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Date: September 22, 2014

Author: Reginald Holden

Let’s think about Triathlon as an eco-system that is comprised of age groupers, event owners, manufacturers, the media and professional athletes.  Now, if you gave each constituent group a vote and asked who was in favor of more pay for the pros, we suspect that you’d see a majority of the hands go up.

But, as you all know, the majority of the Professional Triathletes are not, rolling in the dough. Now, before we go any further, we’ll acknowledge that many would argue that market forces will, in theory, determine the “Market Clearing Price” for professional athletes and that they are paid exactly what they are worth. This is logical and works well….in theory. In an “Efficient Market” and in world run by Vulcan businessmen who are devoid of human compassion and who make perfect, fact driven, non-emotional decisions, this discussion would be over quickly. But, given our lack of pointy ears and our inability to make that “V” symbol with our fingers (it just looks like a hand with the fingers spread apart in some weird wave), we’ll be so bold as to suggest that, perhaps, just perhaps, the theory may fall apart when humans are involved.

Maybe, what we have is an “inefficient market” that needs some attention.  If we look for an analog in business, we can look at companies that practice Conscious Capitalism.  Specifically, The Container Store.  As you may be aware, the majority of retailers pay employees “exactly what they are worth”. Market forces keep wages in line and employees deliver a certain (generally not so awesome) level of service.

The Container Store has taken a different approach.  They believe that if they pay above market wages, the employees will deliver better service and the Container Store will receive disproportionately high returns. Now, they don’t just give the employees more money and hope for the best. Rather, they spend quite a bit of time explaining their expectations for performance, they provide tools, lots of training, and they Do Not continue to reward employees who over time have shown that they cannot deliver.

Now, clearly retail has its ups and downs but over the long term, the Container Store’s theory has been born out.  In fact, according to the Conscious Capitalism Institute, research has found that conscious firms (like the Container Store and Whole Foods) outperformed the overall stock market by a ratio of 10.5-to-1 over a 15-year period, delivering over 1,600% total returns when the market was up just over 150%.”

So, what does that have to do with Triathlon?  Well, what if we considered Professional Triathletes as ambassadors for the sport (I avoided the term “employees” for obvious reasons) and looked to them to help grow the industry?  From that point of view, perhaps we could take the Container Store approach and work to increase their compensation while, at the same time, making our expectations as sponsors very clear. 

In exchange for concerted, continuous and specific actions to bring new entrants into the sport and to professionally promote the events and our brands, we (the sponsors) will work together to increase compensation for pros.

At Coeur, we are of the opinion that, if compensation goes up, more pros will be able to afford to train and race full time, the fields will get deeper, the races will become even more exciting and as a consequence, more people will be drawn into the sport.  If we provide training on how to help grow the sport (i.e. be more "Professional"), we may be able to “move the needle”, so to speak.

One of our favorite sayings at Coeur Sports is that “A rising tide lifts all boats” and this may be the case here.

The form of the compensation is a discussion for another day but (in our humble opinion) this idea could work if you believe the following:

  1. Collectively, the Professional Triathletes are not being fully leveraged to draw people into the sport of triathlon.
  2. The Pros ability to draw people into the sport is significant and it can grow. Especially if non-endemic press coverage increases (but that's a blog for another day)
  3. We (perhaps through TBI) can provide the necessary tools (i.e. social media training, public relations help) to allow the Pros to be better ambassadors
  4. It is in the best interest of sponsors to work together on this issue as opposed to competing

Clearly, this is a very complex topic that cannot be fully captured in a single blog post but at Coeur Sports, we do believe in the Pros. Consequently, we'd be open to discussing this idea with anyone else that believes Professional Triathletes represent significant untapped potential to create a “Rising Tide” for the entire industry.

# # #

Reg Holden is  a four time Ironman, an investor in Coeur Sports and the owner of two dogs who are absolutely unimpressed with all of the above.

