Sports commission estimates $8 million benefit from Ironman 70.3

Image by St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The 2016 Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship St. George triathlon attracted more than 11,000 visitors and infused an estimated $8 million into the local economy, according to data gathered by the Washington County Office of Sports and Recreation.

Crowds gather to watch the Ironman 70.3 St. George swim start, Washington County, Utah, May 7, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
Crowds gather to watch the Ironman 70.3 St. George swim start, Washington County, Utah, May 7, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

“The immediate economic impact of this event is substantial, but the long-term opportunities it provides go far beyond the boost that comes on race week,” said Kevin Lewis, director of the St. George Area Sports Commission. “This event generates more media exposure than just about any event we have here, and the stories and images that are shared help reveal the amazing dynamics of our people and our landscapes.”

To calculate the economic impact, David Cordero, public relations specialist with Sorenson Advertising for the county sports and recreation office, said pre- and post-race surveys were made to help determine how many out-of-town athletes were staying in hotels, how many visitors those athletes brought along who were not Ironman 70.3 participants themselves and the length of their stay.

“We also surveyed out-of-town participants on how many days they spent in our area training more than a week prior to IRONMAN,” Cordero said in an email to St. George News. “Combined, this gave us a good gauge on both the event’s direct impact race week and the event’s impact on folks’ visitation/training outside of race week.”

One of the most important aspects of an event like Ironman 70.3, Lewis said, is the emotional connection participants make to the area when they are here.

Women's pro winner Heather Wurtele (60) hugs second-place finisher Holly lawrence, Ironman 70.3,  St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News
Women’s pro winner Heather Wurtele (60) hugs second-place finisher Holly lawrence, Ironman 70.3, St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News

“They put their entire heart into it,” he said. “In St. George they are rewarded by a welcoming community, an appreciation for their efforts and a magical environment to compete in. That combination seems to link them to the area for life.”

Ironman 70.3 St. George 2015 professional men’s winner Tim Don’s comments to St. George News speak to that sentiment. He said:

“We don’t get much time to look around when we’re racing, riding up Snow Canyon, when you look up you go, ‘Yeah, this isn’t bad. I’m doing OK here.’ And this race has more volunteers than athletes. Until you do a race like this, you don’t realize how much that really means.”

Research shows that 80 percent of the participants return to the area to vacation and train, according to the commission’s news release, bringing millions more in economic impact each year.

St. George has now hosted Ironman events for seven years in a row. It flourishes as one of the most popular venues in the world because of its challenging course, unmatched scenery and tremendous community support.

The event earned even greater acclaim in 2015 when it became the North American Pro Championship of the Ironman 70.3 division.

“Over the years it has played a major part in establishing and promoting the overall brand and culture of the entire area,” St. George Tourism Office Director Roxie Sherwin said. “This area offers a powerful combination of scenery and terrain, and we back it up with an energetic community full of committed volunteers who are engaged in the event.”

Race statistics for the 2016 Ironman 70.3

  • Competitors who started: 2,639
  • Professional competitors registered: 82
  • Pros who participated carried a collective resumé that included 13 world titles
  • Countries represented:  24
  • States represented: 46
  • Estimated race visitors: 11,616
  • Estimated first-time visitors: 4,181

Defending champion Heather Wurtele, a Canadian who spends a significant amount of time training in Southern Utah, captured her fourth championship in St. George, including her second consecutive Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship. Her finish time was 4 hours, 16 minutes and 48 seconds.

Lionel Sanders wins the professional mens category for Ironman 70.3 St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News
Lionel Sanders wins the professional mens category for Ironman 70.3 St. George, Utah, May 7, 2016, | Photo by Kevin Luthy, St. George News

At the finish, Wurtele said the competition has improved each year she has run the Ironman 70.3 St. George and observed this year’s race was tougher than ever.

“All day, it was just a battle,” she said. “Sometimes in a race, in the last couple miles or so, you can kind of ease off. But the whole day today I felt like I was pushing max, max, max. It just goes to show the level of competition is so amazing and everyone is working incredibly hard.”

On the men’s side, Lionel Sanders, also of Canada, won his fourth straight Ironman 70.3 this year with a time of 3:48:18, beating Don’s 2015 time for the same race.

“I was here to have fun and give it my all, go as hard as I can,” Sanders told St. George News after the race, “and that’s all I wanted to do.”

The professional prize purse was $100,000, distributed among the top 10 male and female professional finishers. The 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championship is in Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia on Sept. 4.

Ironman 70.3 North American Pro Championship will continue in St. George through 2019 per an agreement struck with Ironman in 2015.

“This event and the people who make it happen never stop inspiring me,” Lewis said. “The athletes are incredible, the support is tremendous – even Mother Nature loves to play her part in the show.  The rainy weather, cooler temperatures and tricky conditions this year just seemed to elevate the enthusiasm and determination of the volunteers and athletes.”

About the Office of Sports and Recreation

The St. George Area sports commission was established by the Washington County Commission to help responsibly grow the sports and recreation economy in Washington County through the promotion and development of sports and outdoor recreation.

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1 Comment

  • htown May 26, 2016 at 10:40 am

    Great Job Volunteers! Thanks to Baggs and all the Captains!

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