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News & Issues

Sea Otter Classic Sells to Life Time

Life Time adds to its growing cycling portfolio with the acquisition of one of North America's largest expo/race weekends

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Frank Yohannan, who has owned and operated the Sea Otter Classic for more than 30 years, has found a new owner for the event—Life Time, Inc., a multi-billion dollar fitness and event company.

Life Time is best known in the cycling industry for its ownership of the Leadville 100, UNBOUND Gravel, Crusher in the Tushar and the Chequamegon MTB Festival among other events. It’s also a significant player in triathlon, hosting the New York and Chicago Triathlons, as well as iconic running events including the Miami Marathon and Chicago Half Marathon.

Besides events, the company operates fitness centers in more than 150 locations in the U.S. and Canada, boasting several million members, as well as database of about a million athletes who have participated in Life Time events over the last half-dozen years.

Yohannan announced the sale saying he would remain as Sea Otter’s director for the next three years. His staff, many of whom have been with the company for upwards of 20 years, will join Life Time. Sea Otter Classic has historically been known as the kick-off to the North American race season, and is held at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, each spring (though, this year, it’s scheduled in October, due to pandemic-related delays). It includes a huge expo, and a full weekend of races across every discipline of cycling.

“What’s most important to me is to continue to grow,” Yohannan said. “Certainly there is financial growth, which is a key part of my responsibilities. But we also need to grow with our industry—to help forecast and support major trends like e-bikes and gravel. We also need to be prepared to take advantage of new opportunities.”

The dual slalom race is one of the headlining events of the Sea Otter race weekend, attracting scores of raucous fans out to watch the heated head-to-head competition.

More importantly, said the 73-year-old Yohannan, the sale to Life Time, with its financial resources and history in event management, is essential for Sea Otter’s continued growth. “The synergies Life Time brings are some that we could never have done on our own,” he said. Yohannan, who declined to reveal the sales price, said he will continue to independently license the Sea Otter name to events in Canada, Spain and Australia.

In the meantime, plans for Sea Otter’s Oct. 7-10 event remain in place with what Yohannan described as robust early registrations for racing and camping sites. And, at this point, purchases of exhibitor space continue to exceed earlier estimates, Yohannan said. Sea Otter was canceled in 2020 and the traditional season opened was moved to the fall.

Kimo Seymour, Life Time’s president of Events and Media with offices in Boulder, Colorado, said Sea Otter has been leading the growth and transition of cycling in North America for years. Seymour said he first met with Yohannan several years ago and expressed an interest in acquiring the West Coast event.

“Frank said he appreciated the interest, but to give him two or three years and he could be at a point where an acquisition would make sense,” he said. Seymour, an accomplished triathlete and cyclist, has finished the Leadville 100 MTB race 13 times, posting an average time of 7:40. He has deep roots in the cycling industry and is currently a NICA board member.

“We think of Sea Otter as a hub in our ecosystem related to cycling,” he said. “Sea Otter will be our largest single event and our first foray into the B2B side of the cycling industry,” he said.

“We’ve only been interested in acquiring events that have iconic brands, like Sea Otter, that offer great experiences and are in iconic locations,” Seymour said, citing the Leadville 100, UNBOUND Gravel, Crusher in the Tushar, and others.

There’s something for riders of all ages at the Classic.

Yohannan and Seymour agree that while Sea Otter is a first-in-class race and ride consumer event, it’s also a key player within the industry, especially its role in organizing an annual business conference prior to Sea Otter’s opening day. Sea Otter had helped organize the Bicycle Leadership Conference, which is owned by PeopleForBikes, for many years. Last year, the two groups went separate ways, with Sea Otter planning to eventually develop its own conference. The spring event had become a showcase for the cycling media to see and report on new products being launched for the upcoming season. The event’s expo was a consumer bonanza but behind the scenes, it was an opportunity for OE vendors to meet with bike brand product managers.

Yohannan plans to resume a business conference tied to the spring event, which he said brings industry executives together to meet in a positive atmosphere.  “We think it’s important to identify challenges and opportunities for the future. We think that’s one of our responsibilities,” he said. “It’s the best time on the calendar and Monterey is one of the best places to hold one. So it’s our goal to reintroduce the conference in April 2022,” he added.

However, conference content and attendees could change in the future, Yohannan and Seymour said. “Sea Otter is really expanding beyond purely cycling-related types of exhibitors and issues, so we think there might be an opportunity to do something focused on outdoor versus just purely cycling,” Seymour said.

A key goal for Seymour and Yohannan is to expand consumer attendance and to boost exhibitor sales. Yohannan pointed out that presently Sea Otter is about at 60 percent capacity. “There is the capacity at Laguna Seca for some really robust growth over the next few years,” he said. “More importantly there is plenty of community capacity, whether its restaurants, hotel beds or other facilities,” he said, noting that some race events, like moto GPs, are twice as large as Sea Otter.

Sea Otter sprawl. 

Seymour said Life Time, with its database of athletes and spa members could help expand festival attendance by pulling in visitors from around the U.S. However, that will take complex transportation planning including bussing and off-site parking. “We don’t want to wind up with a thousand exhibitors and the same number of attendees — that’s not a great experience for exhibitors,” he said.

Life Time was founded in 1992 by Bahram Akradi with the opening of a 27,000-square foot fitness club in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Its corporate offices are in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

This story originally ran on Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.