Penticton cut its ties to the Ironman Canada triathalon because of rising costs and dropping benefits.
But Kamloops expects if it wins the bid to take over where Penticton left off, the perks here will be worth $15 million.
Mayor Peter Milobar said a quick conversation with his Penticton counterpart on Monday — the day before Kamloops council gave the go-ahead to proceed with the Ironman bid — didn't deter him.
"They've done their own thing and more power to them. We were faced with a worldwide, well recognized organization that would like to see if people would like to host a major well-known event," Milobar said.
"We're known as Canada's Tournament Capital. Penticton's known for Ironman as a sport-specific type city. Given how Kamloops is positioned in the sporting world, it's a natural thing to go after. You get that broader advertising and marketing reach as well as the on-the-ground services that would get consumed."
Penticton mayor Dan Ashton said Penticton dumped the Ironman in favour of the Challenge brand of ironman-distance triathlon because the cost to taxpayers reached a high this year, calling for $120,000 in cash and in-kind, plus $60,000 for marketing. Last year's figures were $105,000 and $45,000, respectively.
On top of that, up to 4,000 volunteers are needed to make the triathlon run smoothly.
While Ironman has become synonymous with triathlons, it's actually a corporate brand name, much like Kleenex instead of tissues, or Xerox instead of photocopy.
Penticton has the oldest iron-distance course in North America. It held an event for 30 years that built up a solid community volunteer base and a reputation among athletes. Ironman came along after the event was established and has brought with it brand recognition, pushing it to 3,000 participants this year.
On the other hand, spinoffs for the community have been declining, Ashton said. Where athletes used to show up two weeks ahead of time to prepare and acclimatize, they now come a couple of days before and leave soon after crossing the finish line.
He's seen attendance at the race's awards banquet fall from being a full house to about 1,200 at last month's final Ironman wrapup.
"And this is where the athletes get their awards and are celebrated," he said.
At the end of it all, Ironman kept all the registration money, all the merchandising and sponsorship.
Next year, the third Sunday in August will see the debut of Challenge Penticton. Challenge is a European-based triathlon series, but the plus for the City of Penticton is it puts up less money while getting a percentage of the registration and all the merchandising revenue.
Paul McCann, chairman of the Penticton Triathlon Race Society, said the Challenge is more about community while Ironman has become corporate.
"Why would communities invest taxpayers' money and ask volunteers to support an event so that a Wall Street event manager can make more money at the expense of a community-based event?"
Ironman focused on its brand so much it lost sight of the athletes and community experience, he said. Local suppliers were pushed out and community support diminished.
"Over many years, the quality of the experience and the benefits to the community has eroded," McCann said. "Years ago, it had more of a festival and community based feel to it."
A spokesman for Ironman did not return a message from The Daily News Friday.
Despite Penticton's decision to change triathlon organizers, there's optimism about hosting the Ironman in Kamloops.
Charlie Bruce, a long-time runner who has also volunteered and officiated at Ironman in Penticton, said the course in Kamloops would be vastly different than that in the Okanagan.
"Can Kamloops do it? I have no doubt Kamloops is well positioned, given we have such experience with endurance events," he said.
"We have the experience and the knowledge and the City staff."
He backs the City's bid and said the cost of hosting a sporting event should be expected to go up over the years.
"Ironman would serve a useful purpose in the marketing of our city. If you look at what Ironman Canada did for Penticton, it put that community on the world map as a place to visit and to come back to," he said.
The triathlon fills hotel rooms and restaurants as well as putting the community in the spotlight.
"You'll never find a community with more energy than Penticton during Ironman week," said Bruce.
"We can't duplicate Penticton. Each community has to come up with its own sites that are challenging and spectator friendly."
Milobar can't disclose what's in the Kamloops bid until the host city is chosen, expected on Oct. 10. But he stressed that it isn't any different than what the City has submitted for other large sports events.
"I'm quite excited about it. We have a long history of understanding how big events work," he said.
Hosting a event like Ironman that's recognized worldwide made sense for Kamloops, he said.
"We're not worrying about the profit side of it, we're looking at bringing in a unique event," he said.
McCann said Penticton still has its legendary triathlon course, its volunteers and community spirit — everything that has made its iron events a success in the past.
"The question is for any of the communities, why would taxpayers be asked to put money on the table and volunteers come out and put their time into the event so an event promoter can be more profitable?"
He and other organizers of Challenge Penticton expect they'll see attendance drop next summer, but there's already interest. It's also the first North American Challenge long course event.
"It's a size we can focus on the athletes first and community events, and build back from there."