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#14: Who is triathlon's audience?
Make your plans.
issue 14: Dec. 21, 2022
A couple quick housekeeping notes: Sorry if you got an email last night for the new podcast episode; the system was not supposed to do that and yet it did, which is going to cause me a bunch of headaches. Founding paid members, at least those who gave me their addresses, your little thank you goodies should be getting to you right now. Other than that, the next two weeks will be light as I head to Kentucky for Christmas—it’s a state in the south middle, my international readers—and as we all take a bit of a vacation before coming back in January with some new stuff (and a really for real packed year of triathlon-ing).
Next week we’ll talk about predictions for 2023 and trends a bit, and Sid & I will have one last podcast with a special guest at the very end of the month. But in the meantime, even if you didn’t click on last night’s mistake email, you’ll definitely want to listen to this week’s interview with Zeinab Rezaie (the first Afghan woman to finish the 70.3 World Champs).
Now, here’s what’s going on in the bike-run-swim worlds this week…
IRL v. VR? YOLO
Fun fact: The last time I was at a real-life, in-person conference (not counting October’s Ironman World Champs, which is basically an industry expo with some racing mixed in) was Endurance Exchange in late January 2020. I had just taken the editor-in-chief job at Triathlete and there were just whispers of this virus in Italy and China. And my how things have changed since then.
The rest of the world is now gearing up for New Year’s resolutions and goal-setting (and that’s totally fine, a lot of studies suggest that fresh start dates, like the beginning of the month/year/week help with goal-setting), but we’re triathletes. Most of us already have our whole 2023 race calendar planned out, and so now we’re just trying to figure out how to fit life and everything else in around our training.
Which is why this past week I found myself booking a bunch of hotels and flights.
Endurance Exchange used to be TBI (Triathlon Business International), but then TBI partnered with USAT (USA Triathlon) to become this all-encompassing industry & coaching & race director conference, and now TBI sorta no longer is really a thing at the moment, and so USAT is left heading up their big annual Endurance Exchange. And if that sentence made sense to you, then you are definitely in the right place.
TBI was the first triathlon non-race thing I ever went to. Ever. The first time I talked with the people who make the decisions for our sport and realized they’re just people. You know the phrase “the room where it happens.” That’s where I wanted to be.
So, anyway, of course I’m going to go to Endurance Exchange in January; I do a lot of work for USAT but also I’m tired of Zooms and I prefer to tell people in person why they’re wrong. This is what I wrote for a piece for USAT about the schedule for the IRL conference:
There’s a reason we’re gathering in person this January, and it’s not just because I could never make Happy Hour drinking over Google Meets a thing. It’s because it’s time to get our hands dirty again.
Then, after that decision, the big question was: Should I also go to these new Global Triathlon Awards in Nice, France literally three days before? It sounds kind of crazy. It also sounds like it all adds up to a lot of money and time.
But. The room where it happens. YOLO. Regret the shots you don’t take, etc etc etc. So.
I’ll be doing some live coverage from the Global Triathlon Awards on Jan. 20, will report back too, and we’ll have a Q&A when we get back from break on what the hell these awards for which I am nominated are. Let me know what questions you have.
If you’re also going to be at Endurance Exchange (U.S. and Canadian peoples), I’m planning on hosting some kind of subscriber/member event. This may include the first drink on me.
Let’s make our plans.
What does “good” tri TV coverage look like?
In actual triathlon news. The upside of the question is: I think by now we know what it isn’t.
This past weekend, here in the U.S., three PTO Tour highlight shows aired back-to-back on FOX Sports 1. It was an odd air time, because you know what other sports thing FOX had on its regular broadcast channel? The World Cup third place match. 🤷
I taped the shows and watched them later (after the ball sports), and it’s not that they weren’t well-produced. They were. It’s that it became very clear very quickly no one had bothered to answer (maybe even to ask) the question: Who is this broadcast for? Who is watching this show?
What aired was a one-hour show on the Canadian Open (and then a one-hour show on the U.S. Open and a one-hour show on the Collins Cup), with 30 minutes first on the women’s race and then 30 minutes on the men. Counting ad breaks, etc, let’s say you had about 24 minutes to show each 100K race. OK, fine, it can be done. But there was no set-up, no explanation of who these athletes are or why we should care about them, not even a real good pitch like ‘$1 million is on the line!’ And then the broadcast blew through the race with a series of clips edited together from the live coverage that barely made sense when stacked the way they were. Plus, just to make me want to throw more things at the TV, there was no building of continuity or drama across the three shows, even though they aired back-to-back-to-back.
Let’s put it this way: My husband is a fairly competitive casual age-group triathlete; he cares about what kit and helmet are fastest, follows Lucy CB on the Instagram, and knows pretty much what I tell him about tri news. Yet, half-watching while foam rolling, he could not figure out what distance they were even racing or who was who.
I’m ragging on the PTO just because they aired this weekend, but I actually like their live broadcasts (way better than this show) and I want them to succeed for the good of all of us. And they’re not alone. Ironman built a brand on the NBC special and the Kona myth and one-and-doners, and then that was a problem for them. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s you’d see all kinds of races (at least in the U.S.) on TV with broadcasts built around the insanity, the idea of watching crazy people do crazy things, but that didn’t last past the mass participation boom. And now the PTO wants to build a broad appeal spectator sport, but how.
