Superhero Scramble (SHS) enjoyed over year and a half in the big leagues of OCR. Their name was mentioned with those global pioneers of obstacle racing such as Spartan and Tough Mudder. But, like many entrepreneurs of a new business, the past months have been a struggle for SHS in both their finances and their reputation.
Last August, ORM released an article unveiling some of the problems SHS and their race director Sean “Ace” O’Connor were dealing with internally. Since then Superhero Scramble put on their Miami race in January which did have close to 2500 participants. However, events in Ohio, Texas, Arizona and California were postponed until 2015 or cancelled all together. We’ve decided it’s time to check in on the OCR community and with SHS for more information.
In case you haven’t read the article, it explained that SHS ceased to pay some of their elite athletes and employees in a timely manner or within a promised timeframe. It was one of the first articles to expose the behind-the-scenes questionable happenings of any major obstacle race. In the ever forgiving and positive culture of OCR, the article created divides about the good that it did the OCR community. That article received over 100 comments and is by far the most talked about article in OCR to date.
We reached out to O’Connor for collaboration on this follow-up article and he obliged. First, he shared his thoughts on the news that ORM was writing about Superhero Scramble again. “While everyone is entitled to the facts, the previous ‘story’ was just that… It was riddled with false and misleading information, and was more of a personal attack than fair reporting. While it benefitted ORM, it did absolutely nothing good for the sport, community, industry, or our company.”
FEELING THE HEAT AFTER MIAMI WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
On January 11, SHS held their 2013 World Championships in Miami. Their Intimidator distance, coming in at 9.2 miles, and Villain at 18 miles, were both hosted at the competition. Following the race, Facebook exploded with a range of reviews, a large portion of them negative.
On the top of the list of complaints was the lack of water stations at the race and inability to obtain water at the finish line or festival. Next, was the discontent that the t-shirts and medals handed out read “2013 World Championships” instead of 2014. Others were concerned with safety on the course, and some were surprised at obstacles they described as poor.
O’Connor had a strong response concerning the feedback on safety standards and marshaling at recent events we presented. “If you’re looking for negativity you will find it. We do our best to give everyone an amazing experience, but we all know that it’s not possible to please everyone all the time. We haven’t heard of any safety concerns aside from the long swim at the past race. We take all feedback seriously and will address concerns accordingly. We always have staff and more than sufficient medical personnel.”
SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS
Not all posts were negative though. Many people raved about the long water obstacles, how much fun they had, and that SHS is their favorite race. They hushed the posts from “haters” and offered support to SHS. Unfortunately, for many, these were overshadowed by the frequency of negative posts.
Social media tends to be a breeding ground for rants as people find it easy to voice their frustrations. So, ORM wanted to get the perspective and reaction from some of OCR’s biggest names and longtime fans and elites of SHS to understand better the community’s opinion of SHS.
We posed identical questions to promoters, elite racers, weekend warriors, and seasoned athletes. ORM’s goal was to capture a variety of experiences, reviews, and thoughts. But, we found similar patterns in the answers we received.
A few racers we interviewed wished to remain anonymous either because of relationships they value with the staff at SHS or because they were concerned speaking out would compromise their chance at receiving payment for cash prizes. We asked O’Connor about his response to the worry that if racers who are owed money are honest about it, they will not be paid.
“Honesty and open communication is fine, but starting rumors and poisoning the well which is OUR OCR community isn’t ok with us. We are late on paying some people, but they will get paid and that has been communicated to them. If people want to get paid ASAP they can help by promoting our races instead of bashing us because of a personal issue. We have every intention of paying people as soon as fiscally feasible and responsible. The last ORM article was an “opinion piece” that was littered with false and misleading information. The article didn’t help us as a company, and only delayed people from getting paid as it damaged our reputation.”
The following are the stories and reactions from a variety of racers in the OCR world.
SPREADING THE WORD
A passionate promoter’s first SHS race was in 2012 at Waldo, FL. The promoter was impressed by “the atmosphere, the obstacles (the slide especially), the band, the swag the superhero theme. Almost everything about it.” As a mudrun fanatic, this promoter referred anyone they could to SHS.
