Oh man, I can't believe I'm jumping into this fire. But hey, Let's do it!
This article (I hope) will give you a lot of hope for the sport. At Trio Fitness OCR, we have a pretty positive outlook when it comes to the sport of OCR and where it's headed. I will be going over some of the "blemishes" first, so if you know them and want to skip onto the GOOD stuff, just scroll down to, "THE AWESOME NEWS & THE FUTURE OF THE SPORT".
This topic has once again become relevant since the information regarding Tough Mudder's cancelling of prize money in 2019 was announced. There have been social media posts done by OCR news networks, professional athletes, amateur athletes, and some businesses reposting and sharing the content.
There are concerns, and many of them are justifiable. Tough Mudder not offering prize money LOOKS bad. It may or may not ACTUALLY be bad, but it looks bad for the company, and it certainly looks bad to Professional Athletes who may have had their eyes on some of that prize money. Terrain Race, though not one of the BIG race companies, has done a horrible job of paying out the prize money they promised. Considering that their top prize is only $200, that also looks bad. Everyone who has been around OCR for a few years still remembers (and constantly references) the drastic demise of Battle Frog and how they went from an epic race series with great obstacles and prize money, to underground in a very short time.
SOCIAL MEDIA FACTOR:
Everything (everything...EVERYTHING) is blown out of proportion on social media. When the Tough Mudder news referenced above came out, many of the TOP athletes in OCR changed their schedules; cutting out Tough Mudder events. For some reason, that didn't sit well with some people in the OCR community and they made their opinions about it public. Firstly, WHO CARES. And secondly, WHO CARES. As a non-professional athlete, I can very happily say that I do not care whether or not the top athletes participate in Tough Mudder or not.
There seem to be unrealistic expectations placed on the top athletes in our sport. They are expected, by some, to expend their time and beat their bodies into the ground, JUST because they love the sport. OCR has been blessed by the premier athletes in the sport. They are all, as far as can be perceived, really good, solid, driven, inspiring people. If they, as professional athletes, decide to make the SMART decision and not risk their income and career on a prize-less win, I'm totally on their side. If I were rich, I would train clients for free. I'm not rich. I need clients to pay me or I won't be able to pay my bills. If they were rich, I'm sure many, if not all, of the top OCR athletes would race for free, but they aren't. They have a living to earn and they have the right to earn it.
THE AWESOME NEWS & THE FUTURE OF THE SPORT:
I could be wrong (I'm not), but I believe we are living a small version of the future already. I believe that the structure of OCR is set exactly as it needs to be. The SIZE (based on number of participants) is the only thing that must change for continued success.
From everything I have read and heard, Spartan Race is profitable and growing. Savage Race is slowly, but surely, expanding! They've added races and even launched another race type last year. OCR World Championships has, to date, put on probably the most highly-lauded OCR events since the sport started. Europe has Toughest, Tough Viking, Rat Race (to name a few) that are very popular. There are COUNTLESS small OCR events doing awesome jobs which are often the first steps people take into the sport.
We already have the 4 levels of competition that we need to be successful - but we have them on a (potentially) larger scale. Football is America's biggest sport right now. Football has 4 levels. Pee Wee/Middle School, High School, College, and NFL. OCR has kids races, Open Heats, Age Group Heats, and Elite/Pro Heats.
The beautiful thing that OCR has that Football does not is the ability for people to ACTIVELY participate for 70+ years. Anyone can participate in an OCR. Not anyone can join a football team.
Having kid's races introduces the young generation to the sport who will then, hopefully, stick with the sport and introduce it to others as they grow up and continue to race. The Open Heats give ANYONE the opportunity to challenge themselves and try something new that might help them grow as a human being. Hopefully they'll have a lot of fun with friends along the way! The Age Group Heats give people with the "competitive bug" a chance to go out and see how far they can push themselves. This also gives them a chance to see if they have the desire to move up to the next level. The Elite/Pro Heats help significantly to validate the sport to the world - including companies who then put money into the athletes and sport. People in every group look up to the Pro/Elite Heats and aspire to be like them in some way.
I believe that, as long as the sport grows across the world, OCR will look very similar in 20 years; it'll simply be much larger and have much better technology. Short course options like TMX and Spartan Stadiums (Stadions now?) are awesome TODAY for fan viewership and interaction. That being said, mid to long courses aren't going anywhere. People find themselves in awe, as shown by ultra races and triathlons, of what the human body and mind are capable of achieving over huge expanses of distance and time. As technology advances to cover long-distance races better, those races will continue to grow.