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

Column: Triathlon’s Troubles Are Not Over Yet But There Are Positives

Column: Super League Triathlon CEO Michael D’hulst

Triathlon and mass participation as an industry is undergoing a correction due to coronavirus and I don’t believe we have seen the end of it yet.

Late summer we had a spark of hope and we at Super League got the ball rolling with the SLT Arena Games in Rotterdam. This was then followed by a raft of short and long distance professional international races, as well as some age group events that pros pursued.

I thought it was interesting to see how pro athletes dealt with it differently. Certain athletes were very eager to race – I think of Kristian Blummenfelt, Vincent Luis and Alistair Brownlee, who didn’t care if the race was a high profile international event or a local race. They squeezed themselves in and showcased their passion to compete.

In contrast a lot of top long distance athletes have chosen not to risk it despite Europe hosting some Ironmans, 70.3s, iron and half iron distance events.

We still have the PTO race in Daytona later in the year and I expect a lot of the short course athletes like Kristian, Gustav Iden and maybe even Vince will tackle that and I think you will see them dominate that field.

But I don’t think the crisis is over yet for triathlon and I expect there will be a bigger correction.

If you look at the triathlons that have happened they have been at a limited capacity. The cost base is going up due to restrictions and precautions but the revenue is staying the same because the entry fees have not increased. That will need to sort itself out.

Until the virus is completely under control mass participation race organisers will have to adjust to a new normal.

It has felt like there has been a bit of breathing space and hope with the return of racing, but I don’t see that the, hopefully temporary, new normal has yet set in and that all businesses have reacted to it.

I am still conservative about 2021, especially the first six-to-nine months if you look at mass participation and whether we will go back to normal or continue with the new normal, and I expect a lot of race organisers to struggle with that.

What is confirmed, and is a massive positive, is that the participants are still keen to race, which is great because there was a risk that people would avoid mass gatherings.

The wider outlook for professionals, which is our target at Super League, is ultimately positive as well.

The Arena Games outperformed our expectations. The feedback I got from a lot of people was that they watched it even though they weren’t sure as they were not typically a fan of a virtual race, but it was fantastic and the blended aspect really made the difference.

This is a reconfirmation that, although deprived from racing themselves, age groupers and triathlon fans are keen to be motivated by professional racing.

The appetite to watch and consume content and follow what is happening in the professional element of the sport has definitely not been impacted.

We at Super League continue to push on that front and have some exciting announcements lined up before the end of the year.

For us 2020 was not as bad as it could have been because we have continued to grow fans for the sport and awareness for the professional element of triathlon and establish ourselves as innovators with the Arena Games a perfect example of that.

Community Challenge Here To Stay

Our first ever Community Challenge was a huge success and I can confirm this element of Super League is now here to stay.

We pursued a real life event in Jersey until the last minute and when, sadly, that couldn’t happen because of coronavirus we pivoted quickly because we wanted to still do something positive with a community that is very
supportive and engaged with Super League.

Whatever we did also had to stay true to what both Super League Jersey and our partners at RBC stand for.

Mourant Jersey Super League Triathlon Training

Charging people to be active is not the right message for me in these trying times, so we created a Community Challenge and set a common goal to swim, bike, run and/or walk to a total that would secure a big donation for Mind Jersey.

It was very accessible and a low barrier to entry and the spirit of Super League was there with the £40,000 donation a big motivator.

We first set ourselves a conservative goal of 20,000km, but we completely smashed that and had more than 100,000km recorded over the three weeks it was running.

Kudos to the team at Super League that we were able to turn this around very quickly, RBC and our other partners for being willing to support something so positive.

In future the Community Challenge will be part of the build-up to our events as it is engaging and really delivers a Super League spirit. There is also the thought that it may be a platform that one day we could use to build a Super League Age Group World Championship.

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