3…2…1…Fail! How the Biggest Night in CrossFit Failed

So as most of you who have read this blog before know, I participate in a sport called CrossFit.  In fact, in the time that has past since my last post in October, I’ve actually become a level one certified CrossFit trainer.  I work out five days a week at 5:30 am at CrossFit Performance in Fairfield, CT.  The reason for the back story is to set the stage for what I viewed as a colossal failure of the CrossFit organization in terms of the marketing of their brand, sport, and championship series.

The 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games, finding the fittest man/woman on earth.

Three years ago the CrossFit organization set out to find the fittest man and fittest woman on earth.  The concept was to put together a two day event that included a variety of CrossFit disciplines and invite a group of elite athletes to get together and compete to determine who reigned supreme.  Fast forward to the 2011 games…a Reebok corporate partnership and sponsorship…and you’ll land where we are today.  Over 25,000 athletes registered to compete to see if they are the world’s fittest.  There are three stages of competition the first of which is the open qualifier.  This is followed by a regional competition and then finally the actual games.  Athletes are broken up into five divisions: Men, Women, Masters Men, Masters Women, and Team.  All athletes compete as individuals and their scores qualify for their team…or…for themselves in order to move on to the next round.  The top 60 men and women in each region and the top 30 teams graduate from the open to the regionals.  From Regionals no more than the top 3 men, women and teams make it to the Games.  It is fierce competition.  With a top prize of $250,000 for the top man and woman…it should be!

The Failure

The Open is a six week process.  During the Open on Tuesday night at 8:00 pm EST a workout is posted on the Games site.  Athletes then have until Sunday to complete the workout and submit their scores on the Games website.  The Open started on Tuesday, March 16th.  Or…it was supposed to.

As you can imagine, with over 25,000 competitors…everyone was chomping at the bit to see what the first workout would be.  Would it be 100 handstand push-ups for time?  Would it be Fran? Everyone was stoked to see it.  Twitter was buzzing…Facebook was crowded with CrossFit posts…it was CrossFit HQ’s time to shine.  7:55 pm EST…the Games site goes down…and it goes down hard.  404 errors followed by SQL errors followed by complete destruction.  Crossfit HQ went silent.  Crickets.  As you can imagine…Twitter streams went bananas…everyone was posting all at once…it was chaos.  It wasn’t until about 30 minutes after the workout was to be posted that the official Games twitter handle tweeted that the site was experiencing issues and the workout would be posted in 2 hours.  Well…needless to say…that didn’t happen.  Another post shortly there after stated that it would be 10 plus hours to get the site live and working correctly.  Colossal failure.

The opening to your one and only major competition.  A major corporate sponsor paying to sponsor their first event and you don’t load test your website, your database, and your other production level promotions.  If this ever happened on one of my projects with a client…there would be hell to pay.  The problem I have is with how CrossFit handled the failure.  Not only was there very limited communication…in my opinion they totally botched the first week of the competition.  After four days had past since the workout was posted…HQ came up with the great idea of letting all athletes have another full week to complete the workout.  That is right…as a result of a 12 hour delay…all athletes would get seven extra full days to complete the required elements and post their scores.  Want a curveball thrown in the middle of your training and preparation for the games…well there you go!

Where CrossFit HQ Went Wrong

As a marketer…I really do feel for CrossFit HQ.  Their biggest night…the web site failure…and they panicked.  They started to receive negative comments, feedback, phone calls, from thousands of people and tried to listen to everyone.  Hindsight is always 20/20…disaster recovery planning is crucial for any big launch or project.  Here are some other avenues that HQ could have traveled down and could have been able to keep the competition on schedule:

  1. CrossFit.com – HQ runs a website that posts a new workout and numerous other types of content everyday.  It gets thousands of visitors and is built to handle volume.  Why not post the workout on crossfit.com?  Sure…athletes would have not been able to post scores…but who cares!  Get the information out!
  2. Twitter/Facebook – Post the workout to Twitter and or Facebook.  Again…the thing here is to get the word out!  What better way than through social channels!
  3. Email – my personal favorite and the perfect way to get the information to the people who matter most…the athletes who were required to give you their email address when signing up to compete!  Why would you not have an email that was setup to automatically deploy at 8:00 pm EST with the contents of the workout that would deploy to every athlete?  Is there a more perfect vehicle for delivery information? (OK…I’m biased)

Now…instead of a six week competition…it is now a seven week competition.  Ugh.  A nightmare that could have well been avoided if there was planning, testing and common sense employed.  A learning experience for sure…maybe a eye opener for some of the vendors being used…but definitely something to avoid moving forward.  As a note…the second workout in the competition…was only about 40 minutes delayed…hey…that’s improvement!

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