, a close friend of Fraser who serves as president and a minority owner of the Vees, agreed with the assessment.
"He wasn't ready to give it up," said Darin, adding Fraser is "100 per cent behind the Vees" as they embark on defending their national championship.
Council will be discussing the Ironman situation at an in-camera meeting on Tuesday and is expected to make an announcement later in the week.
Antoniak said she will be compiling a full report ready for members of council to consider. A key question is how Fraser's departure will impact the five-year contract the city has with Fraser to keep the race in Penticton.
The city is currently paying an annual 'marketing' fee to keep the race in Penticton. This year's fee is $60,000 and the fee tops out at $75,000 in the final year of the deal in 2014.
"We're at a crossroads, but at a good crossroads," said Mayor Dan Ashton. "This allows council the option to look at the race and the contract in its entirety."
When the deal with Fraser was originally struck, the ICRS took on the task of raising the marketing fee through the sale of IronClub memberships. However, there will not be an IronClub this year, which would appear to leave the city on the hook for the marketing fee.
Sentes said it's possible an IronClub or something similar could be re-launched in the near future.
"We've worked well with the society and the city has always been there as a backstop," Ashton said. "We'll certainly be discussing all the issues â€¦ we're very fiscally oriented and responsible to the taxpayers of Penticton."
Ashton said the city will make sure it abides by the terms of the contract.
"The criteria also had to be matched by Ironman," said Ashton.
Sentes said the change in strategy for the WTC started when Providence Equity Partners purchased it from Dr. James P. Gillis in 2008 and bought the NA Sports races a year later.
"We're waiting for more information and options on what happens from here, when this year's race is over," said Sentes.
Sentes said she doesn't believe the WTC has plans to move the race.
"They haven't moved any of the other races in North America," said Sentes. "The strategy has been aimed more at expanding its number of races. There was a time when this race and Hawaii were the only two Ironmans in North American"
Ashton said the city does have a strong interest in negotiating with WTC to ensure the long-term future of IC in Penticton.
"It's a huge benefit to the entire region and brings worldwide attention to Penticton and the Okanagan-Similkameen," said Ashton. "Tourism isn't what it once was. This is a very important event for us right at the start of our shoulder season for tourism."
Sentes said nobody wants to see the "transition in the Ironman world" deter from the 30th anniversary IC race on Sunday, Aug. 26.
Sentes said Fraser is "passionate and committed" to the community and wants to make this year's event the best it can possibly be.
"Graham has a residence here, he owns the hockey team and he comes here quite frequently," said Sentes. "He wants to leave a legacy to the city from this year's race."
She noted Fraser has always put an emphasis on giving back to the city, pointing to the rubberized track at the King's Park indoor facility that was a legacy from the 25th anniversary race. Sentes also alluded to the fact he created the Ironman Canada Community Fund, which the ICRS had "governance" of.
In assessing the Ironman in general, Sentes said there is still a strong market for it, noting people are now getting involved at a much younger age thanks to the success of grassroots events such as Penticton's own Boston Pizza Junior Triathlon.
"At one time, the race would sell out in an hour; last year it was seven hours," said Sentes. "Despite the number of races, it keeps growing in popularity."
Still, an event that was promoted as a full-week festival has contracted into something considerably smaller in Penticton. Sentes said there are now more than 50 Ironmans in the world, which has changed the dynamics of the event considerably.
"As the WTC grows the opportunities, people have more choices," said Sentes. "With the tradition, popularity and infrastructure of this race, we will always draw well.
"(But) expanding (Ironman Canada) as a festival does have some challenges."