Justin Bergh: The Future of The CrossFit Games (Podcast)

Justin Bergh is the General Manager of the CrossFit Games and has been a driving force behind the event for over a decade. Justin joins the podcast to talk about what the CrossFit Games will look like in future years. That includes how the event interacts with sponsors (and the types of brands they won’t work with), the organization’s on-again/off-again relationship with social media, an increasingly international athlete and fan base, and how the Games broadcast may continue to evolve over time. 

In this episode of the BarBend Podcast, David Thomas Tao talks to Justin Bergh about:

  • Justin’s evolving role with the CrossFit Games over the past decade (2:00)
  • Bringing experience from other sports to help the Games level up in his early years (4:30)
  • The biggest transition point in CrossFit Games history (6:05)
  • How long it takes to set up the CrossFit Games every year (9:31)
  • The number of people involved in putting on the physical Games each year (11:38)
  • Without Regionals, why there’s now an increased emphasis on the Games and CrossFit Games planning (15:00)
  • Supporting independent and international qualifiers (17:20)
  • What the CrossFit Games spectator experience, especially on the broadcast, will look like moving forward (20:02)
  • The competition floor is still “sacred and holy” (23:15)
  • CrossFit’s thoughts on viewership numbers/ratings (25:00)
  • The future of the CrossFit Games and sponsor relationships (27:43)
  • “We’re not for everybody” when it comes to sponsors (31:00)
  • The CrossFit Games’ relationship with social media platforms and getting back on Facebook/Instagram (33:50)
  • What excites — and worries — Justin about the future of the CrossFit Games (37:39)

Relevant links and further reading:


Justin BerghJustin Bergh

That’s the part that excites me the most. What will the sport look like in five years? Maybe Mat and Tia will continue to compete five years at the same level.


If history repeats itself, they will have a life span or a curve in their careers and there will be a new class of athletes in two, three, five, seven years.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.


Today I’m talking to Justin Bergh, General Manager of The CrossFit Games. For the better part of a decade, Justin has been a major driving force behind CrossFit’s growth as a competitive sport. He’s involved in almost every aspect of the Games, from organizing the physical events to athlete experience, media, streaming, and more.


Justin gives some rare insight into the inner workings of the Games, including the inside scoop on the massive shifts in qualification, and structure the event has undergone in recent years.


We also talk about the organization’s work with media, and live streaming, along with what fans can expect from future iterations in years to come. Also, I want to take a second to say, we’re incredibly thankful that you listened to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend Podcast in your app of choice. Now let’s get to it.


A very special guest today on the BarBend Podcast is Justin Bergh. Justin, it’s difficult for me to sum up the number of responsibilities that you have with the CrossFit Games, but it’s something that I think a lot of folks might not be familiar with, especially your work behind the scenes.


I’m going to start off by kicking it over to you, if that’s OK, to give folks a little background on how you became involved with the CrossFit Games, and what your role has become over the past decade.

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

 Sure. I’m fortunate, I’ve had a long history with the CrossFit Games. I was hired, the very first CrossFit Games I went to were in 2009 at the ranch in Aromas. I had just left a career working in sports technology, and I had an undergraduate degree in sport management.


Had been working in the sport industry, particularly with media broadcast for the last five years. I quit because I wanted to open a CrossFit gym, and have a bigger impact in the world. Very quickly realized that there was an opportunity to serve with my unique experience and education on the game side.


I was hired in 2010, and I was, at that point, the first employee that was dedicated only to working on the CrossFit Games. The other people, at that point, primarily, Dave Castro to Tony Budding and many others actually, were pitching in on a single event that took place once a year. It was becoming a lot of additional work.


That year 2010, there were 48 or so licensed events that took place all over the world. Trying to synchronize those to feed into a single event, they asked her that I came in. That was the very first year, including also an interesting first year when we moved from the ranch to Carson, California and had our first soiree into a traditional cable television.

David TaoDavid Tao

That first year transitioning from the ranch, which really had the feel of many ways of a backyard brawl, into something that’s under the lights. It’s in a professional sports arena. What was that transition like?


Looking back at it, I know that you’re someone who likes to look forward maybe more than look back, but what were some of the things that ultimately surprised your team regarding that transition?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

The entire event was so different. The ranch was such a magical place, and it was a little incubation period where people were doing this from all over the world. They were showing up, that was unexpected in the first and second years.


