Semifinals Prize Purse Announcement Highlights Conversation about CrossFit as a Professional Sport

May 28, 2021 by
Courtesy of CrossFit LLC.
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Earlier this week, just days before the inaugural Semifinal events, CrossFit announced its Semifinal Prize Purse on Instagram. As promised, the payouts were uniform across continents. However, much to the disappointment of athletes and fans around the world, across the board, they were shockingly low.

One big thing: Despite the progress CrossFit athletes have made over the past several years in professionalizing the sport of fitness, the CrossFit Games has yet to match that growth with the prize money these athletes need to make a living from this sport. And, despite new CrossFit CEO, Eric Roza’s pledge to grow the ecosystem so that athletes can make a professional living, at this point it appears that the Sanctionals seasons offered more lucrative opportunities. 

Remind me: Compared to previous seasons, the Semifinal payouts are not indicative of the progression of the sport and compare more to the Regionals era that ended in 2018, where payouts for top finishers stayed well within the four-figure range.

  • In 2018, the Regionals payouts looked exactly the same as the Semifinals payouts this year for individual athletes.
  • For team athletes, the prizes increased from 3k, 2.5k, 2k, 1.5k, and 1k at the 2018 regionals.
  • Compared to the Sanctionals of the 2019 and 2020 season, it’s a mere drop in the bucket
  • In 2020, Rogue, the Dubai CrossFit Championship and Loud & Live events, put up $2,178,860. Including:
    • Wodapalooza CrossFit Festival: $399,860 total prize purse.
    • West Coast Classic: $323,500 total prize purse.
    • Granite Games: $250,000 total prize purse.
    • Madrid CrossFit Championship: $260,000 total prize purse.
    • Mayan CrossFit Classic: $51,500 total prize purse.
    • Rogue Invitational: $375,000 total prize purse.
    • Dubai CrossFit Championship: $519,000 total prize purse.
    • For a total of: $2,178,860. 
  • Comparatively, CrossFit put up a prize purse of $400,000 across 10 semifinals, broken down to $40,000 alloted to each semifinal.  
  • For those keeping track, that’s more than five times less than the previous sanctionals season.

What they’re saying: The announcement of the CrossFit Games Semifinals prize purse was not received well by athletes, Semifinal organizers, and other prominent figures in the sport.

  • One Sanctional director who wishes to remain anonymous commented. “It’s demoralizing. In the Sanctional season at least athletes were allowed to choose opportunities where they had the potential to earn some good money. Now you limit earning potential, increase expenses for athletes, and reduce prize purses.”
  • Patrick Vellner: “I think restricting athletes’ abilities to earn through prize money and create visibility for themselves and their partners is bad for the ecosystem.” 
  • “Taking away incentive and opportunity for athletes to compete doesn’t benefit anyone. The last two years have been full of instability,” Vellner continued.
  • “Personally I’d rather have more control over my year, but it’s not the only variable that needs to be considered.” he concluded.
  • Snorri Baron, manager of several big name athletes, including Sara Sigmundsdottir: “For athletes who have not already garnered the fame, marketability and sponsorship income of the Dottirs, Toomey’s, Ohlsen’s and Vellner’s of this world – being a full time “pro” CrossFit athlete is an uphill climb.” 
  • “Especially now coming out of a prolonged period of lockdowns, cancelled events and much less exposure. They all have to pay competition fees and then they have to cover all of the costs that relate to competing; travel, accommodation, nutrition etc,” he continued.
  • “On top of this they need to push themselves to the limit in training to get ready to compete. To be able to push like that there are a very few of them that can actually hold a 100% job alongside it,” Baron added.
  • “In short; most of these athletes are flat broke and have simply done their best to acclimatise to it as they love the sport and also because they hold the hope that one day there will be bigger opportunities that await them within it,” he concluded.

Worth noting: Back in August of 2020, during Eric Roza’s first town hall, the new CrossFit CEO indicated that he would like more athletes to be able to make a better living as professional CrossFit athletes. 

  • “Can you imagine how many more athletes are going to make their living, and a really good living from CrossFit, if we have 1 billion viewers around the world?” he concluded.

CrossFit’s take on the matter: When asked to comment, CrossFit Director of Communications, Andrew Weistein responded with the following:  

  • “The past year has been brutal for everyone, including athletes and organizers, with shutdowns, event cancellations, and loss of revenue from nearly every source due to the pandemic.” 
  • Despite half of this year’s Semifinals being forced to run virtually, this year’s Semifinals purse will be equal to the former Regionals purse, and we hope to increase it significantly in future, as our sport returns to normalcy and growth.
  • As the sport of CrossFit succeeds, it will support a robust and sustainable ecosystem that funds the livelihood of more full-time athletes through official season events, partner events, and licensed events worldwide.”

The hard math: At the end of the day, the Semifinals payouts are barely enough to cover the cost of hotels, travel, and other expenses athletes incur competing at these events, much less give them a payout sustainable enough to allow them to earn a living from this sport.

  • By the time an individual athlete will compete in a Semifinal event, they will have paid CrossFit $320 in registration fees alone.
  • By the time a team will compete in a semifinal event, they will have already paid $620 to CrossFit in registration fees alone.
  • In fact, in North America and Europe, the fifth place qualifying teams will have spent 62% of their prize money on registration fees to CrossFit, giving their team a final payout of $95 per person ($76 per person if you include the coach).

Where’s the PFAA?: The lack of fair payouts at Semifinals has many people wondering where the Professional Fitness Athletes’ Association stands in all this. After all, they were supposed to be a beacon of support to try to push forward the idea that athletes should be able to train and compete as their full time job in the sport of fitness.

  • Games Athlete Travis Williams expressed his frustration at the PFAA on Instagram posting, “Just wanna give a huge shoutout to the athlete union. You guys killed it. You got CrossFit to pay out equally across the board. Really good work guys. Really glad everything is fair now….lot of people have messaged me saying this is CrossFits fault. All they did was listen to the people complaining and do what they asked. Apparently this is what the athlete organization thinks we are worth.”
  • According to Fikowski, the PFAA had no involvement in the decisions on Semifinal payouts.
  • “We were trying to be involved but were held at arm’s length. Their commitment to us was to “create a bigger pie” and increase the athlete middle class,” said Fikowski.
  • According to Fikowski, “The goal should be an increasing economy. Trying to enlarge the ecosystem and infect new sponsorship and money every year.”
  • “Our reaction to this announcement is likely the same as all the athletes when they first read it. It is disappointing that the prize money opportunities were noticeably larger during the two Sanctionals seasons,” said Fikowski.
  • “There were some verbal commitments to matching or increasing that earning opportunity in this new Semi-Final format, and it’s frustrating that did not occur,” he concluded.
  • “Obviously our job is always to advocate for athletes and their wants and needs and we’d be happy to be invited into any conversations that allow us to do that more effectively,” fellow PFAA member Patrick Vellner added to Fikowski’s comments.

The bottom line: If the CrossFit Games wants to create an ecosystem in which athletes can make a living, full-time as professional athletes, there is a lot more work to be done. The Sanctionals organizers offered lucrative prize purses, well beyond that being offered in this season’s Semifinals. 

Go deeper:
CrossFit CEO Eric Roza Lays Out Bold Agenda in First Town Hall.
Semifinal Payouts to Be Uniform, Organizers Say.
Fewer Earning Opportunities in New Season, Games Athletes Say.

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