Rulebook Review: Five Unanswered Questions
It was a big week for the CrossFit Games community with registration going live for the 11th iteration of the Open alongside the 2021 rulebook, drug testing policy, and adaptive athlete policy being published.
The rulebook came with a catch however, and not all of the season’s details were revealed as there will undoubtedly be additions and amendments to the rulebook as some of the nuts and bolts around the competition stages taking place later in the season get worked out.
Kudos to the CrossFit Games team for getting the most pressing information into the community’s hands more than two months before the season officially kicks off (and coming off a holiday break), but there are still some significant pieces of information that fans and athletes are eagerly awaiting. Below are the five biggest questions left unanswered going forward before the season starts.
1. Which event partners will host the 10 Semifinals?
- So far we have the layout for the Open and Quarterfinals, but that is only half of the journey. Who will host the penultimate stage of competition and where dictates (COVID permitting) which local economies get the financial boost from fans, brands, and athletes coming into town, which communities get to see what athletes, and what organizations get to be the torchbearers for CrossFit competition moving forward. In terms of direct impact on the community, one could argue that the Semifinal predecessors of Regionals and Sanctionals had a wider reach across the season than the Games.
- For an elite athlete this is probably the biggest question that needs to be answered from a planning standpoint and the importance of the decision cannot be overstated. Yes the Games are the final proving grounds for the fittest on earth but the semifinal stage of competition that ultimately decides who gets the prestigious title of being a Games athlete is the linchpin for individuals and teams looking to catapult their careers. If events are given some level of freedom around programming, then the decision of who the partner events are also effectively dictates the execution of the test to get athletes to the next stage. If the Games are the steak, then the Semifinals are the knife, fork, and plate.
2. How many athletes will qualify for the Semifinals?
- This is a much bigger detail with regards to the CrossFit Games ecosystem than most people think, primarily because there is a significant business around the “in between,” athletes that aren’t quite Games-level, but are clearly not your average everyday gym goer just looking to stay healthy and fit for life. The pool of athletes in the past whose competitive season revolves around simply making it to Regionals, or the elite division of a Sanctional is easily 10-15 times that of the Games athlete pool and considering they don’t typically carry the sponsors of the next tier of athlete, but are usually still the fittest person in their zip code, they have a significant impact as consumers of product, programming, and resources.
- CrossFitters also just love to compete, and doing so with the support of your friends, training buddies, and family at an event like Regionals or a big Sanctional is the equivalent of the Games for many each year. Not everyone can make the trip to Madison, but a wider swatch of people can make it to their “local” Semifinal, and year after year we watched the atmosphere at those events galvanize the community and sport to new heights.
3. How many athletes will qualify for the Games?
- This is a bigger question as a result of the impact that the size of the Games field has had on the competition over the past two seasons, albeit for very different reasons. From 2011 to 2018 when things were fairly standardized, the Games qualifying field consistently stayed between 40-49 athletes. It was expected that most athletes would make it at least to the final day of competition and from 2015 on, the standardized Games field from “Super Regionals,” allowed for every athlete to finish the weekend without cuts. The overall product improved, and there was a commonly used phrase internally at CrossFit HQ that was used to embody the spirit of the test to find the fittest. “He or she who performs best across all tests is fittest,” felt much more apropo when at the end of the weekend, the entire field had given their best go at the test in its entirety.
- In 2019 that changed when the individual Games field in each division ballooned to over 120 athletes and sweeping cuts and changes to the scoring system from the outset of the competition were necessary to execute the competition in a reasonable timeframe. Unfortunately the pendulum of change swung so far that the overall end product, while certainly legitimate, left many wondering what the long term effects of the format would be on the sport. Of course 2020 stepped in and said “hold my beer,” and turned everything on its head, but right now things feel like they are headed in a better direction, and letting the elite athletes know just how many spots will be up for grabs at the Games will give them a target to aim their (heavy) wall balls at.
4. What is the prize purse?
- One could argue that the sport of fitness really became legitimate once the prize purse jumped up to $250,000 back in 2011. For the majority of the next decade, each season saw the prize purse continue to grow, with more placements on the leaderboard earning more cash. The possibility of Games athletes earning a living as “professional athletes” became much more realistic because with the Games as the watermark, more brands had a lead to follow on properly compensating the top performers in the sport. A large prize purse is also a self-feeding system. The larger the purse, the more legitimate the sport becomes in the public eye. The more seriously the public takes the sport, the more it grows. The more it grows, the more brands and fans pump money into the ecosystem which leads the prize purse to grow again.
- The last couple of years have seen the prize money at the Games remain relatively flat, which was an indirect sign of the financial pinch the CrossFit Games were in as a result of declining participation and the dissolution of a concrete media presence that served as a de facto marketing arm. Still, the prize money was technically provided for by Reebok each year as a stipulation of their decade-long title sponsorship of the Games, which leads us to the final question.
5. Will there be a title sponsor?
- So far there has been no sponsor branding on any logos or media put out by CrossFit, and very little is known about the status of the title sponsorship for the CrossFit Games in 2021. Owner and CEO Eric Roza has briefly touched on what he believes will be a more open-minded approach to the situation saying ““I think it is possible that the title sponsor will be a footwear company but it may not be, others have expressed interest, and I also think it’s very likely that we will have one or more strategic footwear partnerships, independent of whether those are title sponsors.”
- Pre-pandemic the prize purse was in excess of 2.3 million dollars. That is not a small sum given the current state of the COVID world, and it would eat up a meaningful chunk of CrossFit’s budget for the Games if they had to front that themselves. Money aside, the title sponsor of the sport is a big deal because the company is choosing a partner to co-brand the sport with in many ways, and with the big plans that Roza’s team has in store moving forward, which brand gets the distinction will be a major player in the community going forward.
Fun fact: The January 7 publication date of this year’s rulebook is the exact same publish date as the 2019 rulebook, which came during the last major system overhaul and after the season had technically already started at the Dubai CrossFit Championship 26 days prior. Same date, wildly different timing.