Other people wanted to host events and call them CrossFit events, so we licensed all these Regionals and Sectional competitions. We, in 2010, had all of these events, and they were feeding into the CrossFit Games. It was wild because we really hadn’t operated in a professional venue before.


The event was run well, and competition programming, and the athlete experience was all just nascent at that point. It was a step-up in a lot of categories. It was a step-up with the media, it was a step-up with our event planning. Fortunately, that was an area where I could apply myself and add unique value in the team.


I had been working then in a lot of professional touring sports, so golf and tennis was where I had spent a lot of my time in the preceding five years. The Tennis Center at StubHub, was one of the areas. It’s like, “Hey, I know how these types of venues work.”


That first year there was a lot of people coming, and contributing to the event from a lot of different CrossFit areas. We have people coming from Florida, from overseas, Texas, all over the place, to bring what they had. Some guys had event operations experience, some people were working concerts, some were CrossFitters.


Other people were first responders and they’ve worked with fire service. We started laying the foundation for the type of people that could respond well to producing this type of an event and it was all homegrown. It wasn’t a bunch of industry people, or entertainment people, or media people, that came in, they were CrossFitters.


They came and we created a bespoke of that, that was really the first foundation that we built on for several years afterwards in Los Angeles.

David TaoDavid Tao


That transition from 2009 to 2010, was obviously significant going from the ranch to the StubHub Center. Are there any other years that in your mind are marked as big transition points for the CrossFit Games from one season to the next, or one year to the next?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

eah. I think everybody looks to last year as the biggest transition that we’ve made. As a company I think, from CrossFit’s perspective, the biggest change that I saw was from 2010 until 2011. In 2010, we had all of these events.


I may have misspoke earlier. It was 2010, we had Regionals and Sectionals. The Sectionals worked for the broad-end of the funnel, from where they could sign up and participate. The best athletes from Sectionals went to Regionals, the best athletes Regionals were invited to the CrossFit Games.


At that point, CrossFit Games only operated one event. CrossFit, Inc., only owned and operated a single event, we licensed all these others. At that point, it was really challenging proposition. A lot of people around the world that were running these events were individual gym owners, and they were doing it almost out of a labor of love and a sense of duty.


People wanted to participate. They wanted to provide that opportunity. It was low stakes, and people were complaining about how much financial risks they had to take on because they didn’t know if tickets were viable. There was no real sponsorship, at that time. There’s a couple companies that we’re dabbling-in, but there wasn’t a significant revenue stream there.


There was no media revenue or income there. It was all really early. Greg made the decision that it was not a scalable thing to lean on affiliates to just out of their own pocket, produce these competitions and in 2011, decided to do two really big changes.


One was, launch an online, worldwide competition called the CrossFit Games Open, that would use…Affiliates all over the world could participate and anybody that had 20 bucks and an Internet connection, can submit their scores. It would cast the broadest net from a competition standpoint, far more broad than the Sectionals and Regionals model could have.


This was, “Oh and we will also do this,” portion. “Oh, and we’re going to own and operate 17 events around the world as Regionals CrossFit’s [indecipherable 08:23] . It was wild and I remember working for the company, the Open was what got everybody’s attention, it was the talking point, beforehand internally.


“Hey, we’re going to produce our own 17 events.” That’s a lot, in Seoul, Korea and Buenos Aires or Bogota at the time, Cape Town, South Africa, Europe, all over the United States. That was a lot. It’s a lot in one year where we went from one owned and operated to the following year, we did, I think, 19.


It was 17 Regionals plus the CrossFit Games. I think we had an exhibition that we produced as well. But that’s a big, from 1 to 19 is an enormous increase in event logistics and planning responsibilities. That was a big one.

David TaoDavid Tao

Speaking of event logistics, obviously the new home of the CrossFit Games, it’s no longer in California. It’s Madison, Wisconsin.


I remember it was quite the treat to follow the team along and try and predict. I know there’s a lot of predictions online as to where the Games would ultimately end up when you were going through that selection process, finding a new home for the Games, and a new venue.


When it comes to actually getting set-up at the Games, it could be what it took at the StubHub Center, it could be what it takes in Madison these days, at the Alliant Energy Center. How long before the Games, do you have boots on the ground? What is your setup look like, personally, in the run-up to the Games?