However, over a year later and owed over $500, there are no more rave reviews. “I think if SHS just listened to the serious ‘fans’ and took a step back instead of getting so greedy, they would not have had the issues that they had at the Villain. The people that work there are awesome people! I think it just go too big too fast. None of us wanted to see SHS go down the way it did.”
Elite racer and OCR icon Hobie Call gave us his input as well. Call is a huge fan of SHS and their great atmosphere and people. He’s referred a few thousand people to their events through Facebook. “I do think I helped serious athletes to get involved over time, though,” he said.
Call didn’t have a bad thing to say about SHS. “I liked everything, but once again admittedly, I was the first one through the course which can make a big difference. The weather was warm and sunny, it was a beautiful park to run through, I was healthy enough to enjoy it, and I go to visit with friends that I’ve made over they years and meet a lot of new great people also.”
Call still recommends the race, but shared some thoughts for SHS. “I’d like to add this advice to Superhero Scramble. Stick to the shorter races, a lot of the problems they had with their Championship race would have been automatically solved if the course were only4 miles long. Also, most people don’t want to run bunch of miles. Maybe the most vocal people in the sport may make it sound otherwise, but the reality is, it’s far easier to get people to sign up for a 3 mile race than it is a 9 mile race. Also, logistically, it’s far easier to put together a 3-mile course than it is a longer one. GO back to focusing on a lot of quality obstacles, and less running. Just my thoughts.”
On the difficulty of his race, O’Connor had a lot to say. “There are always those that find our obstacles too difficult and some that find them too easy, but we try to balance the difficulty by pleasing the varied skills of our participants. This particular event was our Intimidator and Villain distances which are longer races and therefore require much more running than our shorter distance races. In other words…they aren’t meant to be as fun as our shorter distance Charger. The Intimidator came in at at 9.2 miles and the Villain at over 18 miles. The number of obstacles were at the normal levels, but since it’s a longer race it may not seem as many or as frequent. Some obstacles vary from location to location due to the types of terrain and or restrictions of the venue or county.”
CASE OF MORE MISSING MONEY
Alec Blenis, a 19-year-old elite racer hailing from Roswell, GA also attended his first SHS race in Waldo. He was excited about the prospect of a cash prize- a rare thing at the time. “While it wasn’t the best race course I’ve ever seen, I was really happy to see a race company in the OCR world focus on team racing and cash prizes. At the time, not even the larger companies were offering big payouts (with few exceptions), so winning money at that race was a huge bonus for me.”
Blenis found the race a little disorganized with some obstacles still not assembled the morning of the race. “Once the race got going though, everything went smoothly besides the lack of regulation. Regulation is an easy fix though, so I was excited to sign up for another race and hope for improvement.”
He referred friends and family to SHS and continued to race. But, now he is owed $1,166 by SHS. $916 of this is past due. “According to their website, they pay athletes within 180 days, which, even if true, is still unreasonable in my opinion. Other race series are now paying athletes on race-day, and Superhero Scramble should follow suit.”
After his experience in the Miami World Championships, Blenis will not be going out of his way to participate in any more SHS events. “Many of the obstacles were laughable, like hoping over a box, and others weren’t managed properly. For instance, there were lots of walls to climb, but there weren’t any volunteers there to make sure racers did them… Until Superhero Scramble pays athletes the thousands of dollars that they now owe them, no. I may run the Georgia race since it is close to home, but I would not travel for one.”
But, Blenis hasn’t given up on SHS, a clear trend in the athletes we spoke with. He would still recommend it to his family and friends. “If you are local to the event, do it. The race is a really fun way to spend a weekend. However, I don’t think they are worth travelling to as a competitive racer.”
This area of the business is a priority for O’Connor and his future plans with SHS. “The reality is that a lot of unexpected things happened this past year which really set us back financially. We are working with all our creditors and unlike a lot of the players in the industry, we continue to put on top notch races and ARE STILL IN BUSINESS. Some of the complaining is coming from creditors who we are questioning their charges, others are legitimate bills which will be paid as we work through our next round of financing. As a business we must make sure that we can continue to operate and put on profitable races so that we can pay back people that are owed money.”
