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Ironman turns down Professional Triathletes Organisation. PTO names new board members.

It comes as no surprise that Ironman isn’t interested in having any discussions with the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) about that group aquiring “all of the assets of the Wanda Sports Group Company Limited,” as we reported last month. In a press release distributed this morning, the PTO quoted from a letter they received from Ironman CEO Andrew Messick:

“I have discussed your letter with my board. While we appreciate your interest, we are not prepared to engage in a discussion around a sale at this point.”

In the release, the PTO says that it will “continue to implement its strategy for self-determination successfully followed by professional athletes in other sports such as golf and tennis, and we plan on moving forward with acquiring and operating events in the space to celebrate the sport we are so passionate about.”

You can read the entire PTO release here.

Yesterday the PTO announced that it was appointing Zibi Szlufcik, the CEO of Challenge Family, and Jennifer Nimmo, Principal at North Point Advisors, an independent investment bank that is working with the PTO, as members of its Board of Directors. Those two join recently named CEO Sam Renouf and chairman Charles Adamo on the “Business Board” of the PTO. The “Athlete Board” includes Rachel Joyce, Tim O’Donnell, Mirinda Carfrae, Dylan McNiece, Sarah Piampiano-Lord, Scott Defillipis and Meredith Kessler.

Challenge-Family CEO Zibi Szlufcik

Szlufcik is a logical addition to the group – Challenge Family has always prided itself on its treatment of pro athletes, and the initial meeting that inspired the PTO took place at one of the company’s events. Professional athletes routinely express their appreciation for the way they are treated at Challenge Family races.

“Zibi was one of the industry’s leaders who encouraged the professionals to unify in the PTO and was there at its first meeting. He will be a valuable asset for the athletes as they progress towards self-determination,” Rachel Joyce said in yesterday’s press release.

In a phone interview today, Szlufcik, a former elite duathlete and triathlete himself, reaffirmed Challenge-Family’s support of pro athletes and also expressed why he feels it is so important that the PTO succeed.

“Challenge Family has always been extra supportive of the professional athletes,” he said. “The professional athletes should have a united voice. They should play a developing role in the sport in the future.”

Despite his position with Challenge Family, Szlufcik doesn’t see there being any conflict as a board member.

“More important than the brands is the sport itself,” he said. “We need to grow the sport. We need to grow attention around general media. There is a lot of space for improvement. We have to do what’s best for the sport.

Szlufcik also provided some interesting insight around the question of whether or not the goals of the PTO are realistic. Comparisons between triathlon and golf or tennis seem a bit tenuous – in 2018, TriRating.com estimated that the total prize money available in triathlon was just over US $9 million. Prize money for the recent US Open tennis tournament was US$57 million – and that’s just one tournament through the year. That’s not the way to look at it, according to Szlufcik.

“ATP, WTA, PGA, LPGA and all of those organizations – they started somewhere,” he said. “I see this as an entrepreneurial initiative – there is a long way to go. I don’t think there is a more inspiring sport than triathlon, and there’s a strong emotional bond between the sport and the athletes. Long-distance triathletes embrace the sport as part of their lifestyle. We also have the advantage that our athletes are ‘inside the ropes.’ No other sports allow you to be so close to your heroes as triathlon. It’s a unique element to our sport.”