Are you there a month ahead of time? Two months ahead of time? Are you going back and forth between HQ and Madison? What does that look like?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

It really varies by year. We do have a remote management system, so we don’t have a full-time office in Madison and very few professional events become full-time offices, especially if they tour around. We’ve got a team that will go in and usually about three or four weeks ahead of time.


One of the earliest groups that come in, is actually Rogue. They’ll start delivering the tractor trailers, full of the equipment necessary for the Games. They are some of the first people to arrive on-site, just to park trucks and get their massive operation pre-installed there.


We’ll have a team that goes into the site, three-and-a-half, four weeks early. They start building floors and building the bleachers and overseeing teams to do that. I personally, David and I usually come in, with at least 7 days to 10 days in advance of the advanced week.


We’re usually coming in the weekend, or the Monday of advanced week, the week before the CrossFit Games. That’s to oversee from my standpoint, making sure that we’re building what we think we’re building, be able to manage unique challenges we have at the event, whether that’s predicted weather, or if there’s complications that pop-up, whether there’s was algae blooms, whether you need sweater.


In other years, it’s getting on-site early because we want to test some unique workouts. You have unique apparatus that we build, that you can’t test off-site. You have to build it there and test that thing on that floor with highly capable athletes.


We try to get in early enough that we can do all that advanced testing to make sure that it’s the best possible athlete experience when the lights are on, and the clock’s on.

David TaoDavid Tao

Including Rogues’ team, and including volunteers, judges, how many people will be involved, in a rough sense — I know you probably don’t have exact numbers — will be involved in putting on the 2020 CrossFit Games in Madison, when it comes to people on the ground actually having some physical interaction with the venue and the event?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

That’s a great question. We start with the people that are the most unique and the highest contributors are Volunteer Corps. We’ll use between 500 and 600 people on most given days.


We might have a staff of, and it varies by year, by competition format, and by number of days competition, but we can have between 500 and 800 people who are actively involved in producing the competition and the spectator environment.


On top of that you layer-in, there’s a core of guys that we call Black Shirts, who are responsible for leading the other leaders. Those are the exemplary guys from all over the world with a bunch of different cultural backgrounds that are all CrossFitters and high-skilled leaders.


Then you have all of the support people. We have many different sponsors that come on-site to try to increase the event experience, to make it better and more unique, make it across the mega-Disneyland type of experience for people who were into the things that CrossFitters are into.


Those are the parts that are hard to track. You don’t know how many people those guys bring to help make their unique little quarter of venue come to life.


You’re in a very high number of [indecipherable 13:13] . 800 to 1,000 people are responsible for making the event special. It all starts from inside the competition floor and then it expands out in concentric bands. More people are involved, the proper you go.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ve obviously seen a lot of changes in Games qualification, and how athletes are reaching the CrossFit Games and qualifying over the last few years. The Open, being a more direct route for some athletes, Sanctionals competition being introduced. How has preparation for the Games changed as a result of the different qualification system that we’re seeing now?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

It’s one of the unique aspects is that many more people are involved in the process. There’s been an increased emphasis on The Open. I think that it was awesome. The Open is a direct qualifier for National Champions.


It has an increased legitimacy in countries where, if you’re in Argentina, or Ecuador somewhere, anywhere, that is the qualifying test for your National Champions. There’s any country races that sometimes get missed by people in North America, you go, “Hey, Mat Fraser is really good.” The National Champion Race in the United States isn’t the biggest thing going on.


For Latin America, Europe, other places in the world, those are highly contested races with a lot on the line. Validating those athletes and making sure that the competition standards are increasing for people at the top of the leaderboard. They’re validating the performance well, so that they can have claim that they are the National Champion, stand behind that claim is important.


That’s going to increase that emphasis. There’s been a lot more emphasis, actually, on the Games. Without the typical schedule previously, when we owned and operated all of the Regionals, where we would focus on The Open.


As soon as The Open, it’s time to ride into Regional advanced planning and because all of the Regionals were the same, it became, “Hey, here’s the programming.” Now how do you make that same cookie-cutter approach work for 17 events, or 8 events, or 9 events, depending on the year? Then once you were done with that, you advanced the programming for the Games.


