Everything changes, and everything stays the same!
A few weeks ago we woke to the news that Wanda had made the sale of its Ironman assets in full to Advance Publications, for $730 million in cash.
Wanda Sports to Sell Ironman to Advance for $730 Million
In light of current world circumstances, the news slipped largely past the triathlon community with more important things to worry about.
However, like many triathlon fans who have followed the PTO's public statements surrounding their intention to purchase Ironman, we've been watching with interest to see their official response to the sale.
Professional Triathletes Organisation Advises Wanda Sports That the Value of Ironman Business May Be Adversely Affected by Failing to Engage in Discussions
Despite the threats, it appears the sale was made with no collaboration to the new PTO entity. In fact, the Ironman assets haven't even been sold to another sports run company that has experience in running major mass participation events. The buyer, Advance, a private family-owned company that owns Condé Nast, has in its diverse portfolio never run so much as a fun run.
Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Credit where is credit is due. Ironman CEO Andrew Messick has structured the deal in such a ingenious way, that Advance, recognising their inexperience in this market, have contracted Wanda to not only advise but to keep the licence rights of the Ironman asset!
Everything changes, and everything stays the same.
And so unfortunately even with new, powerful owners there hasn't been any mention of the potential opportunities, vision or committment to improving the sport as one may typically expect.
So where does this leave the PTO?
To put it indelicately - with its pants down around its ankles.
The power play of using corporate takeover specialists to pressure an overly debt laden Wanda suffering through COVID to 'sell to us... or else!' looks to have backfired. Wanda pulled out all the stops with their bankers, arranging a rollover loan of over $240 million to weather the storm while seemingly a deal was struck on an 'anyone but the PTO' basis.
The question is - why not talk to the billionaire backed PTO consortium?
One can draw your own conclusions. But statements revelling in Ironman's pain no doubt ensured they aren't motivated to deal with PTO management.
PTO's Next Moves? To use a chess analogy: while it's not check mate, Andrew Messick has taken the Queen, both bishops and a rook away.
Which, in the short term, is actually good news for the pros.
Because the PTO will now be forced to overspend on building their own entity. Throwing investor money at professional athletes, ex-athletes and influencers to keep them on board and while trying to buy traction with age groupers. It also means they'll double down on a strategy of investing in the Challenge brand as a pretend rival.
The bad news is they can only play Santa Claus for so long.
With a large and growing staff on the PTO payroll, with no races or foreseeable revenue – the strategy now hinges on a Hail Mary (TV revenue) in the next 2-3 seasons before Mike Moritz gets tired of seeing his money wasted.
As always, I'll be very glad to be proven wrong. The professionals have long deserved better. But as Omar Little put it so perfectly, 'You come at the king, you better not miss.'
We'll follow with interest, and wish everyone the best during what will be a very difficult time for all stakeholders in triathlon over the coming season.