Thursday, August 29, 2013

Show Them The Money: Part II

In case you missed it, here's Show Them The Money! Part 1

My wife crushed her third half Ironman last Saturday at a race called the Utah Half. Although the race has been around for a while, this was the first year in which there was prize money to be had. I thought that was cool for a local race, as well as a timely follow up to my last post on the subject of prize money in triathlon. The total prize purse was $4500, with $750, $500, and $200 to the men’s and women’s podium, as well as $150 and $100 to broader age group categories (< 24, 25-39, etc.). No one got Zuckerberg rich, but it wasn’t peanuts either… perennial Kona qualifier B.J. Christenson and Arizona’s Sarah Jarvis took home as much for the win as 6th place at Sunday’s Ironman Louisville! In addition, 2nd place (Oregon’s Rick Floyd and Utah’s Jeanette Schellenberg) took home as much as 5th place at many Ironman 70.3s. I think that’s more of an indictment on how little Ironman pays its pros, but still… not too shabby.

It’s a bit of a gamble for your local race to “give away” prize money, but I would argue that over time most would benefit from such a move. Offering even a small amount of cash generates more race entries, as well as increasing the prestige and brand of the event for future years. I know several people who signed up solely because of the prize money… it wasn’t just the cash alone, but also the prospect of local bragging rights. With multiple ways to win even $100, (age group, fastest clydesdale, athena, etc.) many people felt they were in the running. Building the prestige and buzz around an event could potentially attract more local sponsorship revenue as well.

something to celebrate

Unless they’re completely irrational, RDs have zero incentive to offer prize money if they don't feel it will increase their bottom line. It’s not out of the goodness of their heart. That said, prize money can definitely be a win/win situation, and it will be interesting to see if more local races follow suit.

On the subject of incentives and the bottom line, what would happen if Ironman eliminated prize money altogether? No prize money would essentially wipe out the professional field, but would that cause a drop in the number of age groupers signing up? I doubt it… few people sign up for a race because of the professionals that are racing. That said, without a professional field Ironman would certainly lose some buzz, prestige, and over time, lucrative sponsorship & Kona TV revenues.

Another important note is that other race series have emerged besides Ironman (Rev3, Challenge, Lifetime, etc.) that attract pros with prize money as well. If Ironman were to suddenly eliminate or decrease prize money, other race series would be happy to swoop in and welcome pros to their events in order to build their brand. This isn’t unprecedented… there was a time when top pros such as Mark Allen and Dave Scott boycotted Ironman Hawaii because of the lack of prize money, instead racing the Nice Triathlon in France. Ironman responded to the pressure by ponying up increased funds to re-establish themselves as the premier race. In addition to greater media coverage, increased choice and competition among races should continue to drive prize money up over time.

Anyways, what I saw on Saturday was pretty cool. Whether a local event or Kona, prize money is great for the sport.

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