Programming is Dave’s unique area. He’s the best in the world at it. He takes a lot of pride in it. He’s very good at it. Dave is especially more focused a little earlier in the process in creating the test, being able to lay out the competition.


Last year was a little bit out of sync for everybody. It’s a new framework. We have The Open occurring twice in the same calendar year to get on this new trajectory and the new go-forward calendar. Now this year, there’s more time. We’re using that time to our advantage to do things in sequence and do things a little earlier, where possible.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ve seen that with The Open and heavier emphasis on National Champions. Last year at the Games, with the Parade of Nations and CrossFit’s always been an international sport, or at least it’s been an international sport, since very early on in its evolution.


It seems there are multiple touch points throughout the year where the international nature of the sport is being more highlighted, and one could say celebrated, especially at the Games. Is that something that you all will continue to have an emphasis on?


Can we see what we expect to see more of an emphasis on those National Champions representation from different nations? If we are going to see more of an emphasis, how exactly might that manifest?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

We’re on the track that people can expect this beyond in the future. Like you mentioned, the Games has never not been international. We had international competitors in the early years, yet international champions, almost right off the bat.


You had James Fitzgerald, who won the very first CrossFit Games. You got Mikko Salo, Andy Poscotis and other kind of early winners. This is not a new thing that it was an international sport, that internationally inclusive aspect is to do it.


Guaranteeing spots to people from countries that, at the beginning may not be at the same standard as some of the top countries like the United States, Canada, Iceland, Australia, but creating opportunities for people in some of the smaller countries that are still developing and growing CrossFit.


Their athletes are building experience and stacking capacity. The consequence to that is really exciting. At the same time, having an inclusive event planned, where people can stand up individual competitions, they can co-license the name, CrossFit.


They can create their own direct qualifier from Europe, South Africa, other places around the world, that becomes really exciting as well. They have to be independent of us, but then having the opportunity to be part of the CrossFit plan, be part of the CrossFit Games, seasons, is a really interesting…


The consequence of that, of course the consequence of adding credibility and leader-boarding aggressively within those other countries, has a really explosive potential in the future, both for the business side and for the development of a whole new class of athletes for the next 5 to 10 years.

David TaoDavid Tao

I want to talk a little bit about media coverage of the Games and accessibility to viewers who might not be there in person. I remember trying to watch the 2009 CrossFit Games. I was in college, and I remember trying to find coverage on the old CrossFit Games website, you could find bits and pieces.


Social media wasn’t what it is today, so you weren’t getting updates from Instagram, because “Hey, that didn’t exist yet.” The athletes weren’t posting to their accounts with millions of followers. As the Games evolved and moved to Carson, you’re starting to see a bit more mainstream coverage.


You’re seeing broadcast on ESPN, you’re seeing broadcast eventually on Facebook Live. There are these different phases of how you watch the CrossFit Games, and interact with that from afar. What do you think the future holds?


I will give context that last year was very interesting for me as someone who works in media. Barbend.com was one of a number of third party broadcasters for the CrossFit Games which was such an interesting and cool opportunity.


Frankly if I’m being honest, something I thought would never be in the cards for an independent outlet like ours. It was something that changed the game, or at least changed the experience last year. It wasn’t without its snags.


What is the CrossFit Games spectator experience especially the digital experience, and broadcast experience going to look like moving forward?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

It’s going to take the foundation that we established in 2019, and it’s going to layer on top of that. One of the important parts of our media strategy last year, was that it would be an inclusive and not exclusive media plan. What we ended doing previously was self-producing all of the content.


The effect of that was that many people who were outside, there were third parties like yourself and others, didn’t have an opportunity to have the most select coverage.


Instead CrossFit was responsible for producing every highlight, producing every documentary, producing every behind the scenes interview, and self-funding all of those things as well. Also creating a pretty narrow perspective on the entire sport.


I think it was good, it was entertaining. Our fans really enjoyed that, and we did it for a while. It wasn’t a mistake. It was something we did for a long period.


Now especially with more than half of the affiliates that do CrossFit being outside of the United States…for the first 11 years that I’ve worked here — 10 years that I’ve worked for CrossFit — we only transmitted CrossFit Games in one language — English.