Superhero once relied on word of mouth and grassroots marketing to fill their races. But, some racers now refuse to refer anyone to the race until financial matters have been cleared up. Kevin “Mudman” LaPlatney from Long Island, NY was disappointed by the lack of prize money offered to his team after their win. While the SHS website did announce there would be not be cash prizes, there was poor discrepancy between what was promised and what was ultimately given to podium place finishers.
“My team won the top male category for the ‘Scramble Gamble’ division, but we were never given our trophy or prize money. Instead, race organizers awarded us with ‘Superswag Bucks,’ essentially a coupon/credit toward their picked-over merchandise at the end of the day. They claim that the company made a decision to change the event to only a ‘competitive’ race, relieving them of their obligation to provide said prizes.”
LaPlatney communicated with race director Sean O’Connor several times after the race and told us he did not receive a satisfactory explanation that would prompt him to attend another Superhero Scramble.
Leigh Rush, hailing from Adairsville, GA was featured in ORM’s first article. Her first SHS was in Dalton, GA, April 2013. She liked the tough, legitimate obstacles Superhero offered, but was unimpressed by the delays in start times. She is currently owed $1000 for individual race winnings and $750 from team winnings. There was no hesitation or sugarcoating from Rush: she will not do another Superhero race.
HERO’S CREDIBILITY INJURED
Other racers were concerned about the safety of SHS races and integrity of the brand. One female team member and seasoned racer told us she would never refer friends and family because of safety issues. “It’s too unpredictable and dangerous for the level of fitness most of my family members are at… Family members might either lose their money if they registered and the race got cancelled, which has happened numerous times, or they could get injured on an obstacle that is not safe.”
She went on to describe her disappointment in promises unfulfilled by Superhero. “This is a very unfortunate downfall of Superhero races for many people- Superhero lost credibility… And Superhero should not have continued to carry on with the façade of scramble gamble heats when they realized they couldn’t pay out the winnings. It’s poor business practice and it’s dishonest.”
“I would like to add that it’s my belief that being transparent goes a long way and I feel Superhero missed the mark on this. I think that Superhero is now paying the ultimate price at this point. They are in their own “scramble”, excuse the pun. I think they should have some integrity and post on their own website and Facebook page the list of persons (or) number of persons whom they own money to and the amount that is owed and have full disclosure so that future participants are aware of what Superhero has promised and not delivered on.”
Other participants echoed this sentiment. “After my first Superhero, I left elated and having had a good time, but still felt the race had many places to improve. I thought that in a few months they would learn and grow and improve on what people had very vocally complained about after their event in Georgia. When I went to compete in Florida for their first intimidator I was astonished to see no real improvement.”
O’Connor expressed that they are making efforts at SHS to reach out to athletes who are feeling disappointed. “We can understand people losing faith because some payments are being paid late. We do our best to communicate with people if we owe them money, and are in touch via phone and email. We have responded to emails regarding payments with honest answers. We have also made installment payments to all athletes that are owed money, and will pay in full as soon as we possibly can.”
But, Superhero will not be posting any information about who or what is owed. “That info is private just as others financial info is private,” O’Connor said. “People must understand this is a business, and all businesses have accounts payable and most businesses have debt.”
SUPERHERO’S HOUSE OF CARDS
Janice Marie Ferguson is an all around badass. She is a married mother of two, one of the Spartan 300 Elites, top 50 2013 female Spartans (in points), a wild hog catcher, and CrossFit trainer out of Biloxi, MS, had some strong words about SHS. She noted that her perspective comes from that of a competitive racer with different expectations than that of a recreational racer or weekend warrior. Understandably, she has higher expectations. Her review of the Miami World Championships was critical and detailed, adding flesh and bones out many of the complaints seen on the Superhero Scramble Facebook page.
Ferguson concerns ranged from safety to regulation of obstacles, specifically in elite races; unplanned race delays causing disruption to warm ups; cheating during the swimming obstacles, and lack of follow through on payouts.
