Thursday, May 22, 2014

Are You Not Entertained?!?

Several months ago I wrote a 2-post series entitled “Show Them The Money!” regarding prize money in triathlon. It unexpectedly got a ton of hits, driven by people searching for “Kona prize money,” “Ironman prize money” and similar terms. Inquiring minds expecting to learn of a massive payday a la the crowning events of other individual sports were in for a surprise. The Ironman World Championships prize purse (shout out to GoPro as the current title sponsor) is $650K. Underwhelming, but still sounds pretty good, right? Don’t forget though that that money is spread out over the top 10 men and women, which gets real thin real quick. The winners get $120K, down to $10K for 10th. Anything below that gets a finisher’s medal and a congratulatory handshake. Back out any travel expenses not picked up by sponsors and it’s even less, if not a significant financial loss to compete.

triathlon on TV is a good thing

Just for fun, I investigated a few other events for comparison:

  • Total prize purse: ~$40M at current exchange rates
  • Winner:  ~$2.7M (with 32 players clearing $100K)
  • Say What?!  First round losers take home  ~$40K for their trouble

The Masters
  • Total prize purse: ~$9M
  • Winner: $1.6M  (with 24 players clearing $100K)
  • Say What?!  Unlike most golf tournaments, players missing the cut (eg. even the jackass! in last place after two rounds) received a payday just for showing up ($10K)

Indy 500
  • Total prize purse: ~$13M
  • Winner: $2.4M
  • Say What?!  Last place receives ~$250K

Ironman World Championships
  • Total prize purse: $0.65M
  • Winner: $0.12M
  • Say What?!  Only the top 10 get anything, despite the rigorous, season-long points system to qualify for the event

As I wrote about at the time, I’m not challenging these types of discrepancies as far as basic economic principles go. That’s like your alma mater’s cross country team complaining about perks received by the football team. Not all sports are equal in terms of public demand and willingness to pay.

What I am challenging is the notion that the demand for triathlon coverage isn’t there. Sure, Kona is on NBC every year, but is the WTC (which owns the Ironman brand) fully taking advantage of opportunities with other races?

For example, the pro field at the US 70.3 Championships was absolutely stacked. When later reading about the pro race I thought, “man I would’ve loved to see that play out!” You had former Olympic trials swimmer Andy Potts leading out of the water, some of the best cyclists in the sport in pursuit, and lots of back and forth on the bike and run. All this culminated with the top 3 men finishing within 30 sec of each other, led by an Olympic gold medalist in Jan Frodeno. The women’s race was also very exciting, with Meredith Kessler overcoming challenges on the bike to win by 36 sec, with 3rd only 2 minutes down. 

Many IM & IM 70.3 races are held in beautiful venues around the world. Combine race action with breathtaking scenery and condense it down to an hour… would that format not be highly entertaining, even for non-triathletes?

Oh, and by the way, Frodeno and Kessler took home a measly $15K for their efforts... first of all that's downright stingy on Ironman's part, but hopefully they can find a way to increase exposure of these events, sell some advertising space, and increase the pie for everyone.

More to come...

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