By Callum Murray
The International Triathlon Union said today that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Super League Triathlon, the ambitious new Singapore-based professional triathlon series that debuted last year, mixing five new race formats.
The ITU said that the MoU involves “new partnerships in key areas of the sport, with the overarching shared goal of further building triathlon around the world at many levels including youth development, fan building and audience engagement, and general promotion of the sport on a global scale.”
Speaking exclusively to Sportcal at the ITU’s headquarters in Lausanne last week, Antonio Aramany, the ITU’s director general, said that the governing body “will deal with private organisers to convince them that they need to organise under the umbrella of the ITU to ensure that the sport is run under ITU rules.”
Aramany pointed out that Ironman, the long-distance triathlon race organiser owned by China’s Wanda Group, organises 150 races a year (including some of the ITU’s own top-tier World Series Triathlon races), while Challenge, another commercial race organiser, stages “another 40” races a year.
In the past, the ITU was involved in a damaging clash with Ironman over its role in the sport, but Aramany said: “The ITU wants to become the unique governing body. That’s why we’re signing these MoUs. We don’t want ownership of these events, but we have to be the governing body. This is our role in the triathlon world.”
Under the new agreement, the ITU said, “SLT will recognize ITU as the governing body of the triathlon sport, coordinating with them and the national federations for all SLT events. SLT will also work with ITU to ensure equality in prize money, contracts and participation of male and female athletes.”
In December, Super League Triathlon announced plans for its first full season of competition in 2018-2019, consisting of championship and qualifier events at what it described as “marquee locations around the world.”
A new multi-day format “will make for extremely competitive racing and thrilling spectator viewing,” organisers said, with a prize pool that will exceed $1.5 million, on top of event bonuses and other prizes for the athletes.
The organisers added: “This is the highest prize pool ever awarded in a triathlon series and shows the commitment and support that Super League Triathlon is giving to the professionals and their career development.”
Gergely Markus, the ITU’s director of events, told Sportcal: “We want to try to make them [commercial organisers] think of us as not a rival. We are the international federation, and we want the sport to be successful.”
In its statement, the ITU said: “The MoU is also designed to ensure that the ITU and Super League calendars are regularly discussed to avoid events clashing, while the alignment of marketing initiatives will serve to extend the reach of both organisations and bring the potential for greater scope in campaigns as well as through their respective platforms.”
Markus said that the MOU “shows we want to work together. It’s a means of co-ordinating our calendars. Their selling point is TV, so they need the best athletes, the Olympic and world champions. So, they really need to make sure the athletes are available for their events.”
Unlike Ironman, which mainly uses specialised long-distance athletes, Super League Triathlon is targeting the same athletes that take part in the ITU’s own World Triathlon Series (and in the Olympics), Markus said, athletes that “still want to go to the Olympics, using the pathways of the World Triathlon Series and [second-tier] World Cups.”
To avoid a direct clash, he explained, Super League Triathlon has agreed that its season will begin in September or October and will be completed by the time the WTS season begins in March.
He added: “They are trying to come up with interesting formats, that are good for spectators and TV. It’s a good innovation for the sport. Being a young sport, we have the flexibility of evolving in a way that satisfies the need, the appetite of the people. We have the Olympic format, a two-hour competition which, if you are triathlon fan, is not enough, and if you’re the general public is too much!”
Markus said that the innovations of organisers such as Super League Triathlon could even influence the ITU’s own race formats in the longer term, adding: “These inventions give us some reference points. We have to see what is happening in our sport and what the business side of the sport is able to sell. We’re open to any concept or formats."
The calendar and joint initiatives The seven-month, 2018-19 Super League season will begin in September this year, the organisers said last December, preceded by a qualifier series from April to August at three locations to give 10 male and 10 female athletes a chance to qualify. Age group mass participation races will also be held at the qualifier events, along with corporate races.
The series began in March last year with an inaugural event on Hamilton Island in Australia, which reached 388 million households and received more than 8 million impressions on Facebook, according to the organisers. A second event was held on the British island of Jersey in September, that included corporate teams.
In its statement today, the ITU said: “The MOU, announced this weekend in Moscow during the European Triathlon Union Conference, sets in motion a partnership that will see SLT and the ITU working together on promoting gender equality, clean sport conforming to the WADA code and ITU Anti-Doping Rules, as well as open communication as key pillars of the cooperation. ITU is also committed to provide guidance in rules development of SLT’s new formats.
“As part of ITU strategic Plan 2018-2021, ITU is reaching agreements with the main Triathlon organisers in the World to facilitate the develop of the sport of triathlon under the common principles of fair, safe and clean Triathlon for All. SLT will recognize ITU as the governing body of the triathlon sport, coordinating with them and the national federations for all SLT events. SLT will also work with ITU to ensure equality in prize money, contracts and participation of male and female athletes.”
Michael D’hulst, Super League Triathlon’s chief executive, said: “We are thrilled to be able to work with the governing body of triathlon so early on in Super League Triathlon’s establishment. We look forward to ensuring safe, fair and invigorating Super League events with ITU, and in so doing raise the profile of the sport.
“The close alignment of ITU and Super League Triathlon marketing initiatives coupled with the innovation of the Formats and the League will serve to extend the reach of both organisations and bring the potential for greater scope in campaigns as well as through their respective platforms.”
Super League Triathlon is the brainchild of Chris McCormack, the former Australian triathlete and four-time world champion, backed by D’Hulst, an experienced event owner and organiser, and entrepreneur Leonid Boguslavsky.
Last year’s Super League Triathlon was broadcast live on Fox Sports, the Australian pay-television operator, and Eurosport, the pan-European sports broadcaster.
• The ITU wants to develop its TriathlonLIVE OTT channel, Aramany said, following the appointment last month of Infront, the Switzerland-based international sports marketing agency which is also owned by Wanda Group, to sell international media rights, offer broadcasting services and develop sponsorship opportunities and digital strategies for the World Triathlon Series and new ITU World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series.
The “direct long-term” agreement “opens a lot of new opportunities, as Infront is specialised in marketing and TV rights,” Aramany said, adding: “New platforms is where we will see a new approach with our TV channel.”
TriathlonLIVE is owned 50:50 by the ITU and Infront, and Aramany said: “We will work together to market that, creating new content linked to races, with pre- and post-race content available for subscribers.
The ITU charges subscribers $24 a season and last season amassed a total of 11,000 subscribers, albeit it must start again from scratch at the beginning of each season.
Aramany said: “Five years ago we had a discussion if we should go to an open platform. Today, I’m glad that we took the [subscription] decision. It’s a new TV revenue source, in addition to [selling rights to] TV channels. We want to target a goal of 200,000 subscribers through partnering with national federations. This is why we’re trying to put on content which is worthwhile.
The ITU has a budget of $8.2 million, Aramany said, with 40 per cent of this coming in the form of a contribution from the International Olympic Committee for the sport’s role in the Olympic Games, plus about 30 per cent from sanction fees, 20 per cent from sponsors and just 10 per cent from TV rights.