Has the Arnold Classic Lost its Luster?

by Matt Weik

The Arnold Classic in Columbus, OH happens but only once a year. A show where the best of the best are supposed to get on stage and do battle for the title of what used to be a very prestigious accomplishment. The key phrase in that sentence was “used to be.” What started back in 1989 from a hand shake between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Lorimer, the Arnold Classic was born.

Many over the years have graced the stage, yet only a few have been able to take home the title. But where have all the athletes gone? What drew some of the greatest names in all of bodybuilding has now become “just another show.” The Arnold Classic is now the first show of the bodybuilding season. I’d say it’s a great way to kick-start the new season, but honestly there’s nothing to truly get excited about anymore.

Goodbye old friend

For years, I frequented The Arnold Classic. Most of the time I was stuck in meetings with accounts and distributors since I worked for MET-Rx. But, before that I was a true fan and loved the show. This year, there was just something different—as in, there were no big names in the show (in regards to the open division). If I were the promoters, I’d be ashamed at the lack of bodybuilding competitors on stage.

For years now we have seen the Mr. Olympia champ sit out the Arnold Classic. Now we have non-winners doing the same. Do they think they are too good for the show now? Or do they feel they need a longer off-season to make the type of changes they desire before making their way back to the stage? If the latter is the reason, maybe Arnold and Jim need to rethink when they want to hold the show. In my opinion, the Arnold shouldn’t be the first show of the year anyway. There should be at least one or two shows before the Arnold, like they had it years ago.

Last year’s champ, Kai Greene, decided to take a step back from the stage to focus on other business ventures—and that’s fine. But, where is everyone else? Phil Heath will never step on another Arnold Classic stage for the rest of his existence on this planet. So, where’s Shawn Rhoden? Where’s Dexter Jackson? Where’s Ramy, Winklaar, De Asha, Bonac, Akim, Victor, amongst others who should have been on stage?

If it wasn’t for all of the supplement companies at the expo giving out tons of free samples and products, would anyone even really want to go to Columbus? The line-up this year was boring. I’m talking full-blown snooze alert. As in, wake me up when the weather turns nice in Columbus because no one brought the heat to the stage this year. And don’t even get me started on the timing of the Arnold. Just about every year the weather is terrible. Not that we can give mother nature a recommendation on the temperature we’d like, but it seems like regularly the weather in Columbus in early March is either rainy or snowy and definitely cold. Who the heck wants to jump on a plane and go somewhere cold to go see a bodybuilding show.

Is the milk worth the squeeze?

Arnold himself in Pumping Iron said, “Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer.” And that’s exactly what I’d recommend with the Arnold Classic. It’s time to grow. While the Arnold Sports Festival brings in athletes from across the globe and is growing every year, something needs to be done about the dying bodybuilding portion of it all. Why is it dead? It can’t be because of the money—I mean, who doesn’t like a payday for hopping on stage? In my opinion a fat check would be a great way to start the bodybuilding season.

I personally think that The Arnold Classic needs to be moved outside of Columbus, OH. I don’t know of anyone who gets excited to travel there. It’s difficult to get around the venue, if you don’t have your hotel booked a year in advance at or around the venue you’re going to need to find a way to get to the show as you’ll spend most of the day trying to find a parking spot, the expo floor is so crowded that it takes 30 minutes just to get to the bathroom (hopefully you can make it in time), and the expo smells like one big protein fart all day long. It’s a good way to ruin your trip or first experience if you’ve never been there before. HAHA. You truly need to be a fan of bodybuilding and fitness to put up with what goes on at the Arnold Classic.

The experience of being live at the show is definitely worth the price of the ticket though. I’ve never left The Arnold Classic night show wishing I could get my money back. They are all very exciting and very well put together. The product is top notch. You can feel the electricity every time a competitor comes out on stage. It’s as if you’re at a party. It just comes down to the overall competitors in the line-up now. Those on stage are still impressive and entertaining, but if you go to the show hoping to see some of your favorite bodybuilders, you’re going to be sorely disappointed—unless you see them at the expo behind a booth (not on stage).

Supplement companies are even bowing out

While you have many of the larger supplement companies paying to be at the Arnold Classic, many of them are now skipping. The cost of the booths, the travel, the cost of the samples, all of this has come into play and brands are looking at their bottom line and realizing that they don’t see much of a return on the investment. Don’t get me wrong, the expo is still probably the largest expo we have here in the states, but it has definitely changed over the years. Those who attend the expo are still walking out with backpacks full of free products to sample (or as some do, sell). We used to joke around at the supplement companies who skipped out of The Arnold, saying they were going to be forgotten about. Ultimately, they weren’t. Which is part of the reason why I feel so many are now keeping money in their pocket and skipping.

If you’ve never been to The Arnold, I’d still recommend going to at least one (or more if you enjoyed it). It’s one of those things that should be on everyone’s bucket list in the industry. The experience you have will never be forgotten. You get to shake hands with your favorite competitors and have a quick conversation while catching up on some of the new supplement releases as well as the opportunity to sample tons of products at the expo. If you plan on being there next year, I might just see you there!