In just one year by changing our focus from being English-only, everything in one place, and inviting other people to participate — not just other English commentary like yourself and others.


But through allowing and in fact encouraging and inviting others to come take CrossFit’s World Feed — which we still produce in CrossFit funds — and then bringing the [indecipherable 21:32] out to others so that they can add their own French, Italian, German, Brazilian, Portuguese, Spanish commentary and be able to serve that content not just on our platforms but on your platforms.


So, you can have the CrossFit Games Official World Feed with graphics and scoring and timing on your page for your audience and serve it in a way that makes more sense. It’s a really interesting — and I think something that we’re very proud of — policy going forward.


The near-term correction is that you go, “Hey, it was nice when everything was in one place under one umbrella.” What I think people miss was it was feel like if you want to watch in English, I challenge people to go back and watch the CrossFit Games coverage in 2018 digitally and watch the 2019 CrossFit Games coverage digitally.


If you go to Rogue Fitness — for benefit of Rogue and most — they did a terrific job. What they did is they added commentary to their CrossFit Games World Feed and they [indecipherable 22:32] . What you don’t see behind that is what was happening in Brazil, what was happening in other places in the world with other languages.


To go from one language to a dozen languages in a year is a big improvement. I think that only continues to compound the effects of the national champions having direct qualification.


You’re having instead of nine events like we ran in 2018, we’re now having 28 events this year — many of those around the world — and restoring official CrossFit competition to regions of the world we had to retreat from.


It’s a really positive a step. In all of these you can see it merges into the same philosophy which is creating opportunities for others to participate, CrossFit will do a core set of things. There’s many other things that the community brings and other outlets bring to shape it, especially the media coverage.


The competition floor is going to be a sacred holding, we’re going to do a great job that takes place on the competition floor and to lay claim to crown of the fittest man and fittest woman on Earth. The spectator experience will control a lot at our event and, many other people with their events around the world will create their own spectator experiences and they’ll create their own programming.


Then, media outlets again will take that same thing and they’ll cover the sport from different angles. What’s neat with CrossFit pulling back from some of those things, other people have stepped into that vacuum, and they’ve presented multiple different offerings.


The near-term consequence of that is some confusion about where do I go to get my particular type of content? That will normalize over time, as different outlets choose what their angle will be and they try to do that well including in different languages and with different audiences.


It’ll take some time to correct that, but we’re already seeing there’s not as big of a draw, as people were concerned with. Heber and Marston produced a documentary that’s going to be really entertaining for people for this year. They’re great storytellers and they’ve taken the 2018 season.


For people that were concerned that I’m not going to have that entertainment content, CrossFit will not produce it, but it will be available. Other people stepped into that vacuum — for their own benefit — and they’ve done a terrific job and they’re good storytellers. A lot of people will be interested in that.


It’s just creating more opportunities for other people to participate in this and that’s going to ultimately give the whole thing more air to breathe and opportunity to succeed.

David TaoDavid Tao


You might not have the stat off the top of your head, so not to put you too much on the spot. Did more people watch the CrossFit Games because of that in 2019 versus 2018 or did you sense an overall drop in viewership?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

Here is the thing, CrossFit’s never really cared about that, that much. We’ve always been digital-first and one of the unique things about digital is that when you keep everything underneath, in one particular silo, you can have high confidence in your viewership numbers. As soon as you get yourself into other platforms, and you have other partners, your confidence in the ratings and the viewership goes down.


People make claims about how many people they think are going to watch, like the FIFA World Cup is going to tell you the 3.5 billion people are going to watch the World Cup. Now, can they directly point to any other [indecipherable 25:42] ? Yeah, but we know…

…but that’s a bold claim. That more than half the people on the face of the planet are going to watch the World Cup at some point. Usually, those claims are made for other purposes. It’s not meant to be how healthy is the sport or anything like that, it’s usually meant to sell advertising revenue.

That was never CrossFit’s intent. We’ve had a digital-first approach, not because we were trying to monetize the digital to maximize that income. We took a digital-first approach because we wanted to serve our content freely to people around the world. Digital was the best tool to give it far and wide with as few barriers as possible.

We’ve always resisted putting things behind paywalls, that was one of the reasons we left ESPN. ESPN required us as part of our contract in the United States to window the digital content on watchESPN, which was the equivalent now, in more contemporary terms is ESPN plus.