I think there is a fundamental question here at the heart of what triathlon needs to decide: *Who* are our broadcasts for? Are we building coverage for a general audience or for ourselves? Are we trying to create life-long fans or capture the channel flippers? There’s a business case for either, but decide.
Mark your calendar
This section of the newsletter is on hiatus until there’s some racing worth marking our calendar for again.
The rest of the news that makes up the “ish” in triathlonish. Things I think you want to know about, and also things I just think are interesting this week.
Ah, the season of sponsor changes. As the end of the year (and of contracts) approaches, here come the IG announcements of announcements posts. I, certainly, am not going to keep track of all of them, because a lot of it is just shuffling of dollars in one giant circle, but I am always interested in the trends and big shifts. Of which two stand out right now:
1. In the least shocking sponsor news of the year, Kat Matthews and Chelsea Sodaro are moving on from Team BMC to presumably bigger and better contracts. The new seven-person team now has just one woman on it (and retained all the men from last year, including Kona 4th-placer Max Neumann). It’s not hard, IMO, for that to raise some questions. (Instagram)
2. Specialized, reportedly, will stop making their triathlon bike, the Shiv, but will continue making their UCI-legal TT bike. Some athletes will stay on and ride the TT, some won’t. On the one hand, it was always nearly impossible for a company to sustain two time trial bike models. On the other hand, there are basically no amateurs buying time trial bikes who aren’t triathletes, so you’re really just keeping the UCI-legal one because of your pro (men’s) World Tour teams. Anyway, second use of 🤷. They’re not the first to get out of the triathlon market; it’s very much a trend at the moment, much easier to sell people a slightly beefier modern road bike and say they need it for gravel. I think it’s a mistake for companies though, because triathletes will spend money and because (and I can never say this enough): The future is niche, not broad. (If We Were Riding)
As mentioned before, World Triathlon recently passed a new maternal leave policy that will freeze an athlete’s ranking for two years, making it easier for athletes to get back to start lines postpartum without having to begin all the way over at zero points. However, it now sounds like this policy will only going into effect Jan. 1 and will not apply retroactively. That means, most notably, Katie Zaferes, who had her baby in July and who was widely believed to be the first person who would take advantage of the policy, will not have it applied to her and will have to start all the way back in 144th place in the world. Given that there are a total of four athletes in WTCS racing who it could currently apply to, I feel like we could have used logic and compassion here. (Triathlonish/World Tri/Twitter)
Triathlete did a very thorough breakdown of the best pro moments of the year. While many of them are the same ones I mentioned in my list of ‘other performances and athletes who stood out to me in approximately roughly chronological order,’ I appreciated their detail. (Triathlete/Triathlonish)
Another interesting story from Triathlete on the challenge of defining what is fair for a visually impaired athlete who was recruited to race draft-legal for an NCAA program. (Triathlete)
How the oldest woman to ever finish Kona did it this past October, as told by her husband. (Triathlon Magazine)
I did not even know you could suffer acute rhabdo and have it cause cardiac arrest. (Outside)
I did, however, know there is a petition to keep the Ironman World Champs in Kona, because you can make a petition on the internet to complain about anything.
On that note, controversial Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema has always been a triathlete (and used to be involved with Women For Tri), but is she giving that up now too? (This will only be entertaining to U.S. readers.) (Slate)
Hat tip to @AndresLD on Twitter who sent me this quite bizarre review of VinFast cars. Yes, that VinFast, the Ironman title sponsor. And yes, we were forced to watch a VinFast commercial during the world championship press conference. While I’ve been hearing more and more stories about the money they are throwing around, I didn’t know much about their actual cars until this. Which is a shame, because I had been hoping they’d fill the electric car demand hole. (Jalopnik)
Another share from the internets: Connections to Ironman are causing a lot of controversy in the search for a new Kona police chief. (Hawaii News Now)
It seems everyone’s quite worked up these days about what they think is how disclosures should work—but is definitely not how they actually work. USATF also disqualified Chattanooga’s bid to host the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in a wild amount of confusion over the disclosure of a conflict-of-interest. (Runners’s World)
No, there is no announcement about the men’s Ironman World Championship location, but come on, we all know. And no, there is no announcement about the locations and dates of the PTO’s new 2023 events, but come on, we kinda know.
Ironman did announce two U.S. trail races that are now being added to the UTMB World Series. For anyone who isn’t up to speed: Ironman partnered with UTMB (but didn’t buy, don’t say “buy,” people don’t like it if you say “buy”) to create a global series of qualifying races that earn athletes points/spots to the biggest ultra trail race currently on the calendar (ie. UTMB). If that sounds like the Kona machine to you, there’s a reason. (UTMB/TrailRunner/Outside)
And in our ball sport relevant news for the week: If you were slightly confused about the whole U.S. men’s soccer team sharing World Cup winnings with the U.S. women’s soccer team (and of course you were), here’s a good explanation on why they all signed onto a collective bargaining agreement that pools the money. (Wall Street Journal/Twitter)
One last thing
Is this what you train for? It is, isn’t it. (Click the video.)