Letter from Ironman CEO to Professional Triathletes – Sept 2014

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This letter to the registered professional triathletes who race Ironman and Ironman 70.3 outlines the direction WTC will be taking.

Whilst some stirrers will undoubtedly take this opportunity to put the boot in to WTC it looks like WTC is taking things seriously and starting to concentrate the professional racing in to a more manageable number of races where the fields are stronger which will provide more marketable professional racing.

In a sport that has no fan base outside of the participants and makes it money from age groupers paying to race, it is always hard to justify a strong campaign for higher payments to professional athletes unless the sport can market races to wider viewing audiences.

In triathlon we unfortunately do not have the option to sell TV rights for hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars. We don’t have clubs with 100,000 members buying merchandise and an army of armchair supporters.

Taking Ironman in to the future requires the professional athletes working together with WTC for the same positive outcome.

Ironman’s big mistake in 2014 was the failure to provide adequate live coverage of their second biggest race of the year. How this came about needs to be looked in to and the CEO admitting this was a mistake is at least a step in the right direction. We’d love to know who in the WTC corporation actually thought it would be a good idea to not give this event the live coverage it deserved.

Whilst on live coverage it is very widely accepted that the online athlete tracker has some poor coding or something behind it that is not working. The inability to update rankings when athletes cross timing mats needs some serious attention. Also the time lag in updating results is an issue.

Feel free to add intelligent and constructive comments to this article below…


Dear professional athletes,

This letter represents the first time in my three plus year tenure at the helm of IRONMAN that I have written to you as a group. I intend to communicate more frequently in the future.

We recently concluded our successful Subaru IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Mont-Tremblant and are gearing up for the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona. The state of our business is strong, we have more races and prize money than ever, and the global popularity and influence of IRONMAN is growing.

Despite this, the relationship between IRONMAN and our professional athletes is not what it could, or should, be. The sum of our collective efforts seems less than its component parts. I hear this replayed in discussions with you and your fellow professional athletes at races globally – and I hear it in the hallways of IRONMAN offices around the world.

So we are taking action. The 2015 qualifying season will have changes in a number of areas, the intent of which is to create a more vibrant platform for professional racing, one that we believe will provide collective benefit.

To put it simply, we are going to do more for our professional athletes and we are going to expect more in return. We believe that this is the right path forward and we are prepared to commit to a course of action that puts a brighter spotlight on professional IRONMAN racing. Below are the core action items.

1) Changes to Prize Money and KPR: Our intention with the changes in the 2015 prize money structure and KPR is to concentrate on fewer, more compelling races that allow athletes to be at their best for our World Championships. We moved points and prize money earlier in the year and concentrated prize money into a smaller number of races. Our intention is to create higher profile events that feature the best in the world. We believe that this will create additional media attention and will provide a more robust platform for you and your sponsors.

While we have concentrated more prize money in championship races, there are currently still more than 80 other races that will have prize money and points. In North America, where the changes were most fundamental, we currently have 26 races that have qualifying points and prize money totaling over $1.6 million. We have already announced the details of the confirmed events for the 2015 calendar which can be found on our pro membership website.

We are also modifying the KPR to deemphasize volume racing at full distance IRONMAN events. In 2015, the number of events remains consistent at five, however a maximum of three full distance races will count in the KPR. An athlete’s highest scoring five events may include a combination of no more than three IRONMAN 70.3 events and three IRONMAN events. We believe that this will increase the likelihood that our Kona field will be optimally fit in October.

2) Female Professional Athletes: In our recent meetings with a number of professional female athletes, they highlighted two issues – separation from age group men in Kona and World Championship slot parity with men.

For the 2015 IRONMAN World Championship, we will reinstitute a 25-minute gap between the female professional athletes and the age group men. Given operational constraints, this change will affect the other 2,000+ athletes competing for a world championship in the age groups whose race will be shortened to 16:45.

Regarding slot parity, our discussions with the professional women encouraged us to regroup and conduct a more detailed and comprehensive review of the slot process, relative competitive dynamics by gender within the professional field, and the fundamental appropriateness of proportional representation. Our conclusion was that we believe that we currently have a fair and appropriate slot allocation between professional men and professional women. We intend to maintain this proportional approach and work to increase both the number of professional female athletes and female age group athletes – which would lead to more slots for professional female athletes at our world championship races.

3) Building the Sport of Triathlon: We all have a role to play in the continued growth of our sport. As you all are aware, it is not enough just to be fast to be a successful professional triathlete. To craft a living, besides prize money you need to have exposure, sponsors, presence and a significant group of supporters. Our intention is to help gain more support for you while helping to grow our sport.

We expect that all world championship athletes will work with IRONMAN during the year and volunteer at least one day to assist us on an initiative to help grow our sport. In return for their time, we will promote their presence and help create a marketing & promotional platform for them. We have presence in more than two dozen countries and our local teams will work directly with each of our world championship athletes to determine an event or appearance that grows our sport, is sensitive to their time and other commitments, and manages the complexities of our respective sponsorship arrangements.

4) Promotion and Media Support: Having fewer races as part of the pro series will allow us to concentrate our promotional and media efforts and allow for more and better coverage and creating a simpler, easier to understand competition for traditional print, online and television media. As part of this, our intention is to enhance coverage of our championship races, both online and on linear television.

For example, we have created a recap show for the Subaru IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship which will be available in 78 million households in the U.S. on NBC Sports Network on September 30. The Subaru IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship show will also be distributed internationally.

We also intend to do more with our live broadcasts of championship races in 2015 and are working to create a more compelling online product that will showcase our athletes and our championship races in a more meaningful way. I want to mention the absence of live online coverage for the Subaru IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship — our lack of a hosted live show was a mistake, one for which I accept responsibility.

5) Setting a Professional Standard: If we are going to convince sponsors, host cities, the media and age group athletes that our races and our professional athletes are worthy of greater support and attention, we collectively need to improve communication. As such, we are implementing a revised code of conduct for professional athletes that particularly relates to social media. Our revised social media policy is designed to increase the professionalism of our public discourse on matters relating to our sport. We are prepared to engage in a vibrant dialog about professional racing with you and your fellow professional athletes, but the dialog cannot take place publicly.

Regarding feedback and communication with professional athletes as a group and individually, it is the job of Heather Fuhr and Paula Newby Fraser to communicate with, and represent the issues of, each of you. In addition, Jordan Rapp has played the role of ambassador and liaison this year and will continue to do so in in 2015 in a more defined and transparent role. Please provide your feedback to Paula, Heather, Jordan or me.

Thank you and I look forward to seeing many of you in Hawai`i in a few weeks’ time.

My best,

Andrew Messick

Chief Executive Officer, IRONMAN

[email protected]

Karl Hayes

Karl is a keen age group triathlete who races more than he trains. Good life balance! Karl works in the media industry in Australia and is passionate about the sport of triathlon.