Wall Street Decathlon: Now Less Wall Street, More Decathlon

Updated on
  • Two-day event expanding to Houston, Chicago, Boston, San Fran
  • Founder looks to Ironman triathlon as model for growth

The Wall Street Decathlon, the annual two-day fitness competition that’s become a favorite of weekend warriors in New York’s financial community, is getting bigger.

For the first time since the event’s debut in 2009, organizers are taking on outside investors, raising more than $1 million to expand the Decathlon to four cities next year, founder Dave Maloney said. He’s modeling the expansion after Ironman, the endurance brand that was sold earlier this year for $900 million to Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man.

"As Ironman has done to define its type of triathlon, we aim to do with our brand of decathlon," Maloney said in an interview.

A mix of disciplines borrowed from the Olympics, the gym and the playground, the Decathlon puts individuals and teams through ten events over two days. They do three runs on the track, plus a shuttle run. They do bench presses, dips and pull-ups, throw a football for distance, and row 500 meters on an erg machine. The four-time defending men’s champion is a former National Football League safety. The defending women’s champion was a pole vaulter and softball player at the University of Pennsylvania.

The event has thrived among the hyper-competitive athletes on Wall Street. The entry fee this year is $395, plus a fundraising commitment of $3,000 in New York and $2,250 in the new markets to benefit a variety of cancer charities. Last year, the roughly 400 available New York slots sold out in 48 hours.

"Conversations have gone from recruiting efforts to expansion in just a few years," said Barclays Plc associate Jake Stoller, a former Yale defensive lineman and a member of the Decathlon’s Competitors board.

Maloney has sought advice from Providence Equity Partners, which bought World Triathlon Corp. in 2008. Over the next seven years, the WTC went from from licensing the Ironman brand to owning and operating races in 33 countries. Employees grew from 10 to more than 325.

He plans to change the name of the event to something he can trademark, and like Ironman, sell branded gear. Former Olympian Michael Johnson is a recent addition to the board, and his Michael Johnson Performance centers will help develop a training program for athletes, another development from the Ironman playbook.

"The big challenge for the Decathlon will be: how do you translate that outside of Wall Street?" said Davis Noell, a Managing Director at Providence Equity and former WTC board member.

Maloney says he will start with other company towns. The 2016 sites were chosen because of the tech community in San Francisco, oil and gas companies in Houston, and buy-side and asset managers in Chicago and Boston. After that he sees a Decathlon in London and a major Asian city in 2017, and wants to add a world championship event by 2018. Registration for this year’s New York event opens Tuesday.

Roadblocks still exist. Though events like the CrossFit Games have reached a widespread audience on ESPN, Maloney hasn’t secured a long-term media deal. And while his wealthy, well-educated participants are a coveted demographic for any advertiser, he doesn’t offer the 100,000 eyeballs of a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder. There also may be a question of whether the ten-event model is as appealing as other formats in the recent fitness boom.

Maloney will know he’s made it, he says, when the Decathlon’s logo will become a tattoo as popular as the Ironman M-Dot. "If you keep delivering a great product over and over, people will eventually tattoo their bodies with your logo," said the founder.

(A previous version of this story corrected the entry fee.)