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PTO, an organization started to help long-distance athletes, won’t operate races longer than 100km

Chairman Chris Kermode outlines PTO strategy that includes investing and marketing on fewer athletes

Photo by: PTO

It was a picture of Chrissie Wellington’s legs that sold investors on the sport of triathlon. But, in the end, full-distance racing doesn’t appear to be ready for the masses – the athlete organization that was originally started to help long-distance athletes won’t put on any races longer than 100 km, according to an email sent out to Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) members last night from chairman Chris Kermode.

How Chrissie Wellington’s legs sold the Professional Triathletes Organisation

“We are making a number of changes to the PTO strategy – most visibly reducing the size of the fields in the PTO Tour and investing our marketing on a more concentrated number of athletes,” Kermode wrote. “In doing this, it may seem like we are ignoring the 500+ of you who are not eligible to compete, but that is not the case, the changes are to ensure the PTO has the strongest sports entertainment product possible, as this will not only grow the sport for everyone, but also generate the PTO the profits now and in the long term that it can use for our wider membership. Without a strong product, there are no profits – and therefore nothing to share, whether you are ranked 3rd or 300th.”

“For example, in creating the strongest sports entertainment product possible, we will not (in the short term) operate any races in the PTO Tour that are longer than 100km,” Kermode continued. “This was discussed with the athlete board at our board meeting in February. However, once the PTO Tour is fully established financially, we may choose (with the Athlete Board) to invest the proceeds of the PTO Tour in a longer distance event – or a new development series, or an insurance program, or expanding the rankings to a wider base. The point here is that the PTO Tour needs to be generating the results first before the benefits can be shared, and with our new strategy we will be in the best position to do this.”

PTO hires former ATP executive chairman and president

Kermode is no stranger to big-time sport. The former Executive Chairman and President of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) started with the PTO in July, 2020.

“The first thing people asked me when I joined the PTO was why would I go from the 3rd largest sport in the world to something as niche as Triathlon?” Kermode wrote. “Triathlon has all of the raw ingredients to become a major sport – it’s global, it’s glamorous, it has millions of people participating and it has incredibly talented athletes with inspirational stories. However, like many young sports, it’s still finding its way commercially and hasn’t been turned into a true professional sport’s ‘product’ yet. The opportunity to help you as athletes and the team to deliver on this vision, is both an attractive and exciting one – and anyone who tells you that Triathlon should ‘just’ be a participation sport is simply using the excuse to maintain the status quo.”

Kermode outlined a new strategy in the email designed to “ensure the momentum of the past three years progress turns into a sustainable plan for the next plan for the next 10, 20 and 100 years.”

Here’s what Kermode outlined:

  • The sport needs a ‘season long narrative’, with a clear start, a clear narrative throughout the season and celebrated champions crowned at its conclusion.
  • The sport needs consistency – with the same regular faces and names competing head-to-head throughout the year. You cannot build a fanbase if every time the start gun goes off, different people are on the start line.
  • The sport must focus on its very top athletes, because those are the faces and names that will get the attention of the media and in turn help the sport to grow – it’s simply impossible for a niche sport like Triathlon to grow through promoting too many athletes at once.
  • The sport must engage with broadcast and mainstream media to reach a wider sporting audience – the existing Triathlon audience is very valuable, but we have bigger ambitions.
    Last but not least, the sport needs to harness the unique advantage that Triathlon has over most ‘venue’ based sports to showcase its host city environment. This is where the Tour de France has been very successful, in that it is as much a showcase of France as it is a pro bike race.

Kermode also dispelled any rumours that athletes are being payed “six figure appearance fees” to attend the upcoming PTO European Open in Ibiza. While the Collins Cup compensation is done through a “ranking-based ‘appearance’ payment,” the PTO Opens “have and continue to be based on racing position.”

PTO revamps race quotas and prize money distribution

While the prize purse for the Open events has dropped from US$1 million to $600,000 this year, they remain amongst the most lucrative prize purses in the sport. The PTO Bonus distributes $2 million to the eligible athletes – this year that will be the top 50 men and women in the PTO rankings.

“This is an incredibly exciting time for the PTO as we build on our momentum to date and establish Triathlon as a true sports entertainment product,” Kermode concluded. “I look forward to working with you and the PTO team to harness this potential and create a season-long narrative that makes you professional triathletes the ‘sporting stars’ your talents and athleticism deserve.”