About a week ago, a group of some of the best triathletes in the world announced the PTU (Professional Triathlete Union). Read more about it on their website if you haven’t heard about it. I’m not going to go into all the details here since most of you probably already know about it if you landed on this blog.
When I first heard about this development, I was very optimistic. I didn’t realize all the legal stuff that went around being a “union.” The basics about that is that professional triathletes aren’t employees to anyone (i.e. WTC, Challenge), so we don’t have the rights under the law to form a union and collectively bargin with anyone. As more and more articles pop up across the internet about the PTU, I am growing less and less optimistic about this doing much of anything for the sport in general. Here are a few thoughts I’ve had regarding this development with hopes to improve the sport of triathlon
1. The growth of the sport is self-limiting – The main goal of the PTU is to grow the sport of triathlon. By doing this, they claim that everything else they are trying to do will naturally fall into place. But, triathlon is a very expensive sport. Most people find out the hard way… buying a bike that is way more than they expected and then needing to buy the “needed” accessories (i.e. helmet, racing uniform, shoes, water bottles, nutrition, etc.). Then the race entry fees and traveling to a race present a major expense to hurdle. Not to mention, if you don’t live in a warm climate with access to a clean/public body of water, you need a gym membership with a pool. Triathlon is generally, unfortunately, a sport for people in the upper middle class or higher. Only so many people can afford to do this sport, which means only so many people are going to give money to WTC, Challenge, or another local race company to get the sport bigger. We will eventually a point when the growth of the sport stagnates.
2. TV Spots for long course racing – One of the goals of the PTU is to get non-draft legal racing on television. This basically means 70.3 and 140.6 distance races that still manage to have a pro prize purse, since WTC merged with Lifetime Fitness and took over their races. Shortly after that, all short course races they obtained had the pro prize money cut. This only left a few races shorter than a 70.3, such as Escape from Alcatraz, St. Anthony’s, and New York City Olympic to name some on a short list. People don’t want to sit down for 4 hours and watch people compete in a 70.3… much less 8+ hours for a full-distance triathlon. The best that could be done for a TV spot would be condensing them down to about 90-120 minutes. WTC and Challenge has done this with some of their races, but it doesn’t hit the air waves until months later. At that point, no one really cares enough to watch it. It’s old news. I feel that the race would need to be edited and on the air within 24-48 hours after the race is completed for a week night recap. If people want live coverage, it would need to be through internet TV… much like what WTC does for Ironman World Championships. They broadcast every last grueling minute of the race and sell commercial spots to a handful of companies that air every so often throughout the race when not much is going on. When I watched some of the coverage last year of Kona, I would guess only about 5-6 companies paid money for advertisement during the live broadcast.
3. Insurance for professional triathletes – Another worthy goal of the PTU is to accident insurance for paid members of this organization ($200 for first year pros, $400 for second/third year pros, and $600 for 4+ year pros). Accident insurance is apparently very expensive… I’ve never looked into it, but the PTU website states premiums up to $4000 a year for this insurance. Pro triathletes that would want this insurance most likely are full-time athletes and need to buy insurance on their own. The truth about most professional triathletes is that many of us have other jobs that offer insurance. Very few triathletes have found enough success in the sport to do this full-time without the support of a family member, such as their husband/wife. For most of the pros to join for this benefit doesn’t give them something they don’t already have either through their own job or significant other’s job.
4. – Challenge plans to make all pros racing with them to join the PTU – I love Challenge and I prefer to race with them vs. WTC races. I feel they do a better job promoting pros and really care about every athlete experience and growing the sport. However, if Challenge is going to make being a member of the PTU a requirement to race with them (which I suppose they have every right to do so), I think they will see less pros in USA/Canada race with them. If the same climate for pro prize money exists next year as it does now for Challenge Family races in the USA and Cananda, pros only have 5 races to choose from. All of these are on extreme east of west sides of the country. This means more travel expenses for at least half of these races for all pros. With 4 of these 5 races paying 5 deep, the chances of regaining the money paid join the PTU, traveling costs, etc, it would be a loosing proposition for everyone that placed outside of the top 2 or 3 (depending on prize purse breakdown) for those races only paying top 5. All this being said, I would much rather give my dues for racing to the PTU that is advocating for professionals than WTC who basically recycles the pro membership money back to professionals in prize purses.
5. – The bottom line – After looking at several articles and thinking about this more and more, I feel that what this “union” is most concerned about is the athlete’s bottom line. Not just the ones on the board, but the bottom line of each professional athlete. Saying what I’m about to say is hard for me, since I’m a professional triathlete, but the free market is both a blessing and a curse. Not everyone should make the same amount of money for different professions. Society had decided what is important based on how much they are paid (although I would argue that some of the low paying jobs in America are of most value, such as teachers, fire fighters, police officers, etc.) Professional triathletes are not seen as being super important by race directors. However, professional triathletes are much more valuable to companies selling a product (i.e. bikes, helmets, clothing, nutrition). People don’t care what the average triathlete eats, the bike they ride, or what shoes they where. They look to people like Andy Potts, Lionel Sanders, Matt Hanson, etc on how to train, what socks to wear, what recovery techniques they use and then buy that product. Professional triathletes don’t hold a lot of value to race directors, but they could potentially sell a ton of product depending on how well they market and use social media.
In the end, I do think a singular voice for professional triathletes in non-draft legal racing is a good thing. I personally would like to see one of two things happen moving forward:
1. Challenge not making it a requirement to be a member of the PTU to race with them.
2. Not as steep of a fee for pros to be members. Next year, I would have to pay $600 if I choose to be a member. According to the PTU website, that would also require me to put their logo on my uniform. Additionally, for people that have been pros of 4 years or more wanting to race both WTC and Challenge races, we have to pay $1450 plus a pro license fee to the governing body within the country, which varies from country to country.