We weren’t OK with that. We were not OK with people saying “Hey if I’m inside the United States, I have to pay to go to some platform to watch the CrossFit Games.” Because it was a digital-first free-for-all global perspective.

Now, it was the correction year when we had to get ourselves on the new track. What we’re seeing is that we’re going to be on platforms like we have been in the past, and we’re no less attractive to broadcasters inside and outside the United States than we ever have been. It was a lot of things in a short period of time.

But I think the CrossFit rates really well and, it’s because there’s lots of CrossFitters, and they talk about it really well. We’ll always be super strong in digital. Now, across The States, say, instead of CrossFit name reaping all the benefit, we’re going to give that to others and let them be the distributors of that content far and wide.

If you want to sell advertising on your feed, go for it, have fun with it, but take it and improve it, fundamentally make it right for your audience. If you do that well then we’ll be stoked to continue serving you that content.

David TaoDavid Tao

What is the future of the CrossFit Games when it comes to working with sponsors? Because you talk about, not necessarily focusing on selling ads for the benefit of CrossFit HQ or for the benefit of CrossFit, Inc. That’s not necessarily what your digital strategy is about, but we still have the sponsors.


I mean, we know the title sponsors, we know the partners, we still see advertisements for companies that work with CrossFit, and benefit CrossFit on a financial basis. What does the future hold when it comes to sponsors and brands working with CrossFit, at the CrossFit Games and being represented in that capacity?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

First, we’re grateful we got a stable and people who have been with us for a while, that are really…They’re contributors to the sport. As we’ve shifted to having different inventory available, the focus is not on how do we extract the most money from our sponsors. We’ve created a ceiling and so our sponsors can’t spend more than a certain amount of money with the CrossFit Games.


There’s a certain ceiling in the check that you can write with us, and it’s not variable by the platform. It’s not if your CBD helping me. We think that’s a highly, explosively growing area. We think it’s worth three times more than the hand-grip category. The people that are there, they end up being CrossFit Game sponsor.


What we encourage them to do is, spend more money than they have with us in other areas. So that’s sponsoring another Sanctionals, developing a relationship with multiple athletes that can be ambassadors, creating good products, you can sample and serve for free different people within the community.


Spend the remainder of your money, which is the bulk of the investment, investing in other areas. That’s [indecipherable 29:24] athletes and, back into the community.


It’s been a refreshing perspective. For us, it’s a little easier to administer. Also it makes it easy where you go when you come on-site, everybody’s got a flat rate, they ante up. Then we want to create opportunities for sponsors who want to give more away to occupy more space.


We’ve got a couple of things that are…we still got IRA paperwork but could be new and really cool opportunities for fans of the CrossFit Games to walk away with stuff that is really cool. If you get a big group of people who are claiming to come to the CrossFit Games, and they’re relatively fit, and they know how to apply their force, they can be leaving with some really, really cool stuff.


The idea is to create a unique experience. Also to be generous, so we’re in some regards, kind of stewarding money, not just in CrossFit. Its focus in this. Then everything else water falls back into the community back-to-back in your sanctuary-licensed events.


In top of all the other things that these guys have to pay money, all the other things that sponsors invest in. We’re not increasing our share, we’ve actually decreased our share of the total income available.

David TaoDavid Tao


What is the vetting process or is there a vetting process for potential sponsors? Big company X or small companies XYZ comes knocking at your door. “Hey, I want to sponsor the CrossFit Games.” Is there a process to make sure they’re a company that you want to expose to the CrossFit community and help give access to the CrossFit community?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

[laughs] Yeah. Without getting into that too much detail, the first is that we’re not for everybody. We’re unapologetic about that. There’s a lot of people that we talk to that call first CrossFit and say, “Hey, I want to sponsor the Games.”


One of the first questions is they only want to sponsor us they don’t want to be involved in anything else, they only want access to affiliates, we go,” Hey, you’re not right for us.” We don’t have that for sale. We don’t sell email lists to all our affiliates. So you can direct mail these guys. We’re not doing that.


We’re not guaranteeing you any placement in our affiliated gyms. We have a set amount of inventory available but the association with the CrossFit Games where the community gathers is a big opportunity for them to serve. We look for people who are trying to contribute not just financially in one place.


