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Life, The Universe and Everything...Coeur's take on growing the sport of triathlon

Posted: Apr 04 2014

 As we have mentioned before, we have the good fortune to have an office that is conducive to conversation. There’s a sofa and a couple of comfortable chairs in the entrance area before you get to the sublimation and warehousing area and there’s a wine cooler right across from the bank of printers.

When the last tri kit has been sublimated and things start to quiet down in the evening, it is not uncommon to find us on the sofa with (shock!) a glass of wine. We use this time to debrief on the day and to occasionally tackle a few of the big issues in the world. “What is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything?” It’s 42 by the way (kudos to anyone who gets the literary reference). “Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?” Perhaps they are going to make Hawaii into two states? And recently, we tackled one of the toughest ones. “What can be done to help the sport of triathlon grow?”

We’ve opined on this topic before but recently, we saw an article from Slowtwitch Found Dan Empfield that suggested that the sport might be in denial about its trajectory. Now we love all endurance sports but there is a special place in our heart for triathlon. So, with that as context, here are a few of our (unsolicited) ideas about growing the sport.

Idea Number One. Increase outreach and education. Could Triathlon follow the path of the organization that shares the same letters…the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and ramp up free classes, courses etc. The USTA hosts kids days, Hispanic & Military Outreach days, coaching clinics and dozens of other activities all designed to draw people into the sport. These events try to lower the intimidation factor and to educate new entrants about the game.

We are of the opinion that many people avoid triathlons because they are intimidated and because there is a degree of complexity to a sport that has three distinct elements to master.

At Coeur, we'd be glad to pay into an industry fund (perhaps through Triathlon Business International) if it was used to promote the sport and let people know that every triathlon isn’t a 140.6 miles long and that they won’t have to crawl across the finish line and collapse. Rather, a tri can be an incredibly fun, rewarding and unique event that happens to combine elements of three other unique, rewarding and fun events.

Idea Number Two. Improve (not just increase) the caliber of the race coverage. We’re sure this isn't new but, it just seems that there has to be a way to make the TV coverage more compelling. There seems to be a disproportionate amount of time spent on the human interest stories versus the race when compared to other endurance sports events. Now don’t get us wrong, the human interest stories are incredibly powerful and there is absolutely a place for them. We could go on for days about some of these individuals. They amaze and inspire us to no end. That being said, we’d just like to see more attention paid to the tactics and individuals involved in the racing (age group and pros).

Could technology be used to tell the story of the race? For example, if the stats (i.e. power output and heart rate) of an athlete were shown (think RPM's & speed etc.) the race would get much more interesting. Personally, we’d love to know when someone decides to “drop the hammer” and try to improve their position (think Kim Schwabenbauer and her amazing push to the podium at IM Melbourne). To us, information about the speed, distance left and the rate of closure would add a tremendously exciting element to any race.

Announcer: “She’s going for it now! The pace and heart rate have just spiked up and [Insert favorite athlete’s name] has decided, this is where it has to happen. But there are only six miles left! If she keeps this up, the pass into first place will happen at mile 5.8!”

Idea Number Three. Make the Pros into Professionals. Now this could be the most controversial of our suggestions but we believe that Pros can play a big part in changing the sport. Full disclosure here, some of these suggestions actually came from some well-known and amazing Pros. We just don’t want to share names without their permission but we do want to share their ideas.

Just like they do in some of the bigger sports leagues, Pros (in our humble opinion) should allocate some time to promoting the sport. This could include charitable work (think “Morethansport.org) race promotion such as sharing information about upcoming races with the media and fan interaction (i.e. responding to questions sent in via email and social media). There are some shining examples of Pros who have the complete package we’d just like to see more. Triathlon is a complete eco-system and it would be great for everyone to be on the same page about how the pieces (age-group athletes, race directors, manufacturers, pros, media etc.) are all connected.

The second part of idea number three may be even more controversial. What if? What if Pro Triathletes made considerably more money? Now before we get bombarded with emails extolling capitalism and quoting Milton Friedman, we have to say…”we know”. We know that Pros are paid what the market will bear and corporations exist to make money. Perhaps they even exist to maximize profits. But as The Whole Foods, The Container Store and other corporations that believe in something called Conscious Capitalism have shown, high investments in people can provide disproportionately high returns. These companies pay more than the market will bear and they get substantial returns because of it. It’s not a chicken or egg situation either. The chicken comes first. Take care of the chicken and the eggs are golden.

Our hypothesis is that better pay for Professionals would help draw people into the pro ranks that otherwise might have gone to another better paying sport and it would even start to make celebrities out of Triathletes. We see what happens when non-triathlete celebrities give the sport a try. It seems to increase exposure. On the flip side, some of you may remember back in the 1980’s when the NFL players went on strike and the substitutes (i.e. non-celebrities) played. The lack of name recognition made for a very dull games and low attendance.

So, would a very concerted effort by the industry to promote the top athletes help all parties? Pros get paid more, they become celebrities, people start to pay attention because they want to see how Katie does against her rival. Not just who wins between two incredible but relatively unknown individuals.

Now, we certainly understand that the suggestions we came up with may be completely off base but in the interest of, at least, starting a dialog, we thought we’d share. We’d love your thoughts and comments. What else can be done? Who are some of the professional triathletes who “get it”?