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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.