 

COMMENTS:

Wed., Sept. 24 Thanks for posting this very interesting article. As the owner of Kiwami Triathlon North-America, we’ve been dealing with a number of pros over several years. Today, I can say except for very few, those girls and guys do not quite well understand or want to understand some basic rules of good business or even politeness. Very few are altogether talented athletes and natural ambassadors. The rest should make an effort and learn from their successful peers. But they don’t, and they believe their racing alone will do the talking. So to sum up, I’m afraid you are putting too much faith in those girls and guys. There’s a considerable amount of education that should come along the pro card. Until then, I don’t think they, as a group today, deserve the credit you would like to grant them. That said, I completely support an increase in pro purses. That would  attract more talent, make races more competitive and therefore, more relevant.  My 2 cents.  Best regards, Andre BennatanKiwami Triathlon, Illinois

Wed., Sept. 24Andre, thanks for the response and we agree that it is the rare individual that is both a great athlete and a true "professional".  We hope that making expectations clear while providing training and coaching on how to promote the sport (and the brands who provide the sponsorship dollars) will help with the latter. If the two traits (athletic ability and professionalism) are mutually exclusive then we've got a very challenging issue indeed.  We'll stay optimistic for now since there are examples of world class triathletes (Jordan Rapp & Paula Newby Fraser come to mind) who have turned in amazing results and helped grow and promote the sport. Perhaps one or both of them would be willing to teach a class on "professionalism" to some of the young pros.  Reg Holden, Coeur Sports

Mon., Sept. 29 - I just read the column on pro triathlete purses and I would like to bring up a few conversation points. First off, Triathlon is unique in that it is not star driven. People don't get excited over our sport because of whoever won Kona this year. No, people find our sport because they saw Dave in accounting lose 50 pounds and did one of those crazy "sprint triathlon" things. People are more inspired by their friend, neighbor or family member challenging themselves than by some pros time at Ironman Lake Placid.  Pros do have a place in our sport and there should be purses for pro triathlon divisions. They should also be equal between male and female. It is good to have pro purse events as it will influence more top athletes to cross over into the pro division in a effort to get a slice of that pie. I also believe having pros in an event also creates one of the most unique situations in all of sport. Triathlon is the only sport in which pros and amateurs compete together at the same time. Try to imagine your Sunday morning Fireman's softball league and next up to bat is this guy named Jeter. Nope, not going to happen. That type of situation only happens in our sport and we should cherish and champion that. Do pros influence participation in races? I don't know. I think events like Ironman Lake Placid would sell out whether or not Andy Potts shows up or not. Lesser known events may need some sort of star power to increase attendance or awareness but I don't think a pro triathlete racing a certain event will determine it's level of success. That success I believe is driven by the Race Director. An enthusiastic and creative Race Director can really be the defining factor over whether an event succeeds or fails. Here in NJ, we have races that are growing exponentially every year, all without a single pro lining up. A pro can maybe lend some credibility to an event but it is the Race Director in the end who will determine success.  Thanks,  Rob Kulessa
Editor in Chief, Onefortypointsix Media and TBI Member

Tues., Sept. 30 - 

Rob..thanks for the thoughtful post.  We completely agree that Race Directors are an incredibly important piece of the triathlon ecosystem. While outside the scope of our blog, we are huge supporters of, friends with and cheerleaders for Race Directors.  The more that can be done for this group, the better off we will all be. With respect to the pros, we have a hypothesis that they play an important role in the puzzle and are not being fully utilized to grow the sport.  Hopefully, this isn't because they are "incapable" but rather that they just haven't been taught "how" to be professional. From a sponsors perspective, being "fast" isn't enough.  We'll take a "competitive" pro who is personable, savvy with social media, and who wants to draw others into Triathlon over someone who is on top of the podium but lacks those attributes.  Thanks again for the response and congratulations on the success you are seeing with your races!  Reg Holden, Coeur Sports

 

 

 


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