Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Triathlon Grows...and Shrinks

From The Wall Street Journal:

"World Triathlon Corp., whose signature long-distance event, the Ford Ironman World Championship, is taking place in Hawaii this Saturday, plans to add 13 U.S. triathlons to its 2011 lineup that will cover only 31.9 miles, which is the distance used for triathlons in the Summer Olympic Games. World Triathlon will dub its new series 5150, a reference to the 51.5-kilometer length of the Olympic race, but the affiliation with Ironman will be highly visible."
Predictably, some Ironman veterans are questioning whether an Olympic-distance Ironman is really an Ironman or just a gimmick from World Triathlon's new owners - Providence Equity Partners, a private equity firm bent on squeezing every dollar of incremental revenue out of a fast-growing sport.

No, 51.5 is not 140 but neither is 70.3. How far a brand can be pushed is a fair question, though the explosive growth in the half-Ironman distance doesn't seem to have hurt and, indeed, may have helped as many racers (including yours truly) see the half-Ironman distance as a necessary milestone along the journey ending at an Ironman finish line.

And just what is triathlon's growth path? Still robust amidst economic uncertainty, apparently. From the WSJ's article:
"Triathlon participation is booming. The number of racers grew to 1.2 million U.S. triathletes in 2009, an 11% jump from 2008 and a 50% jump from 2007, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

"Dues-paying members of USA Triathlon—typically triathletes who compete in four or more races a year—stand at 135,000, up from 100,674 in 2007.

"USA Triathlon surveys show that the average income of the triathlete exceeds $125,000 a year. Many triathletes spend thousands a year on bicycles, swim gear, running shoes and travel, making the sport popular among corporate sponsors. At independent bike dealers, unit sales of triathlon bikes jumped 24% this year through August, while unit sales of wet suits jumped 40%, according to Leisure Trends Group, a research firm based in Boulder, Colo.

"But participation in triathlon diminishes with length. A 2009 USA Triathlon survey found that only 17% of triathletes had finished an Ironman race in the past year. But 58% had finished an Olympic-distance race. The popularity of the shorter distance in part reflects the inclusion since 2000 of the 31.9-mile triathlon as an Olympic event."

1 comment:

Jason said...

The WSJ article points out something that I have been noticing since I joined this TRI community back in April. It is everywhere. In the past two days I have met other triathletes (one at a coffee shop, one at the gym) and spoke for 15-30 minutes with each, exchanged information and will probably start training together soon.

I think people are intimidated by the length of IM but once they do a race (sprint, Olympic, HIM) they will see they can do it and be hooked to go longer. It happens with runners and progressing from 5K to 10K to 1/2 marathon to full.