The Business Of Sport

Dreams of marathons in city lights

Ironman Asia managing director Geoff Meyer hopes to eventually bring in international- level triathlon or Ironman events to Singapore in the future.
Ironman Asia managing director Geoff Meyer hopes to eventually bring in international- level triathlon or Ironman events to Singapore in the future.PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SCMS organiser Ironman Asia's director Meyer wants to think big for endurance events in region

Picture this: Hordes of runners in sky blue Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS) singlets scurrying down Orchard Road - amid the dazzling night lights, during peak hour, fuelled by the ebullient cheers of passers-by.

A far-fetched dream? Not if you ask Geoff Meyer, managing director of Ironman Asia, the newly-appointed organisers of SCMS, Singapore's largest running event with more than 50,000 participants annually.

His hair well-coiffed, shirt pristine white and neatly-pressed despite shuttling around the island for meetings, the running enthusiast's proposal is as sleek as his look.

"We need to do several things to make it truly iconic. That means looking at all kinds of ways and means of getting it to that standard," said the 45-year-old.

"Singapore at night is spectacular. So from that point of view, of course, we'd be looking at all options, including an evening sort of time slot and if that could work."

It is rare for marathons to be run in the evening, although Singapore does have a reputation of setting precedents in race schedules - it famously hosted Formula One's very first night race in 2008.

THE ONLY WAY TO IMPROVE

If you don't have ambition, then you're going to backwards. You've got to evolve and become better.

GEOFF MEYER, Ironman Asia managing director, on thinking big in the event- organising industry

Meyer certainly is not deluded enough to think the marathon has the same pull as the F1 race, which pulls in $150 million in tourism dollars annually. However, the Australian hopes that his big idea could enforce road closures during peak hours one day.

Not that it will not stop him from going for the unorthodox.

"If you don't have ambition, then you're going to backwards. You've got to evolve and become better," said Meyer, whose own career path was an unconventional one.

He started as a teacher, switched to investment banking before entering the event-organising industry.

As a sign of their commitment, Ironman, bought for US$650 million (S$890 million) by Dalian Wanda last year, have set up their Asia headquarters in Singapore.

Dalian Wanda is China's biggest commercial real estate developer. Its owner Wang Jianlin is China's richest man, with an estimated net worth of US$32.9 billion.

While Meyer declined to reveal figures, Ironman reportedly generated US$183 million in revenue last year, with a mean annual growth rate of 21 per cent.

Meyer, a father of two children aged 11 and 9, will relocate his family here permanently by December to oversee operations in Asia.

Beyond growing the SCMS, Ironman - whose parent company is the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) - is eyeing a larger slice of the growing endurance sports market in the region.

It organises endurance events, including Velothon, a mass-cycling event popular in Europe. The WTC is also well-known for organising triathlons, including the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, a gruelling day-long trial comprising a 3.9km swim, a 180km bicycle ride and a full 42km marathon run.

The race was the conceptualised by former United States navy officer John Collins in 1979. He wanted to determine if cyclists, runners or swimmers were the fittest. The first Ironman was held a year later.

In 1990, Dr. Jim Gill, an ophthalmologist and regular Ironman participant, bought the Ironman brand and established WTC.

The company, which organises more than 250 events globally every year, wants to bring more of its signature races to the region.

The last Ironman event here was the Aviva Ironman 70.3 in 2012, a similar event to the Ironman but half the distance in each category.

"Not all of these events make money. We'd be lucky to break even after three years. But bringing an international-level triathlon to Singapore, whether it is an ITU (International Triathlon Union) or an Ironman event, would definitely be on our agenda for the future," said Meyer, whose company will organise the next 10 editions of the SCMS.

With its huge backers, Ironman has the financial muscle to do that. Tellingly, Ironman chief executive Andrew Messick told the Wall Street Journal in January that the new owner's mantra is clear: "They would like us to be ambitious."

So far, the company has hit the ground running.

It will hold two new Ironman 70.3 events in China - in Hefei and Xiamen - this year.

Winning the organising rights of the SCMS, a gold-label race, is another step in the right direction.

For now though, Meyer's mission is clear - to deliver the best running experience at the SCMS, and slowly propel the Singapore race into the elite echelons of running events.

They have wasted no time acting on racegoers' feedback. Last month, the organisers switched the half-marathon route after complaints about a section of the route.

There are also plans to jazz up the race route, possibly with a musical act every kilometre.

Having completed four full-distance Ironman, Meyer said: "It's all about taking the athlete on a journey with you. Ironman's philosophy is to keep athletes engaged, inspired and part of the family so they will continue to race with us."

And, if Meyer has his way, they will race together in the night soon enough.

•The Business of Sport is a monthly series that explores the current trends and talking points of Singapore's emerging sport industry.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2016, with the headline 'Dreams of marathons in city lights'. Print Edition | Subscribe