“EVENTS, DEAR BOY, EVENTS”
Former PM Harold Macmillan’s famous reply when addressing a nation’s greatest challenge comes to mind as the PTO prepares for a testing year ahead
In January, it’s the sweltering heat of Melbourne Park, and Novak Djokovic is picking up the trophy. In late spring, it’s the red dust of Roland Garros and Rafael Nadal’s turn. The height of summer is signalled by a fortnight on the manicured lawns of SW19, and the buzz of Flushing Meadows wraps up the Grand Slam year in New York. You get the picture. We know where we are when it comes to the tennis calendar.
Triathlon has Hawaii in October – albeit now only one gender at a time – and maybe a big European race such as Roth or Frankfurt in July. But with the World Triathlon finals jumping around, there’s little that resonates globally. If Grand Slam tennis is a tough act to follow, triathlon is just tough to follow.
Sam Renouf, the chief executive of the Professional Triathlon Organisation has made clear this is a priority to change. The PTO wants to boost the value of the pros which means building a fanbase by driving a year-long narrative that can be supported by compelling content. It’s how other sports work. It makes sense.
But the PTO is also rapidly finding out that delivering a race calendar to fit the brief is no easy task. As this edition goes to print, they’ve only just announced their European Open in Ibiza at the start of May. The US Open in Wisconsin and Asian Open in Singapore are both in August, and there’s no word yet on a fourth Open, or the Collins Cup, the flagship team event previously run in Slovakia.
Those in place aren’t without issues. The Ibiza race is being run alongside World Triathlon’s Long Course World Championship, and while the event logistics work, it will cannibalise the World Triathlon professional fields and devalue their worth.
August is packed. The US Open is on the first weekend and Asian Open a fortnight later, but many pros are eyeing the Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Finland a week after Singapore. Then the men’s Ironman Worlds in Nice take place on 10 September. The PTO has reduced its prize money from $1m to $600k on its 100km Open races and while it’s still in excess of Ironman, the M-Dot brand retains its cache among athletes, sponsors and fans. From conversations with pros, few would swap a 70.3 world title for a PTO win at this point.
The plan of getting all the best athletes to race each other multiple times to create these storylines could backfire with racing more disparate than ever. Unless you’re masochistic or Norwegian, or maybe both, trying to peak at any of these races involves skipping others.
Having received millions more in funding and brought new private equity partners onboard in December, as well as partnering with Warner Bros. Discovery for broadcast, the PTO has moved beyond the early philanthropy of initial investor Michael Moritz – the focus is narrowing on getting a return. To succeed, they need to start by scheduling the right races at the right times in the race places. Events, as Macmillan might empathise, just aren’t that easy to handle.
“They need to schedule the right races at the right times in the right places”