Doubts Grow Over 2023 Arnold Classic

by Christian Duque

Just a few weeks ago the 2023 Arnold Amateur was “indefinitely postponed”; a week later it was back on. Brazilian superstar Rafael Brandao pulled out of the contest. Samson Douda is the only Top 6 Olympian who’s confirmed his appearance. While 2019 Mr. Olympia Brandon Curry is thought to be doing the show, there’s nothing in the way of a confirmation and as we go into the new year many bodybuilding fans are wondering what lineup the second biggest bodybuilding show in the world will draw.

The bodybuilding world is definitely in a state of disarray. While the 2022 Olympia was a huge success, we can’t ignore the fact that after two years of hyping up its return to Las Vegas, it is a little interesting that the contest will be going back to Florida in 2023. This could be for a number of reasons, including greater convenience for the athletes, better venue options, and better locations for the fans but it still speaks to the fact that the sport of bodybuilding continues to see a number of changes. Perhaps the move back to Florida also had to do with attendance. While the Olympia has proven the ability to move, the Arnold has been a fixture of Columbus, Ohio, since its inception. Could this destination limit how big the event could get? Is it possible that Arnold and his camp may be experiencing logistical issues? Moreover, could it be that The Oak wants to explore other options in other places?

Columbus is Ohio’s largest city; however, its airport isn’t necessarily a very big one. Flights are also nowhere near as convenient as to other big cities. Many folks who fly into Cbus complain that there isn’t much flexibility, there’s very few direct flights, and airline costs can get pretty outrageous. The hotel situation isn’t much better.

Most of the hotels around the venue tend to sell out almost a year out from the contest. This tremendous demand creates a situation where prices easily can get out of control but consumers don’t really get much for their money. Most of the hotels bank their rates on their proximity to the venue. Those who aren’t competing, however, will often rely on air bed and breakfasts. This is where the guest enjoys actual amenities and can stay in a very nice place for considerably less than downtown Columbus.

A similar argument can be raised when it comes to the scarcity of food options in the area surrounding the venue. There’s a natural market, a few fancy restaurants, and maybe a handful of local lunch places. That may sound like a good amount of choices, but when you take into account the massive numbers the Arnold Classic brings in, not to mention the massive expo, you’re left wondering why Columbus doesn’t have far more?

The fact is, even two years after the worst of the pandemic, much of the city’s hospitality section has yet to recover. Many eateries went under and those that continue to operate have had to drastically reduce their menus in order not to lose money during the rest of the year. Many of these businesses make the bulk of their money during the Arnold week and hope for some kind of normalcy during the rest of the year. In years leading up to the pandemic this was always enough but after the rona a lot of these places just closed their doors for good. They could no longer justify operating at a loss.

Should Arnold move to another city? If Columbus lacks good flights, good hotels, and places to eat, that’s going to have a direct impact on how many fans attend. If less fans attend, the expo will shrink, and it may take a toll on how many competitors want to do the show. What’s also more complicated is that the Arnold is an invitational so they have to pick competitors that are both impressive but who will also accept the invite.

After getting rid of The 212, Women’s Bodybuilding, and Women’s Physique, the show also offers far less than the Olympia. I keep bringing up the O because that’s on the Arnold’s level. You can’t compare this contest to any other. And if we’re comparing it to the Super Bowl of Bodybuilding I’d say this show is barely holding on.

While the Olympia is firing on all cylinders with an owner who’s fully engaged in Jake Wood, Arnold has historically been an absent promoter. With the passing of Jim Lorimer and the transition of operations from the old crew to what took over in 2021, Arnold may be feeling both growing pains and figuring out new approaches to functions which used to be like clockwork look like in the future.

If the event will require Arnold to take a hands-on approach that may not be something the 7x Mr. Olympia may be all too interested in. The Oak likes to pull up at the end, wave to the fans, and pick up his money. He’s not the blue collar type and I don’t think he’s ever going to want to be in the trenches during the day-to-day business that may be required to keep the event on top in Columbus. It just might be a lot easier to move to Georgia or Florida.

The fact is we’re basically in January and have just two confirmed competitors for the second biggest bodybuilding contest in the world. That’s pretty embarrassing and it’s likely to take a toll on how many companies will want to invest in big booths.

I’d be curious to see how much of the expo floor has been sold. If I was to guess, I’d say there’s probably a lot of large booths that remain unclaimed. I’d also be curious what hotel reservations look like and we can’t ignore the astronomical flight costs that haven’t come down since pretty much Joe Biden became president. I’m not blaming him, I’m just saying that ever since he became president, prices have been going haywire.

Again, this is a very expensive contest to go to as a fan and the value is minimal. This is why the contest lineup has got to be super deep. Even more so because so many divisions have been cut. I hate to beat a dead horse, but unless we see some really high profile athlete confirmations, then I think this may be the last Arnold Classic in Columbus, OH.

And hey, if it’s looking like an absolute failure, I wouldn’t put it past Arnold to pull the plug. Only time will tell. I’m hoping for the best, but it is pretty much 2023 and time is running out.

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