James Leitz - background on the new Escape Series

"We have an objective – building a series of short course racing. Maybe that’s the space that we can come in and make a difference." A Q and A with IMG's James Leitz.

| January 6, 2017 | News

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Photo > Rocky Arroyo

James Leitz is the Senior Vice President of International Management Group (IMG) and directs the company's Action Sports Division. TriathlonWorld.com catches up with Leitz to get a bit more background on the new Escape Series and what it means for the iconic Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, which started in 1981 and has become one of the most storied events in the sport.

TriathlonWorld.com: There have been qualifiers for Escape from Alcatraz for a long time, why make a series of qualifying events for now?

James Leitz: The original vision I had for qualifying events 11 years ago was never really realized. It’s been a nice way for people to enter, a nice way to build relations with various promotors, it’s been a nice way to build some of our own properties like Beijing International Tri and Bermuda back in the day. It was a nice tool to have because it was a coveted slot. And it served as a revenue generator because the licensee would pay a fee. But it never really fulfilled the vision. That’s not taking away from any of our current partners or past partners.

It never had a cohesive marketing and communication strategy. Yeah, we made a logo, but it never had a real PR effort, a real website, never had a real had a real social and digital wrapper. It never had any sort of consistency that led everything back to Alcatraz.

The Escape is a powerful brand and iconic in so many ways and it never really fulfilled that dream.

This is our leadership saying “You know what? This is a really great race. This is a really cool brand. This has so much potential. Why don’t we fulfill what tried to do 11 years ago and do something special.

We have an objective – building a series of short course racing. Maybe that’s the space that we can come in and make a difference with this modified Olympic distance or Olympic distance area and make something happen in the sport of triathlon both domestically and internationally.

Unfortunately, yes, there will be pressure on us to do that, but hopefully what this does is help us take the Escape brand and this “modified Olympic” - I think that is the official term – with this crazy distance and this unique back drop and extending that DNA, that sense of fun, to other places. I think I can safely say that we took that theory and we called it “Escape rules” when we built both Bermuda and Beijing … The Beijing International has become a classic and if you ask some of the pros or those age groupers who have gone over there, it’s a remarkable bike course and a beautiful run. Since we can’t bring more people to Escape, maybe we can bring more of Escape out to the triathlon event space.

It feels like this is giving the sport a bit of a good news as we start up 2017 – there’s been so much talk of things plateauing in North America in terms of triathlon, so this is exciting news. Was that part of the motivation to launch this?

That’s a bi-product of this announcement. I wish I could say we were that altruistic … it felt like the time was right for us. The state of the industry is in a certain are, but we’re talking about a change for us. There’s a discussion about prize money and why we’re doing prize money for pros. Well, we (IMG) have a long relationship with professional atheltes. Arnold Palmer took Mark McCormack’s hand and sports marketing was built in 1964. For us it’s time to change the state of things. We have a story we want to tell with Escape and we have a strategy of building a really cool series domestically and internationally, but it takes a state of change. If the sport doesn’t grow, we’re dead. That’s our objective – we want to grow something cool.

Does this put pressure on you to try and make Escape from Alcatraz bigger and accept more athletes?

There are people inside our company and externally who would love to see that happen, because that cap has been one of the hardest things for us to deal with all these years. But there’s a safety issue – its not about spreading 2,000 souls over a half mile to a mile in that bay and having safety for them. It’s also the tricky double transition and run to bike transition … And as much as I’d like to say “let’s double it,” I don’t think the city and are safety experts are for that.

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US Olympian Joe Maloy wins the 2016 edition of the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon

Photo > Rocky Arroyo