Michael D'hulst SLT Arena Games in Rotterdam Super League Triathlon

Charging Cables, Bluetooth Worries And Success: Super League Triathlon CEO Michael D’hulst On The SLT Arena Games

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COLUMN: SUPER LEAGUE CEO MICHAEL D’HULST

When the biggest complaint you have about an event is the amount you paid for emergency iPad charging cables you know it has gone well.

Just over a week after the first edition of the SLT Arena Games in Rotterdam I am finally having a few moments to reflect on a whirlwind couple of months and am so pleased it was such a massive success.

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The feedback from everybody I have spoken to, whether they be stakeholders like the city of Rotterdam and the Triathlon Federation there, media or fans is exclusively positive and enthusiastic.

I could understand the sense of scepticism I detected in the build-up to the event from some people. While they embraced the SLT Arena Games as innovative and something that we can do in a time of COVID-19, I think some worried it was a bit gimmicky and possibly only good because there is nothing to compare it to right now.

Jessica Learmonth at the SLT Arena Games for Super League Triathlon

Everything I have heard and read since Rotterdam has suggested the opposite – we outperformed people’s expectations and that it has legs to carry on far beyond COVID. That is both a huge relief and a source of pride, not only for me but also my team who made this happen.

In my last column I spoke about the technology of the event, the need for units operating out of five different countries to work in unison, the importance of connectivity and, ultimately, how things could go badly wrong. It was a big risk but thankfully we avoided any major issues. As an aside, if you are interested in a look at the tech involved I highly recommend you check out the blog from DC Rainmaker, who we were delighted to welcome to the event, which gave a fantastic insight.

SLT Arena Games in Rotterdam Broadcast

We set up the Arena Games as a weekend event so we had the Dutch National Team Championships on the Saturday. We knew we would need to iron out small problems which we did.

For example, syncing multiple bluetooth devices. Everybody who cycles and has done a bunch ride and tried to connect their Garmin with their heart rate monitor or power meter has had the issue of syncing with their mate’s rather than their own device. We had 20 iPads trying to sync with 20 different pieces of equipment.

Another issue, really as stupid as it can be, was charging the iPads. We had 20 iPads all needing to stay on top of their battery power, but unfortunately some were delivered with faulty chargers and cables. We started off migrating chargers around between the different stations before I went out to buy some new cables at €40 a pop because the shop only had ones that were 3 meters in length and made of kevlar!

I think if I am complaining about the cost of a charging cable then the event went very smoothly.

SLT Arena Games in Rotterdam Zwift

In terms of media value we outperformed our expectations. For example, the video views of the event on our own YouTube and Facebook channels are well over 500,000, which is a great success and a nice growth curve from where we were before.

We are also very happy to be free to air in Germany for the first time, and seeing the early viewership numbers for the highlights on Sport1 we were on par with other sports properties which have been on their channel for a long time.

We also saw significant media interest around the event and the concept, which has helped spread the word of Super League and triathlon in general.

Jonathan Brownlee at the SLT Arena Games for Super League Triathlon

The event in Rotterdam has proven the concept of the SLT Arena Games. Where does it go from here? That’s the question I have been asked so often over the past week.

There are small tweaks to be done with the product to make it a better viewing experience and the racing more balanced.

Compared to every other triathlon in the world this was very swim dominant. I like this because Super League embraces things that are different, but we now have to think about whether we level things up a little in terms of the bike.There’s no drafting in the swim so good swimmers have greater benefit. The same is true of the run where it is about your individual speed and strength.

For the bike we used the double draft feature in Zwift, but potentially it could be better to eliminate the draft in line with the other disciplines where drafting is not possible. Thus making the bike more challenging and about pure power and strength like the other two disciplines in this format? It’s something we are actively talking about.

I think the success of Rotterdam has proven the SLT Arena Games will be part of what we can offer going forward.

We have our Championship Series, which will always run between late August and early November and will consist of six events. The rest of the year, and possibly as a winter product, the SLT Arena Games has a good spot to develop.

For that I am even willing to forget how much money I spent on charging cables.

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