Connecting the Dots – Impressions of #TBIConf 2015

January 28th, 2015 | Posted by Kelly Burns Gallagher in Business of Triathlon | FLSA

Over the past weekend, I attended several of the sessions at the Triathlon Business Conference (“TBI”) in Marina Del Ray, California. As somewhat of an outsider and a first time attendee, I think the conference and TBI in general does lots of things right. First and foremost, TBI is working to fill a void that exists in the world of triathlon – providing a space for stakeholders to connect, learn, do business and hopefully generate growth and progress for the sport as whole (contrary to popular belief the conference is not a WTC/Ironman love fest, I think its the first triathlon event I have been to where I didn’t see hundreds of Ironman branded hats, shirts and bags). Given the current climate where one corporation dominates so much of the sport, this is a huge task and TBI needs to be applauded for its efforts. Second there were some fantastic speakers and panels. Dan Empfield did a very nice interview of Felix Walchshofer (founder of the Challenge Family Races), there were some very good nuts and bolts panels for race directors on legal, financial issues, social media and leveraging sponsorships (full disclosure, I presented at the legal panel, you can view my presentation here), the conference provided some very useful early results on the on-going Multisport Research survey (if you haven’t taken the survey, you really should).  These are all good things. I think TBI is definitely moving in the right direction, but I think there are a few things upon which they can improve.


  1. Diversity.  At one point in time Rob Urbach, CEO of USAT made the comment “look around the room” to demonstrate the lack of diversity in triathlon. I could make a similar comment of “look at the speakers and panelists.” Of 26 speakers and panelists (not counting awards presenters and recipients) 4 were women. That’s less than 20%. This isn’t TBI’s fault. TBI brought in leaders from throughout the world of triathlon and many (not all) of those leaders are white men. I think TBI can do three things to help address this issue. First, seek out more women and people of color to speak at its annual conference. While qualified women and people of color may not be as easy to find, they exist and TBI can help give them a platform. Second, look at ways to develop new, more diverse leaders in triathlon. Industries have recognized the importance of diversity among their workforces and in their leaders. Triathlon is no different (even USAT has recognized the need to diversify the sport in order for it to continue to grow) and, as the leading industry group, TBI should work to encourage that diversity. Third, TBI should consider hosting a panel on diversity during its 2016 conference. For the sport to continue to grow, and for there to be equality across the sport, it needs to reach new markets; TBI should be a the forefront of encouraging that growth.
  1. Bringing the Entire Tribe Together. When Pat Hus, Managing Director of Interbike, spoke he made the comment that Interbike isn’t so much about writing orders, its about “bringing the entire tribe together.” As much as TBI is about getting the business of triathlon done, its also about bringing the triathlon tribe together. Problem is it is missing some key members. I see the business side of triathlon as having 5 parts: race organizers/directors; sponsors; coaches and coaching companies; professional triathletes; and bloggers, pod casters and pundits. Right now TBI really caters to two of those factions — race organizers/directors and sponsors. To truly encourage growth in the industry (a rising tide lifts all boats) the other three factions of the tribe need to be brought in from the cold. For example as Scott Brown, President of Universal Sports Network, spoke about the need for statistics for triathletes, I couldn’t help but think how useful it would be if he was able to speak with Thorsten Radde, the triathlon stats guru. In the same vein, it would have been incredibly useful for professional triathletes to be able to benefit from Dan Empfield’s presentation on leveraging sponsorships and for coaches and coaching companies to hear Steve Gintowt’s presentation on financial management. Including coaches and coaching companies, professional triathletes, and bloggers, pod casters and pundits would allow more individuals to connect the dots and create a bigger  (and better) picture.
  1. Getting the Message to the Masses. When I told several people in the triathlon world that I was attending the TBI conference, there were many people who had no idea what TBI was (some of the reactions where in much more colorful language). Just as I think TBI should work to include coaches and coaching companies, professional triathletes, and bloggers, pod casters and pundits in its ranks, I think it also should do some publicity to let the triathlon masses know who it is and what it does. Does every age group athlete need to understand TBI, no. Should everyone who is part of the growing business of triathlon understand TBI, yes. Not only will more information about TBI help grow the organization and the sport, it will also help in creating new connections, something TBI greatly prides.