I think if you look at our kind of contrary to the people who are in that sponsorship and partnership realm, you would see companies that are invested in the community and not just in the CrossFit Games. Their investment is water falling into many other things as well.


There are certain categories that we just don’t entertain. Like you’re not going to see a McDonald’s reggae iterator, another outside training authority come in and just go,” Hey, we heard that you’ve got some spotlight available for sale, can we buy it?”


No, we try to reserve that for people who were contributors within the community and they got a product or service that at least passes an overall inspection from us.


We’re not validating the way every product that goes out there is right for every CrossFitter. CrossFit just make any endorsements, just order the Games.


We do try to make sure that if we’re highlighting companies in the mind of CrossFit athletes and spectators at the Games, they’re at least in line with our general philosophy. We say no to a lot of people, but people will be surprised how many nos we get. It said, say, “Hey, go somewhere else, invest differently, but we’re not going to figure out that.”

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk a little bit, still on the media exposure and exposure relevant to potential brands and partners on that end. I want to talk a little bit about social media because, the on again off again, relationship between CrossFit and certain social media platforms in the CrossFit Games and certain social media platforms, has been something that we certainly written about at BarBend.


It’s something that the greater community has paid attention to. They’re off Facebook, they’re off Instagram. Well, now they’re kind of back on Facebook, they’re back on Instagram.


We recently saw the CrossFit Games reactivate the official Facebook page, reactivate the official Instagram page. What kind of spurred that if anything in particular and, will we expect to see CrossFit stay active on the CrossFit Game specifically stay active on those platforms moving forward?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

Yeah, first, we’ve been on social media, and we’ve been in a variety of different media platforms for as long as I’ve been involved. For a long time, we’ve kind of…the term we use was we’re platform agnostic. I do think that during the last, couple years, ’17, ’18, leading into, a lot of the changes took place in 2019.


There was probably an overemphasis on counting things that didn’t tell the whole picture. Producing content that had, more likes or longer average view duration. We were doing this, we were looking at how do we optimize studio content. How long does it show need to be so that you can get more people watching it the first time or get everybody watching through the end?


We’re spending a lot of time and attention trying to do that well. What was interesting about leaving social media was, there’s not a lot of outfits that would choose to step back from a platform. I actually give Greg and, I think CrossFit should deserve some, there’s a positive aspect of this, which is going, “Hey, if there’s too much, you need to be able to step backwards.”


I think Greg was highly focused on making sure that the health message was centerpiece to his whole organizational media plan. That involves some corrections.


I don’t think that it was, necessarily intended to be a forever thing. There’s very few things that we do forever. CrossFit is a very responsive organization. We respond to what’s going on and a lot of things don’t change. Your philosophy on training and, squatting below parallel, our position on nutrition is actually remarkably consistent for long periods of time.


It’s not like we were like, “Hey, we used to be high carbohydrate and now we’re low carbohydrate.” You’re like, “Hey, there is a harmonizing principle behind this that is really, consistent.” How we serve media and which platforms we choose to turn off or turn down over time, has been a secondary, at best, priority within the company.


I think we turned it off. Greg did that for the purposes that he stated and we brought him back on because it’s one of a variety of different platforms that help us serve our purpose. That’s to tell people what’s going on but also, I think it was important not to…


When we were producing a ton of content, we had a large staff in place here at CrossFit, Inc. and within the CrossFit Games department, whose responsibility was producing lots of content because we were shouldering the load for everybody. Because we blocked, and we were exclusive to your outlet and other outlets, and others, we say, “Hey, we need to do this,” but we were the only ones.


We need to serve all of this. We need to have all the staff in-house to do that, not unlike our event policies.


We ran every CrossFit competition for a span of years, from ’17 and then eight, nine events. We had a staff appropriate to deliver on and operate best. As we licensed those events, as we included outside media, we’re now more of a window. We can curate content that is unique perspectives, good perspectives, and also different languages and reflecting different cultures.


We’re now onboard the portal or the window, we can share other people’s information. Once we adjust to that track, going back on social media without being the primary producer, but instead being an amplifier of other people’s content, made a lot more sense. Do I think it’ll last forever? Who knows?


