Why aren’t more people paying attention to women’s triathlon racing?
A look at the numbers after Ironman 70.3 Oceanside shows a huge discrepancy when it comes to the interest in women's racingPhoto by: Donald Miralle for Ironman
It’s hard to deny that Saturday’s race at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside featured an incredible women’s race. While 70.3 world champ Taylor Knibb wasn’t back to defend her title, the first five in the race are undeniably amongst the best in the world over the distance. Tamara Jewett’s breakthrough win came over Ironman world champ Sodaro. Ironman world championship runner up Kat Matthews rounded out the podium, ahead of 2016 70.3 world champ Holly Lawrence, with 70.3 worlds runner-up Paula Findlay taking fifth.
Even five-time Ironman and Ironman 70.3 world champion Daniela Ryf acknowledged that the race proved that “the women in triathlon are entering new levels.” Despite all that, the statistics from our coverage show that triathlon fans weren’t nearly as interested in the women’s race as they were in stories on the men.
Our report on fellow Canadian Jackson Laundry – who had a similar breakthrough win against a tough field at this same race last year, received almost four-times as many vies as our story on story on Jewett’s win this year. The women’s recap story received fewer page views than the news that Lionel Sanders had pulled out of the race, and it received just over half as many page views as our story on Jan Frodeno pulling out of the race.
We’re just looking at one weekend’s worth of coverage, for sure, and we’re going to do a deeper dive into this issue. But the numbers from last weekend were dramatic.
Prize money and participation
Triathlon has, for the most part, always provided equal prize money to men and women at races. Ironman introduced equal pro prize money when the event initially offered a prize purse in 1986 – triathlon was one of the first sports to adopt equality in sports pay. In fact, at the first Triathlon World Championships in Avignon, France in 1989, initially the men’s prize purse was to bigger than the women’s. It was the men who forced organizers to rethink that policy.
“When we got there, the organizers announced that the men would get a bigger prize purse than the women,” Karen Smyers told Timothy Carlson in a story he wrote for World Triathlon. “But the men stood up and said they would refuse to race unless there was equal prize money for the women. The organizers relented, and the ITU (now World Triathlon) has maintained that principle ever since.”
Now that Ironman has introduced a separate day for women racing at the Ironman World Championship, both the men and women’s fields at the world championship are now the same, too. The Professional Triathletes Organisation also created a new maternity policy for the sport.
All that seems to be missing from this picture is parity in terms of the interest in women’s racing. We placed our story on Jewett’s win in the same spot on our page as the one we did on Laundry last year. We pushed it out via the same social media channels. As we did with Laundry last year, we followed up with an interview after the race. In the end, though, there was no comparison between the audience size and interest for each story.
“I’ll stop talking about the ‘mom thing’ when we see true parity in the workplace,” Iroman world champion Chelsea Sodaro said in an Instagram post after the race. The American has been an outspoken advocate for women’s sports parity, using the platform she gained after her big win in Kona last year to reinforce her message.
View this post on Instagram
The “mom thing” is a critical part of this conversation, and over the last few years, led by the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO), we’re seeing maternity leave benefits (everything from continued bonus payments – PTO – to a freeze of an athlete’s ranking or the ability to defer a world championship slot) implemented at World Triathlon and Ironman. Sodaro was able to take advantage of the PTO maternity leave process and win a world championship less than two years after giving birth. That is a great step, for sure. What we need now, though, is for more triathlon fans to pay attention to the exploits of athletes like Sodaro and Jewett.