While Ferguson did not specify the amount she is owed, she explained that she was paid over six months after her team win in Florida (May 2013) and still has not received total payment for her team win in South Carolina, June 28, 2013. “I was told 180 days in regards to the Florida race. For South Carolina, who knows? The website now says cash will be paid in 12 months. I shouldn’t have to hope for it. I should know it is coming.”
Ferguson concluded, “Cancelled, low-attended, or poorly organized races are just a few of the problems that Superhero has been battling with. I wish that were not the case. I care about this industry, and I hate to see OCR companies fail. Who knows, maybe Superhero will rise up from their troubles and become a top racing organization? I hope so.”
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
Ashley Martin from Temple, GA is a dedicated and decorated racer. Her first SHS was in Georgia, April 2013 and her most recent at the South Carolina race in June. She is not currently owed money, but she has grown exasperated with SHS. Martin loved her last race with SHS. “This race was brutal. The course was difficult. I measured with my GPS somewhere around 2,000 ft. elevation change over the 10.5 miles. There were some difficult obstacles from what I’d seen at the 2 previous races from them.”
She gave us the other side of what she experienced as well. “Again, the race started late… the rope climb was placed at the beginning of the race, if I remember correctly it was the first obstacle. And there were only 4 or 5 ropes. This created a really bad bottleneck during the elite wave. If I remember correctly there were only 4 water stations. The race was advertised at 8+ but clocked in at 10.5. It was June, in the south. It was miserable. I cramped up in the last mile and was in tears by the finish line.”
Martin, definitively, is done with SHS and with any referrals. “I think the Superhero theme is appealing to some people, but there’s other races that can offer the same challenge without all the issues that SHS seems to be having right now.”
After dealing with complications in claiming her prize money from the Central Florida race, Martin finally gave up. She was sitting in 4th place in their point series at the time, after running three races. She sought clarification about points winnings and how she could expect payment, but was told she would have to compete at the Miami World Championship race in order to be eligible for any points winnings. Martin was concerned that with the delay in payments that occurred, she would end up paying for races for which she rightfully should have won a season pass. She ended up sitting out the season and giving up any money she would have won.
“The final straw for me was when I noticed that SHS had changed the small print under their points payout chart, to say that prizes would be given out at GA, but monetary payments could take up to a year and monetary amounts may vary depending on the number of races held during the year.”
“SHS may not be in business in a year so I may never see my winnings to begin with, and who knows how much I actually would win since they are not being forthright. I chose to stay at home and not waste my time in Miami at their so-called World Championship race.”
O’Connor commented on the critique of the safety of his race. “Safety is always our primary concern and we believe we did a great job delivering a fun and safe race for our World Championship event. The injuries were minimal and less than our other races. Those that understand obstacle racing know that injuries are inevitable.”
“We have heard people remark about the long swim, and although it can be dangerous for non-swimmers it was definitely NOT unsafe. There were ropes with buoys to pull yourself across, paddle boarders and boats in the water to help swimmers, SIX PROFESSIONAL LIFEGUARDS in addition to BSO FIRE/RESCUE, and those who can’t swim well were advised to walk around the obstacle. “
A CALL FOR ACTION
The OCR community is patient and understanding to say the least. But, for some who have dealt with SHS, enough is enough. Mr. David W. Summers has begun the pursuit of legal action against Sean O’Connor and Superhero Scramble. In a letter to O’Connor, Ryan Summers, and Robyn Goldman, David Summers outlined his complaint against SHS.
“It’s going on better than 8 months since my son Adam was retained by Super Hero Scramble, LLC to provide services, tools and supplies for a Georgia athletic event. To which he has yet to be compensated… My son poured out his knowledge, expertise and efforts on Super Hero’s behalf. And I might add never charged it full price for that. Not only that, he was a fan. Past tense.”
According to David Summers, SHS owes his son Adam $12,710.47. He has hired attorneys to pursue the payment of this amount. Previously, these attorneys attempted to create a settlement agreement with SHS, which was ignored and has since expired. Summers makes no secret of his feelings toward Superhero.
“How do you people justify this? How do you sleep t night, knowing this? How does one completely put his out of their mind and pretend they have no obligation to pay this or contact or negotiate a program to pay this ‘debt?’ How can you call yourselves Super Heroes? Shouldn’t a more appropriate name be Super Zeroes? OSHA is just a phone call away. The corners you cut, the safety compromises. Hey I know people that were there… Shame on you and you Super nothings.”
