Two years ago I wrote an article in support of Super League triathlon. An event I have no affiliation with, but a concept I think is a genuinely innovative effort to try and add value to the sport.
So I have no problem with billionaires putting money into the sport or the pockets of pro triathletes out of philanthropy or private business projects. Similarly, if Mike Moritz or North Point wish to purchase Ironman that's also their prerogative.
However, pretending that it's the athletes who are behind the latest shake up is neither an honest nor helpful path for the prospective future owners of the sport.
No record of having run a single event, no history in the sport, and no vision on how to run it beyond acquisition and dreams of additional TV revenue.
The pros, like always, are pawns in a much larger chess game. Promising $10 million in appearance money is actually quite cheap if they can be used to help lower hundreds of millions off the price the Chinese originally overpaid for it.
The question is, what comes next?
It's been my experience that merger and acquisition specialists, even well meaning ones, have an atrocious record of administering triathlon events.
The PTO Triathlon Strategy: How to waste $10 million
With a budget of $5 million to spend on athletes in 2020 with at least the same amount for TV and event production, how have the PTO decided to spend this windfall on behalf of the pros?
Firstly, by guaranteeing the top 10 athletes the majority of the $5 million in order to join a 'not for profit' organisation. Now I don't deny athletes like Frodeno, Ryf, Brownlee, Charles etc. a bonus pay check, but in the context of triathlon these are not the pro athletes who need support.
Secondly, by investing further millions into event and production costs to host the PTO's made for TV triathlon format – The Collins Cup
An invite only, non competitive exhibition race, taking place in the off season that denies any pro outside the top 30 a chance at the '$2,000,000 prize purse'. The whole race concept is hopelessly out of touch with mainstream triathletes.
And of all the destinations to showcase our sport to TV and the rest of the world? The pancake flat Samorin in Western Slovakia. Nice place, but a triathlon backwater that despite admirable investment into the pro race during the last 3 years has garnered a total of 12 outside spectators and a dog.
Kona it ain't.
So the PTO with its first major investment will potentially spend $10 million to produce a worse race than what already exists there with Challenge. A perfect example of why people who don't know the sport shouldn't be trying to run it on behalf of hundreds of thousands of age groupers.
OK, so how would you better spend $10 million?
From a professional athlete perspective? It's not rocket science. A pro athlete organisation should be about doing the best thing for the majority of the pro athletes.
Off the top of my head:
Pay the top 50 male and female athletes $30k each for a base contract to compete in major races owned and run by the PTO. $3 million.
Pay athletes 51-100 $10k each for a contract to compete in PTO qualification races. $1 million.
$6 million additional prize money incentives / production pool for major events.
Giving the world's top 100 athletes a financial security net to train, travel to races and opportunity to earn a decent living. While also providing the second group of 100 a pathway to becoming an independent professionals. Delivering benefit to 200 pros instead of 10.
And what if the top 10 selfishy refused to join because they wanted more? Well there's the door. We do what's best for the long term future of the sport and all the pro athletes.
25 years ago the PTG (Professional Triathlete Guild) consisted of the world's best athletes.
For the last 30 years I've been advocating for getting a better deal for the pro athletes. I sincerely would like to see the PTO or a professional athlete organisation work. Those getting overly excited about the potential new custodians of the sport should look very closely at the PTO's record over the last 3 years. New investment doesn't change bad ideas into good ones.
It's also why I'm so heartbroken that it appears that a golden opportunity for the sport is about to be squandered in 24 months. Because make no mistake, the current mismanagement by Wanda Sports has put Ironman in a truly vulnerable position. There will be a sale. But for the sake of the triathlon community we just have to hope it's not a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Brett Sutton is the Head Coach of Trisutto.com