OCEAN CITY — The popular Spartan obstacle race — first held in the downtown area in 2019 — is returning this fall after resort officials signed off on the event this week.
For the first time ever, Spartan, the Boston-based company that produces the high-intensity obstacle course races all over the country and throughout the world, brought its sprint-style competition to Ocean City in October 2019. It was set to return last year, but was canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions.
On Tuesday, the Mayor and Council reviewed a request to approve a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the return of the Spartan race on Saturday, Oct. 16, a request that was ultimately approved by the elected officials. The obstacle course race will be held on the south end of the Boardwalk and side streets and a festival village will be at the Inlet lot.
The MOU approved by the council outlines the responsibilities of the town and Spartan. There was $80,000 allocated in the town’s tourism budget for host fees for the town, banners and the pedestrian bridge. However, Ocean City Tourism and Business Development Director Tom Perlozzo said on Tuesday the contribution had been negotiated down by about $20,000. The in-kind services the town provides will not exceed $50,000, according to the MOU approved on Tuesday.
The Spartan obstacle course event includes a festival village at the Inlet parking lot with tents featuring food, music and vendors. The race itself will take place largely on the Boardwalk, beach areas and side streets in the downtown area with all manner of obstacles to overcome. Over 3,000 racers competed in the 2019 event, which included obstacles such as cargo nets, walls to traverse, rope climbs, monkey bars, water hazards, atlas carries, spear throws, sandbag carries and many others. Spartan produces similar events all over the country with different courses and varying degrees of difficulty, according to Special Events Director Frank Miller.
“They first came in 2019,” he said. “It was a one-day event. They utilized the Inlet lot, portions of the Boardwalk, the fishing pier and some side streets. It was very well-received. They do a terrific job. It’s a very professional event.”
While town officials embraced the inaugural Spartan race in 2019 and look forward to the 2021 event, there has been discussion about how to make it a two-day, or perhaps even longer, event. Miller said there have been talks about leaving the race setup in place for multiple days and inviting professional athletes such as NFL players, for example, to try their hand at the grueling course. In the short term, Miller said there have been discussions about expanding it to a two-day event this year.
“They’re talking about adding a children’s event and a second course,” he said. “There have been discussions about it being a two-day event.”
Perlozzo said he has been working with Spartan to expand the Ocean City event, but the company’s leadership has changed since the event first came to Ocean City in 2019.
“They’ve had a complete turnover in management since COVID,” he said. “We’re still waiting for a few more details.”
Mayor Rick Meehan voiced concern about the Spartan race just being a single-day event.
“I think it’s a great event,” he said. “I have some concerns about it being just a one-day event, because we invest tourism dollars in this. If you looked at the park-and-ride last time, you could see many of the participants came over for the event and left the same day. We’re trying to create room nights out of this.”
Perlozzo said the town could encourage participants and their families to make a weekend out of it by attaching a housing bureau to the event’s registration website.
“We really weren’t prepared last time from a housing standpoint,” he said. “They indicated about 30% to 50% of the folks didn’t make a weekend out of it. We should look into having a housing bureau this time around to determine who and how many are staying.”
Councilman Mark Paddack embraced the event in general, and the idea of expanding it specifically.
“It was exciting to see in 2019,” he said. “It’s a time in October when we’re not inundated with visitors like we are in July. When you talk about the potential for a two-week setup in the future and bringing in celebrities and professional athletes, I think that’s awesome.”
Miller said Spartan leadership is open to expanding and improving the event.
“We have a beautiful venue for an event like this,” he said. “They walked away thinking how great Ocean City was for this. It’s something to build on.”
Perlozzo said early indications are the October Spartan race could practically double the participation in the 2019 event.
“They have said pre-registration has been amazing even a couple of months before the event,” he said. “They are anticipating 6,000 participants, not including their families and friends and spectators.”
Councilman John Gehrig said the Spartan race is just the type of special event the town should be attracting as it shifts toward rebranding.
“We talk about becoming a place where global brands want to come,” he said. “Spartan has realized that. Sometimes, in order to attract these global brands, we need to invest. This is a global brand and it’s good for Ocean City.”