The reality is 10 years from now, who knows if we’re going to be on Facebook or Instagram or TikTok, or virtual implants and just connect our thoughts. I don’t know. We’ll be responsive to that, because we have real communities of people around the world. We have people doing this. We have athletes who are committed individuals, and we’ll respond as appropriate.

David TaoDavid Tao


What excites you most about the future of the CrossFit Games? The other side of that coin, as someone who is so heavily involved, and has been for so long, in the growth and operations of the CrossFit Games, what gives you a little bit of trepidation, or maybe occasionally keeps you up at night, in the back of your mind, when it comes to the future of the Games?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh

That’s a great question. That is an excellent question. The thing that gives you the pit in your stomach is also, in my mind, the thing that excites me the most, which is CrossFit has assumed…We’ve made a lot of changes. We’ve planted a lot of seeds that are not planning to grow or bear fruit in a quarter or in a year.


Inviting country champions from all over the world to come to the CrossFit Games, some of them leave embarrassed or motivated, and then other people that didn’t get to go to the Games saying, “Hey, I was fitter than that person, and I should have been there.”


There’s going to be a consequence to that, that’s number one. Inviting other people to cover the sport from around the world in their language, and culturally appropriate for their audience is exciting, and risky because CrossFit declined money and we opened it up to other people.


Moving into a period where we’re willing to partner with more people, say yes to more different sponsors that have global reach. There’s a couple of things that if all of those things click, it creates a much larger opportunity for where we’re going than what it was before.


It’s hard to grow things that are owned and operated fast. If you were a franchise model, it grows at a certain rate. When you have a license model, you have other people that are sharing in the responsibility, and sharing in the opportunity. Greg has been remarkably generous, both as a patron for 13 years… [laughs] …but also allowing other people to participate in this.


That’s exciting. What gives you trepidation as you go, you’re also assuming a lot of risk. You’re going, “Hey, it was nice the way it was,” and it looked really good. I don’t think anything was wrong with that.


But you take a step back and say, “Hey, what’s really interesting is, if we really continue to plant seeds for the future and move in that direction.” That’s the part that excites me the most. What will the sport look like in five years? Maybe Mat and Tia are going to continue to compete five years not at the same level.


If history repeats itself, they will have a lifespan or a curve in their careers, and there’ll be a new class of athletes in two, three, five, seven years. Where will those new athletes be coming from? I’m excited about what I see in France.


With their quality in competition, they have a lot of affiliates, they have a lot of participation in competition, and they’re starting to produce top level athletes. Where will the other countries be? What will Brazil and Argentina do in rivalry against each other, or with large groups of affiliates in South America?


We’re going to be the hidden countries like Iceland popup and don’t have giant populations of people, but they do have highly dedicated, and a great culture to allow their individuals to be really, really competitive on a full landscape, and with more media around the world, people get captured on that content and then us able to window that…I think it’s interesting. Those are the things that excite me. The scary part is to go, “Hey, this is different.”


I get that it’s different for everybody but the seeds that be then planted with patience…it’s very believable for me to say, “Hey, if a couple of those things worked that would be really cool. And if many of those things hit, that would be really cool.”


There’s also a compounding effect where if multiple hit at the same time — work in succession — then it could be fun. But that comes with risk and if there’s no risk, there’s no real outside. CrossFit is driven, bold but taking some new risks.

David TaoDavid Tao

Justin Bergh, thank you so much joining us today. I got a lot out of this conversation. I’m sure our listeners are going to enjoy it and I do really appreciate your time.


This seems almost like a bit of a moot point asking — given what we were talking about a few questions ago — but where is the best place for people to keep up to date with the work you’re doing or maybe what goes on even behind the scenes of the CrossFit Games?

Justin BerghJustin Bergh


Games.crossfit.com. If you want to keep track for official scores and updates on where you’re going, it’s games.crossfit.com and @crossfitgames on Instagram and Facebook. Go to the website. Sounds like an old thing to say.

We’ll always be there. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

It does sound a little weird to say. I normally ask that at the end of podcasts because it’s an individual who has their Instagram account or something like that. If it’s what we’re talking about for half of the broadcast then it seems weird but hey, I have to ask it at the end.


All that aside, I really do appreciate you giving us your time and really looking forward to what’s in store for the 2020 CrossFit Games.

Justin BerghJustin Bergh


Thanks for having me.