When Brit Will Dean came up with the idea for Tough Mudder eight years ago in his Harvard Business School dorm room, his professor told him it would never work. Yet fast forward to 2017 and it’s a global brand, with turnover “north of $100m” last year.
For those not familiar with the concept, Tough Mudder is an event featuring a giant assault course, typically containing 10 to 12 miles of mud and more than 20 obstacles – many of which are made out of barb wire. Having quickly established a dedicated fan base – around 10,000 people who’ve completed the course have had the Tough Mudder logo tattooed onto their body – it welcomed 120,000 people to its UK events last year. This represents 15% growth on 2015.
The next step is for Tough Mudder to hit television screens. An hour-long episode will debut on Sky Mix on 24 January, telling the story of the professionals competing in the World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24-hour long version of the assault course.
There will also be five digital shorts focusing on the stories behind regular Tough Mudder competitors, including a contestant that has battled cancer. All of this will be followed by an original TV series that will debut in Spring 2017.
Speaking to Marketing Week, Dean, the founder and CEO of Tough Mudder, says: “There’s an opportunity to create an entirely new televised sport. People are increasingly getting bored of watching multi-millionaires kick around a football every Saturday.
“Last year, we had 42.5 million viewers of our live streams, so there’s clearly massive interest in Tough Mudder as a spectacle.”
According to Dean, the plan is to shift the business strategy, so 50% of its revenues are created outside of events in areas such as media and sponsorships. He says the potential for Tough Mudder to grow as a televised sport is “enormous”.
“There’s no reason why we can’t have Australia’s Toughest, Germany’s Toughest or even Asia’s Toughest as TV shows,” he predicts. “This is just the beginning.”
Dean claims 50% of Tough Mudder participants return to do the event again, something he says it has achieved with very little marketing spend and by largely relying on word of mouth buzz.
But with partnerships such as the U.S. Army, who sponsored the show when it debuted in the US, as well as Jeep and cider brand Kingstone Press in the UK, he’s confident brands will shift their sponsorship spend over from more traditional sports.
“Sponsorship is no longer as simple as just putting your name on a huge billboard in a stadium,” he claims. “With our contestants, they all have amazing stories and hurdles they are overcoming from surviving domestic abuse to beating cancer, and completing the course gives them a sense of achievement. That’s a great thing for a brand to sponsor, don’t you think?”
When I ask him if watching a bunch of sweaty people roll around in the mud will translate particularly well to TV screens, he confidently concludes: “Only an ill-informed cynic would say it wouldn’t. Millions of people want to watch a sport that’s actually inspiring and that’s exactly who we’re catering this for.”