When asked about this letter, O’Connor responded, “First, we all know you can’t believe everything you read, but we are in communication with anyone that is owed money, and everyone that is owed money will be paid as soon as possible.”
SUPERHERO SPEAKS OUT
ORM has not received any response from an SHS representative on this particular matter, but Robyn Goldman, an original partner of Superhero Scramble sent us her correspondence to David Summers. Goldman has not worked for over a year with the race and explained that neither has Ryan Summers. She left citing many disagreements with O’Connor.
“Sean and I made a buyout agreement last February of $32,500 that he was supposed to pay me in increments and till this day he has not paid me a penny! Unfortunately he owes many people and I doubt any of us will be getting paid. Hopefully he will realize that he will be getting many lawsuits his way and the company will fall apart with his poor decisions.”
O’Connor’s response to Goldman was short. “You are responsible for your words and can and will be held accountable,” he wrote. “You have never had a buyout agreement.”
Goldman shot back an email asking if he would like to finally sign the contract. O’Connor’s response concerning a buyout changed. “Again, we are in no position to buy you out. We will let you know w as soon as we can manage something. Thanks.”
ORM asked O’Connor about those who left because services rendered were never paid for. “This is false. Everyone was paid as agreed. The company started with 4 people, and over time the reality set in that people either couldn’t fulfill their duties, or weren’t able to make the sacrifices necessary to grow a start-up. In most businesses you will find this isn’t uncommon…. All employees have always been paid as agreed.”
THE FUTURE OF SHS IN THE OCR COMMUNITY
OCR athletes are surprisingly understanding. They are forgiving and gracious, optimistic and hopeful. Even in the face of disappointment and broken promises, they are staunch believers in a second, third, or hundredth chance. Fans and athletes have gathered to support Superhero Scramble during its struggles. The common thread we discovered among the racers we interviewed was their willingness to accept transparency and commitment to improve, and then move on. There are few grudges held against SHS and there remains a deep-seated hope that they will turn things around. But, momentum is building to speak out when commitments are not fulfilled. Athletes take OCR seriously and want their races to as well.
Similarly, despite everything, O’Connor believes that SHS is still a success and not going anywhere. Perhaps, they are just weathering the growing pains of a new sport.
“The industry is new and ever evolving. It’s a fast paced environment and we are ever adapting to the changes. While we love having elite athletes compete at our races, they are a small percentage of racers. Our surveys indicate a 90% satisfaction level and over 70% of racers tell their friends about us. We are in the process of restructuring many aspects of the company which will allow us to move forward and put on top notch events this year and beyond.”
Recent months have seen the Superhero’s reputation take a hit. Ever optimistic, O’Connor explained that it’s important to remember that this is still a sport in its pioneering stages with surprises and unexpected changes.
“We think the biggest misconception and issue is that people think we are making tons of money, when in fact this is a tough business with a lot of risk. If you look around at all the races that have started in the last year, and research how many have survived, you won’t find many. We are putting on top notch events and have a 90% satisfaction rate, but we are still a start-up in an industry that’s constantly throwing curveballs at us. We have been mostly self-funded until recently, and are a small organization with a vision and a goal to make Superhero Scramble the premiere OCR company. That being understood, we do have a list of payables and are paying them down in an orderly manner as all businesses do.”
LATE BREAKING NEWS
As this story was going to press the first week of February, 2014 two things transpired:
Superhero mailed 25% of winnings owed to racers from their June 2013 races. (Many interviewed for this story mentioned being owed for these particular races).
Superhero Scramble announced the cancellation of two more of their 2014 races. The South Carolina race scheduled for June 28th, and the Ohio race scheduled for August 2nd 2014 have been removed from the SHS race schedule. Originally, the Ohio race was delayed but due to what SHS cites as “a surge of competing races” making the market difficult, they have chosen to cancel the two entirely. An email was sent to participants offering a transfer of funds from one race to another or a full refund.
*Cover photo by David Moore