In the wake of World Triathlon Corporation’s (“WTC”) decision to eliminate prize purses at several North American Events (Lake Placid, Louisville, Wisconsin, Boulder, Lake Tahoe, Florida and Los Cabos) in 2015 and leave only seven races in North America with points and prize money (Chattanooga, Arizona, Cozumel, Texas, Coeur D’Alene, Whistler and Mont Tremblant) there have been mixed reactions. As an aside, WTC implied that there would be changes to the European races, however, the European schedule was recently released without changes (and without a press release indicating why there were no changes). While some people think this decision was intentional — e.g. to compete with Challenge in Europe — I think the more likely reason is that WTC ran out of time due to poor planning and lack of foresight. I know some people who have been excited about the changes — deeper fields, more competition, better prize purses at the events that survived — while others are very unhappy with WTC’s decision. In fact in response to WTC’s announcement Maverick Multisport has been circulating a #KeepOurPros petition (you can check it out here) in attempt to bring pros back to Ironman Louisville.
Personally I don’t know if WTC’s decision is good or bad but there a few things that bother me. First, it does not seem equitable. The United States has a total population of 314 million and 550,000 members of USA Triathlon, Australia has a total population of 22 million and 14,000 members of Triathlon Australia yet both now have 4 Ironman races with points and prize money. Something seems off. Second, the decision was made without general input from all the stakeholders. While WTC has two salaried pro liaisons (Jordan Rapp and Craig Alexander), it does not appear that professionals at large, teams, coaches and local impacted communities were contacted or consulted about the potential changes. Its a classic ipse dixit argument, WTC made the “correct decision” because WTC says it made the “correct decision.”
Now, let’s be clear, WTC is a private company that only answers to its shareholders. Yet, WTC has done something that directly and indirectly impacts thousands of people. Looking at the situation in its totality, it appears that the big question is not “how to save the pro race in Louisville” or even “how to save pro races in North America” but rather, what can be done in any situation (pro prize money, equality in Kona, age group Kona qualification, etc.) to actually influence WTC’s decision making process? Looking back over the past five years, I can find two instances in which WTC changed a major program/event in response to public outcry — the Ironman Access Program and Ironman New York City — both serve as useful models. For those new to the sport, the Ironman Access Program allowed athletes to be “first in line” to register for Ironman events in exchange for a $1,000 payment to WTC. As soon as the program was announced it was met with public outcry — but more importantly people did not sign up for the program (its interesting to compare the Ironman Access Program, which people generally hated, to the Ironman VIP Experience in which friends and families of athletes pay a lot of money for things you can pretty much get for free). WTC rescinded the program almost immediately and the then-CEO Ben Fertic issued a video apology to athletes. WTC backtracked again with regard to Ironman New York City. After a fairly successful, but logistically challenging Ironman New York City in 2012, WTC announced that the price for registration for the 2013 race would increase from $895 to $1200 (although the $1200 would include a special commemorative watch) and that the cutoff time would decrease from 17 hours to 15 hours. The interwebs went wild, people complained and lambasted WTC and (this is the important part), people did not sign up. WTC quickly cancelled the 2013 event citing logistical and financial concerns. See the pattern? WTC “listens” to the public when the public speaks with their wallets.
While I think things like Maverick Multisport’s petition and The Real Starky’s #IMLP7th campaign are great for raising awareness of the issues (and, to a certain extent embarrassing Andrew Messick and WTC), the only thing WTC is going to listen to is the almighty dollar. What does this mean? WTC will only make changes if they feel that their policies and decisions are negatively impacting the bottom line or, in simpler terms, if people stop signing up and sponsors stop writing checks. Maybe, instead of being Vox Clamantis in Deserto, we should actively chose to race non-WTC races, educate our fellow athletes about these non-WTC races (you don’t have to do a WTC race in order to be a “real” Ironman) and inform WTC’ sponsors about our disappointment in WTC’s decision to re-structure the professional prize purse / points system without input from stakeholders. If we can stop the dollars from flowing into WTC and its shareholder’s pockets, perhaps WTC will start to listen.