Columns › CEO's Column
11 Mar 2021
5 min read
Column by Super League Triathlon CEO Michael D’hulst
‘No excuses, let’s make things happen.’
That has been my mantra at Super League Triathlon, and it’s not changed because of the pandemic.
It’s not always been easy, but now we are just over a fortnight away from the SLT Arena Games Powered by Zwift coming to London it feels like the hard work from my team is paying off.
It is a special feeling to have that excitement and nervous energy again, and I know the athletes are the same as they prepare to finally get back to racing.
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The SLT Arena Games continue to go from strength to strength.
It has been pleasing to get industry recognition with being shortlisted for the Sports Technology Awards. Likewise, the success of Rotterdam in 2020 has also piqued the interest of broadcasters.
We now have deals signed in huge triathlon markets.
We will be free to air in the UK via the BBC, in Germany with Sport1 and we have deals in place with L’Equipe in France and FloSports in the USA among many others. In addition, there will be highlights of both the events in London on March 27 and Rotterdam on April 18 broadcast on Eurosport 1 and 2.
Planning for two events in different countries during this time means we have worked closely with many different authorities.
The challenge of organising an event under COVID is the ever changing regulations, both nationally and internationally, particularly around travel restrictions and the impact that has.
For example, this week the Netherlands decided that air traffic and boats from the UK are welcome back again but are increasing their quarantine expectations.
So now it’s a balancing act with broadcasters for Rotterdam. Do you bring in the staff from the UK or look at a remote broadcasting setup? How does it impact budgets and what benefits the event most?
With a young sports property and a new concept that continues to innovate you want to work as closely as possible with producers and thus have them on the ground, whereas if something is a bit more mature you can rely on remote broadcast where directors can be in London while the event is in the Netherlands.
Take the athletes as well. We get quarantine exemptions from the UK authorities because it’s a recognised elite sports event and follows strict rules and protocols. That brings people in, but we also have to help the international athletes when they go home.
The so-called UK variant of coronavirus means return travel from London is blacklisted in many countries at this moment. Triathlon still being a smaller sport and athletes being individuals means not all their governments are not necessarily incentivised to look into exemptions too much.
Even the simplest things are challenging. Are there flights available? Typically there would be many flights every day into the UK from Germany, for example. Now there isn’t and athletes have to stop over or do multiple stopovers depending on where they come from just to get to London.
And then there are the bubbles… We have two very different venues. Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London has ample space so it’s relatively straightforward to create bubbles and entries and exits. But it is costly to organise as everybody has to be tested and all the scenarios have to be thought through and the equipment ready.
It’s also complicated to explain to people what they can and can’t do in a bubble – eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in your room alone, for example, who they can and can’t interact with in the bubble, press, staff, other athletes, etc.
At smaller venues like Rotterdam it becomes tricky as you can’t say ‘the left grandstand is for the media and the right for athletes’. There is only one grandstand, so the flow and how to direct athletes or media or coaches becomes harder.
Big sports like soccer have done it so the athletes get used to it. In triathlon we are the first to do it and the athletes are sole agents, so to speak, so there is a lot more communication necessary to help them.
Despite all of that it is definitely worth it. We still have one very exciting announcement to make next week ahead of the event, and we are also still innovating. We are bringing a couple of new partnerships on board that will support that immersive feeling of the SLT Arena Games.
While we can’t have spectators in the arena we will have access to more data than ever and to a triathlon fan it will give a more in depth view of what the athletes are doing.
The appetite of the athletes to race has been huge. Even this week I still often open my inbox to several emails asking whether somebody is falling off the start list and if they can get in.
With the Arena Games, I like the mixture of short course, middle distance and long course athletes rocking up.
I think Lucy Charles-Barclay is a very exciting addition as she takes on short course racing. I’m very keen to see what she can do as she goes from 8-9 hours of racing down to maybe 15 minutes and how that spices up the race.
We are just trying to do things that engage the triathlon audience and grow the sport, whether it’s the Arena Games concept, interesting start lists, the Club Championship races on Zwift which had huge turnout in the UK or anything else.
It’s all part of Super League’s DNA to make things happen, and in this time more than any other it’s what sets us apart.
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