Concerned about the sagging U.S. economy, the NBA cut its staff 9 percent. Despite gas prices tumbling back to Earth, NASCAR teams are being pared.
Even the venerable NFL, which will charge a record $3 million for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial in 2009, announced this week it's reducing staff by more than 10 percent.
There is one sport, however, that's giving the recession a stiff-arm. From the beginner's sprint distance to the veteran's Ironman, triathlon is thriving.
USA Triathlon, the sport's national governing body, saw its membership increase 15 percent this year to 115,000.
The World Triathlon Corporation, which owns the Ironman brand, has jumped from 16 half-Ironman races in 2006 to 34 in 2008.
Locally, race director Rick Kozlowski, who puts on seven San Diego County races, says participation grew 10 percent this year.
While newspapers nationwide struggle with declining ad revenue and subscribers, Triathlete magazine's numbers are soaring, with circulation hitting 70,000, a 10 percent annual increase.
Said Triathlete publisher John Duke, “Times are as robust as ever.”
What makes the sport's mushrooming growth more fascinating is that triathlon is not distance running, where a $100 pair of shoes, shorts and a T-shirt account for the overhead.
It takes serious bank to race triathlons.
Typical bike: $3,000. Wet suit: $350. Ironman entry fee: $500. Add cycling cleats, jersey, coaching, Ironman air fare and hotel accommodations and it's cha-ching.
But high-end bikes are still being pedaled out the front door.
“We haven't seen the hit car salesmen have seen,” said Jeff Rowe, owner of B&L Bike & Sports in Solana Beach. “A lot of people hoping to get a BMW M3 at the end of the year can still get the very best tri bike and make their friends and competitors envious for $7,000. And those are selling.”
Last summer, the New York City Triathlon raised the entry fee for its 2009 race from $175 to $225 . . . and sold out the 4,000-plus spots in less than 30 minutes.
At $500 per entry, the 2009 Ford Ironman Arizona sold 2,000 spots in one day.
At Ford Ironman Florida last month in Panama City, some people drove more than six hours from Atlanta and Nashville to stand in line and register for the 2009 race.
Industry sources say there are multiple reasons why the multi-sport is faring well. Demographics play a part. Duke said the average household income of Triathlete subscribers is $177,000.
“I don't think they're the people getting laid off. They're the people laying off,” he said.
Leo Michaelis, a 34-year-old software consultant who lives in University Town Center, expressed the reason many gave for triathlon's health.
“It seems triathlon isn't a sport,” Michaelis said. “It's a lifestyle.”
Said Ben Fertic, president of the World Triathlon Corporation, “There are all kinds of wealth. Certainly your health and being fit is something you probably value more than anything else.”
Michaelis started racing three years ago when he lived in Germany. He chose to live in San Diego last year over New York in large part because the climate was more conducive to training.
Triathlon, he reasons, and the accompanying lifestyle, provide an experience that's difficult to identify by a price tag.
“All the preparation, the adventure while you are training, after the accomplishment, I think it gives you much more back than any amount of money,” Michaelis said.
Another example of the sport's growth: Membership in the Triathlon Club of San Diego has grown from 1,700 this year to 1,900.
Asked why he thinks triathlon is doing so well, Carlsbad's Craig Zelent, who coaches long-distance triathletes (including Michaelis), said, “Because it's their Mount Everest. Leo has never reached that far (to an Ironman). He doesn't know if he can do it. He dearly wants to see if he can.
“The answer's the same for a guy who simply wants to put together a swim-bike-run at the (sprint-distance) Mission Bay Triathlon. He'll feel like a hero because he climbed his Mount Everest.
“It's worth it to put some other things on the back burner to have climbed that mountain. It will make them stronger to face other challenges.”
The loquacious Duke summarized triathletes' fascination with the sport in his inimitable blunt style.
“It's an obsession,” Duke said. “Triathletes exercise because they're obsessed. The last thing they're going to do is quit training.”