ITU appoints Infront to 'direct, long-term partnership' role for first time
By Callum Murray
The International Triathlon Union said today that it has appointed Infront, the Switzerland-based international sports marketing agency owned by China’s Wanda Group, to sell international media rights, offer broadcasting services and develop sponsorship opportunities and digital strategies for its top-tier ITU World Triathlon Series and new ITU World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series.
The new agreement is described as a “direct long-term partnership” by Infront and the ITU for the first time, given that Infront previously performed the role through the Ironman organisation, after the endurance division of Lagardère Sports, the sports arm of the France-based media conglomerate (which held the contract before), was sold to Ironman, the long-distance triathlon events organiser also owned by Wanda Group in 2016.
The new direct arrangement between Infront and the ITU will help to "streamline resources," Infront said, and there will also be a new focus on digital strategies. It is understood that the contract will extend beyond the next edition of the Olympic Games in 2020.
Earlier this month, Infront advertised five new digital roles, including a head of digital sponsorship and advertising sales, a head of new business development, digital and a head of innovation, digital.
Infront underwent a dramatic brand overhaul towards the end of last year as it vowed to further its expansion into new areas, including a “strategic focus on enhancing its digital portfolio.”In a statement, Infront and the ITU said: “The announcement will allow for further growth of the series, with new digital developments helping to engage an even wider fan base. This includes through the OTT channel, TriathlonLIVE.”
Marisol Casado, the ITU’s president, said: “We are delighted to have on board a company with the expertise and deep knowledge of the sports market as Infront. Under this new agreement, we expect to grow together and expand our beloved sport even further. Especially taking into account that this year is the beginning, for all our athletes, of the road to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. We want to show all the amazing performances to the entire world, which I’m sure will be possible with the help of Infront.”
Stephan Herth, executive director summer sports for Infront, said: “We are delighted to be working directly with the ITU in order to jointly develop the media rights as well as other potential revenue streams. Infront has a history of providing a high-quality service for our endurance sport partners. I’m confident our strong track record will continue with this latest collaboration.”
The ITU World Triathlon Series comprises events in eight countries across the world in 2018, and is expected to attract over 40,000 and some 1.5 million spectators worldwide.
This year, the series will begin in Abu Dhabi on 2 March, followed by events in Bermuda, Yokohama (Japan), Leeds (UK), Hamburg (Germany), Edmonton (Canada), Montreal (Canada) and the Grand Final in Gold Coast (Australia).
This year will also mark the start of the new ITU World Triathlon Mixed Relay Series, with events in Nottingham (UK) in June and Edmonton (Canada) in July, as well as the World Triathlon Mixed Relay Championships held in Hamburg (Germany).
The new series brings together teams of two men and two women, with each athlete completing a ‘super-sprint’ triathlon of swimming, cycling and running, before tagging off to their next team mate. Triathlon mixed relay is due to make its Olympic debut at the 2020 games in Tokyo.
Last week Wanda sold a 17-per-cent stake in Spanish soccer’s Atlético Madrid to Quantum Pacific Group, the shipping and energy conglomerate, in a deal worth about €50 million ($61 million). Wanda bought a 20-per-cent stake in Atlético in 2015 for €45 million, but has recently been seeking to reduce its debt.
Wanda’s finances have been the subject of various headlines recently, notably with regard to its involvement in the property sector as it continues to sell group assets to alleviate debt concerns in light of increased scrutiny from regulators and a clampdown on foreign spending.
Wanda has asked banks to work on a proposed IPO for the group’s sports business, but Infront’s owner has no intention of ceding its majority shareholding, according to Philippe Blatter, Infront’s chief executive.
Speaking at the Spobis conference last month, Blatter said: “Clearly Infront is not for sale. Wanda is the major shareholder, [and] they want to keep the majority. Obviously they are being approached by different investors who say they’d like to invest into Infront or Wanda Sports.
“Wanda Financial Group is also looking at opportunities to find a strategic investor and if we want to do something, but clearly Infront is not for sale and is part of the strategy of Wanda moving forward.”
It was reported that Wanda had approached investment banks in December over an IPO of its sports operations, including Infront, which it bought for €1.05 billion (now $1.3 billion) at the start of 2015, and the World Triathlon Corporation, bought for $650 million.Sportcal