Super League Triathlon CEO Michael D’hulst On The Birth Of The SLT Arena Games

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COLUMN: SUPER LEAGUE TRIATHLON CEO MICHAEL D’HULST

It’s been a very exciting week at Super League Triathlon with the launch of the SLT Arena Games, which will continue to deliver innovation and help our sport grow in the years ahead.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a very difficult year for so many people and businesses, and triathlon is one of the areas that has been badly affected with COVID-19 wiping out most of the event calendar.

At Super League we have been determined to find opportunities in the challenges and I feel very proud that we have developed such an exciting concept, and formed some brilliant new partnerships that support what we set out to do in the sport.

The basics for the SLT Arena Games have come out of a non-COVID related idea, which is the aspiration of Super League to be very immersive and drive emotion.

In the traditional Super League formats we achieve this by delivering a stadium-like feel for the spectator experience with tight corners, innovative formats and fun additions such as the short chute and so on.

We always had conversations about how we can involve more technology to know at all points in time what wattage and heart rate and speeds the athletes are hitting and create that insight for our fans.

It is something that is quite difficult because it requires technology that can cut across swimming, biking and running, and you want it live so you always need direct connectivity with a hub to be able to stream.

I was in Glasgow late last year at a conference and the team from Zwift esports were speaking about a collaboration they have with the UCI to create a rainbow jersey for virtual cycling.

That made me think ‘how can we achieve something esports-like for triathlon?’

We picked up further conversations with Zwift about pretty much the Arena Games concept and how a triathlon could happen both physically and virtually at the same time.

These were early conversations with a long-view, not something to implement immediately. Then COVID-19 happened and made the conversation a lot more relevant and together with Zwift we fully developed the concept.

Ultimately, Super League is about turning triathlon into a spectator sport, so for us it was also about how we achieve that next level of immersive experience where you get up close and personal with the athletes in the race, seeing live power, speed, heart rate etc. That is what we have developed and it is something very exciting.

The interesting part for me will be to see how immersive can we go and how best to bring that to a screen. That’s where I am very much looking forward to Rotterdam – who I must also say have been amazing partners in staging the debut event with help also from the Netherlands Triathlon Federation – and seeing how we deliver this wealth of information. I’m excited to see how that goes.

The other thing we have seen with Zwift cycling is that the people who perform best are not always the best cyclists in a traditional sense. So not only is this a completely new concept for triathlon but it might also introduce a new type of athlete.

From a Super League perspective I expect the SLT Arena Games to become a standalone series that delivers for a certain type of athlete who excels at esports, possibly one who is power and speed driven.

I’m also excited to work close together with Zwift as we have a lot of parallels.

What Zwift have done very well in my opinion is to deliver something new and innovative while not being afraid of introducing things like power-ups. Super League also hasn’t shied away from innovations like the short chute.

Zwift has also proven to be good at marketing and promoting itself, which is a valuable skill set in today’s world, and there is a parallel with Super League where we do the same thing.

Zwift continues to innovate and goes with the best in class – look at cycling where they are delivering an innovative Tour de France. We also aim to be best in class for production, for athletes, and we drive innovation.

There are a lot of similar business principles that we want to achieve and execute on so from that perspective it is a good partnership and I think together we will make this product great.

With the backing of the fantastic city of Rotterdam as well I believe we can make this event a real success.

We view the SLT Arena Games as becoming part of what Super League does. For us this is definitely not a one-off driven by circumstance but the chance for something new and exciting for our brilliant sport.

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