The Build Cycle Podcast #017 – Competitor Magazine founder Bob Babbitt

If you need one quote that sums up what Bob Babbitt does, this is it:

“I believe in win/win/win/win/win. Everybody wins … At the end of the day, when you grow the industry, your brand grows. It’s everybody working together…and seeing how everybody can benefit.”

As you’re about to hear, he grew his business from a small regional sports rag into a national publication, a radio show, a podcast, an awards ceremony, and a race series. He’s brilliant. And whether you want to start a magazine, radio show, event series or not, there are some amazing lessons here for any business that’s looking to grow their long term by growing their industry.

DISCUSSION TIMELINE

  • 01:45 – Introduction and how Bob started Competitor Magazine in SoCal.
  • 03:50 – Changing perceptions to get advertisers.
  • 10:30 – Growing the industry and using strategic partnerships to grow his own business.
  • 15:00 – Using alternate distribution locations to expand his reach.
  • 20:00 – Planting more and more seeds to grow his business.
  • 23:20 – Attracting the likes of Will Ferrell.
  • 26:00 – Managing remote offices, and the acquisition strategy and challenges
  • 29:40 – Being acquired and hitting the accelerator…for better or worse.
  • 34:40 – Why start the Muddy Buddy running series?
  • 41:00 – Why they made the decision to sell.
  • 43:30 – Trying to get brands to see customers outside their core focus.
  • 46:30 – Using one asset to promote another might alienate 3rd party partners, but the business model behind major events is insane.
  • 54:00 – How to deal with watching your company change under new ownership.
  • 55:00 – Bob’s current businesses are all about enjoying life.
  • 56:20 – His legendary TGINR Party.
  • 57:10 – Starting the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
Bob running alongside a competitor at Muddy Buddy. (Photo c. Bob Babbitt. Top photo c. CAF)
An Competitor Magazine cover featuring triathlon legend Dave Scott (photo c. Bob Babbit)

POST GAME ANALYSIS

There’s so much that’s changed in the media and publishing industry since Bob started Competitor Magazine in the 80’s. But the concepts that led to its success and growth over the years are as relevant as ever. First, he offered a type of content that no one else did (combined interests rather than having a singular focus), used alternative distribution methods to gain shelf space (free distribution versus subscriptions) and put the product where the most customers were (juice shops rather than running stores).

By pushing everyone to think about the shared benefits of what they were doing, and how events and retailers could all benefit alongside advertisers, he helped everyone grow. As they say, rising tides lift all ships, which meant they could grow ad sales. He also formed strategic partnerships with other regional magazines that didn’t directly compete for his readership, which allowed them to sell bigger advertising packages. This helped advertisers reach more people with less work, and gave them the opportunity to focus their message on specific regions, events and demographics. It also helped those smaller publishers focus on what they were good at (writing) without giving up revenue. Notice a pattern here?

To grow the industry further, he expanded to radio (which he still does), talking up star athletes in a mainstream way, which expanded the audience for his publication and drives more people into the sports they covered. Then, on top of everything else, he created the Endurance Sports Awards to recognize the best athletes and celebrities. That not only brought those disparate athletes together, but it brought in well known celebrities, which attracted mainstream media attention.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Competitor business model, which remains in effect to this day even through several owners (they were recently acquired by IRONMAN), was using their print publications to promote their events. Bob started this, and then their new parent company Competitor Group, boosted the heck out of it to grow their Rock ‘n’ Road marathon series. The events provide revenue from multiple sources – participation, sponsors and municipalities. As he put it, the key is to give brands lots of “touchpoints” to reach consumers, and make sure all those touchpoints are you.

From the event side, one of the most fascinating stories is around the business model behind the Rock ‘n’ Road events (after Competitor Group acquired his business). Once those events reached scale, they were now getting paid from every direction – cities paid them to come in, they sold products at the expo, they got entry fees, and then they try to upsell you to preregister for future events, buy souvenirs and purchase photos. On top of all that, the cities were then covering some of the largest expenses like road closures, law enforcement, etc., so most of that money is going directly into their pockets.

Bob in Oahu, Hawaii getting ready for the bike leg of the 1980 Ironman triathlon (photo c. Bob Babbitt)

LINKS & RESOURCES

Photo c. Kim McDonald)

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