With all this being said, I would jump at the opportunity to either present or attend the conference in the future.  Bringing people together to share ideas about a sport we all love is always a good thing.  I think the world of triathlon needs more of TBI, not less.


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11 Responses

  • Hurdle Co. says:

    Awesome summary Kelly. I thought your breakout session was very well organized and informative. I though the participant panel was great too.

  • Another well thought our, informative piece, thanks for the info!

  • Next time you present a topic like you did, I’d recommend providing barf bags. More than one person in the room was ready to throw-up.

  • I have personally asked many Pro Triathletes to attend. I could count on one hand the Pro’s that I have seen at TBI (outside of those who were asked to present). If Pro athletes want to be taken seriously, they need to be at this event. They weren’t there to prove that they are valuable, so how will the industry ever think that they ARE valuable. TBI could prove to be a great advocate for the Pro’s, but they NEED to get to this conference.

    • I agree completely. I think outside of Kona, this is probably the best place to meet, make connections and get noticed.

    • Charlie – the Professional athletes in this sport, could indeed, stand to be . . . more professional! There are a few who do get it and fulfill the role and responsibilities of being a professional athlete to the fullest. However, at the risk of offending there are many others, who clearly don’t. But the latter athletes credit, more than a few are not truly doing this full-time, and may have other sources of income. Understood given the rather meager total money paid out professionally in the sport. So indeed, it’s somewhat of a confusing situation.

  • Kelly,

    Great comments and analysis.

    “I think its the first triathlon event I have been to where I didn’t see hundreds of Ironman branded hats, shirts and bags” – which nicely sums up at least in North America right now part of the challenge – no play on words intended! :)

    Many want to dump on the WTC, but these days for many triathletes their first and perhaps ONLY exposure to a triathlon event of any kind is a WTC event! There is a much wider ranging world of triathlon, and triathlon events out there, but many, triathletes barely or never experience it.

    I’m not sure who’s “responsibility” it is to promote this “other” triathlon world. I know that I go out of my way to do it. Changes for stuff like this does NOT happen over night, and for a long time, beyond the local triathlon, the ONLY option for a bigger, longer race/event for many has been a WTC event.

    I’ve also been an advocate for people to race more and race more locally. A very common practice now is for a triathlete to train all year, eschewing ALL other races/event, to race in that one WTC event that they are prepping for. Races are fun. Races are where you learn the most. Races ARE the best training. I thought that’s why we do this!

    The good news is that there are more and other options now. Time will tell, what happens.

  • Kelly, thanks for your comments. I would add one more “minus” to the conference we produce: we need to be more inclusive in the nomination and voting process for some of our awards. I’m going to write about that on Slowtwitch as I continue on in my belated coverage of the conference. The one thing I’d touch on in answer to the topic of diversity is that we often have a problem getting the folks to come who would make us more diverse. As Charlie wrote above, we have done everything but pay the pros to come and charter airlines for them.

    Your praise and criticisms are important. Board members tend not to revel in we do right, but fixate on what we do wrong. Obviously bringing you to the conference was something we did right. But I won’t fixate on that – or whose idea it was to tender the invite ;-)

  • Kelly,
    Thank you so much for presenting (eye-opening!!) and attending. It was my second TBI and found the connections and networking even more amazing this year. As an RD, I saw the best of the best….TBI needs to get out to the “others.” It’s now our job to invite them to attend in the future. My apologies for not getting together with you to talk more.

  • Karen Sing says:

    We’re all stakeholders in the sport of Triathlon, so your presentation was especially relevant. Our past conferences have featured women’s panels, diversity, and also advocacy (Bikes Belong (Now People for Bikes) Vice President Bruno Maier) along with a few politicians as key note speakers. Thank you so much for your suggestions and observations: would you consider helping us to plan our 2016 conference topics and agenda?

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