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Ironman takes a pass on prize money help from the PTO

Tensions continue between Ironman and the Professional Triathletes Organisation

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

In a bid to try and help out pro triathletes, the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) has been working with races around the world to augment prize purses. Last weekend the group added 21,000 Euros to the prize purse at Challenge Davos and, as we reported earlier this week, distributed that money to the pros in attendance even though the race had to be cancelled due to lightning.

In addition to the event in Davos, the PTO has provided US$15,000 to the Helvellyn Triathlon in the UK, and $20,000 to the Canadian Pro Triathlon Championship in Caledon, Ont. The word is that the PTO is negotiating with a race organizer in Germany, too, and hopes to work with another event in the UK, too. And, of course, there’s the big US$1 million prize purse the PTO is looking to put up at Challenge Daytona in December.

Related: PTO provides prize purse for Canadian Pro Triathlon Championship

It’s all part of a regional approach the PTO has taken to provide support to pro athletes around the world.

“With travel restrictions in place, the small number of races available are mostly regional events,” says PTO Board member and two-time Olympic gold medalist Alistair Brownlee in a press release about the support for the Helvellyn event. “It is a tribute to the PTO’s mission for supporting athletes and the triathlon community that PTO Professionals in different regions have been able to come together to work with local organizers. We are very grateful to the UK PTO Professionals who have worked with Race Director Rob Wilkins and his Helvellyn Triathlon team to support the Helvellyn event and are pleased that there are other groups of PTO Professionals in regions like Canada and elsewhere doing the same.”

PTO board member Alistair Brownlee competes at the Ironman World Championship in 2019. Photos: Kevin Mackinnon

Related: How Chrissie Wellington’s legs sold the PTO

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According to Charles Adamo, the Executive Chairman of the PTO, they offered to work with Ironman as well, but the company wasn’t interested.

“We approached Ironman,” Adamo told Mark Livesey during the Triathlon Brick Session podcast. “They had a slightly different attitude in that they told us it was against their long-standing policy to have people support their professional races. We said OK, we offered to help, and we’re going to continue to help people who want to receive whatever help we can provide. It didn’t fit in with their [Ironman’s] model.”

A source at Ironman has confirmed that the PTO did approach the company. Specifically for two races in Brazil – Ironman 70.3 Florianopolis (which was rescheduled to August and the for a second time to Sept. 27) and Ironman Brazil (which was rescheduled to September then for a second time to Nov. 8). According to the source, when Ironman rescheduled the events they made them age-group only races since the new dates would conflict with the Ironman World Championship in Kona (at that point the race hadn’t been postponed or cancelled). The organization was also not sure that any racing would be possible this year, a fear that has been borne out – after rescheduling both races twice, they’ve been cancelled for 2020.

The PTO got involved with the events in Brazil to try and support a new organization of professional triathletes in the country, Nosso Triathlon Brazil, which includes about 80 pro and elite triathletes. According to Olympian and Ironman champion Reinaldo Colucci, the PTO offered to put up $40,000, the original prize purse for the two events, after the local race organizers said they couldn’t afford to put up the prize money.

After Ironman declined to take the PTO (through Nosso) up on its offer, the group approached Challenge Florianopolis to see if they would be interested in working with them. They were – as of now the Challenge Florianopolis race is scheduled for December 13 and will include a US$60,000 prize purse as the race organization is going to add $20,000 to the money being put up by the PTO.

Competing race organizations

Our source also says that earlier this year the PTO reached out to Ironman, requesting that it give them $2.5 million that could be distributed to pro athletes to help them during the difficult times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The PTO declined to comment on that request, but we imagine that the group was looking to build on its own $2.5 million payout to pros – it handed out US$2.5 million to the top-100 ranked athletes in its standings in April, in addition to the prize money augmentation its been doing at other events now that they are starting up.

Related: PTO increases pro athlete bonuses and delivers money right away

It hardly comes as a surprise that Ironman isn’t looking to work with the PTO any time soon. From where Ironman is sitting, the PTO are competitors. While, to date, the events the group has been supporting have been organized by others, next May the much-anticipated Collins Cup will be put on by the PTO. According to the PTO that event will feature in depth and innovative coverage, along with a whopping US$2 million prize purse. Last year the Ironman World Championship offered US$650,000 in prize money.

Make no mistake, the PTO is looking to create a major triathlon event that will rival the biggest races in the sport.

It probably doesn’t help that the PTO made a public declaration that it wanted to buy Ironman earlier this year, either. You can’t go from calling out an organization for not being able to serve the sport because it is too much in debt, to suddenly being best pals and working together at races.

The PTO likely wants to get the message out to people that they’re willing to work with Ironman to help pro athletes around the world. Ironman might have been all for that idea if the PTO wasn’t in the process of starting to put on races.

Ironman has never been able to crack the dilemma of how to make money from pro racing – for them the books get balanced by the age groupers. So, even if the PTO starts with a pro-centred focus, many in the industry (especially the folks at Ironman) believe that whether they like it or not, at some point they’ll have to look to age group athletes to help the bottom line.

What makes it all so complicated is that the last thing many of the PTO’s members want to do is butt heads with the largest events company in the sport, and the one that puts on arguably triathlon’s most recognizable race. So, while the PTO needs to try and maintain a relationship with Ironman, it’s only going to become more of a challenge.