The athlete-backed Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) has perhaps gone further towards achieving its goals of professionalizing and promoting its sport over the past two years than at any other time.
Originally formed in 2014 as the Professional Triathletes Union, there were differing views about the role the organization should play, and progress was slow – at times at an apparent standstill.
The appointment in 2019 of Sam Renouf as chief executive and the subsequent agreement of a funding deal with venture capitalist Michael Moritz in 2020, however, were the foundations needed for the PTO to build.
The inaugural edition of the long-proposed Collins Cup event – inspired by golf’s Ryder Cup and contested by USA, Europe, and International teams – was finally confirmed and staged for the first time in 2021, having been postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Its global viewership of nearly 7 million “surpassed all expectations,” the PTO said afterwards and paved the way for an even more significant launch.
Plans for the PTO Tour were unveiled at the end of 2021, with the new series bringing the PTO’s existing flagship triathlon events under one banner. Its first season last year, offering a total prize fund of $5.5 million, comprised the Canadian Open in Edmonton, the second Collins Cup in Šamorín, Slovakia, and the US Open in Dallas.
The series allowed the PTO to secure major international broadcast deals with the likes of media giant Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) and streaming service DAZN.
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As with many other sports, it has produced a documentary series, Beyond Human, aimed at telling the story of its athletes, and it also teamed up with Endeavor Streaming, a subsidiary of the international entertainment agency giant, to launch an in-house streaming platform.
Such was the success of WBD’s involvement that it came on board as an investor in the PTO at the end of last year.
With the second season of the PTO Tour just around the corner – kicking off with the European Open in Ibiza on May 6 before the US Open on August 4 and 5 and the Asian Open on August 19 and 20 – the PTO’s chief marketing officer Tim Godfrey spoke to GlobalData Sport about the achievements of the first season and how the series has evolved.
What level of viewership and engagement did the inaugural PTO Tour generate?
There seems to be an appetite for change within our sport at the moment. The 2022 PTO Tour races we staged in Canada, the US (PTO US Open in Dallas and PTO Pro-Am in LA), and the Collins Cup in Samorin, Slovakia, felt a real step forward and started to deliver on our goal to take longer distance triathlon to a broader audience.
To end up with a dedicated TV and streaming audience of 23.1 million in 170 territories, through top-tier broadcast partnerships like Warner Bros. Discovery and our own PTO+ platform is a testament to the sport’s potential. But success is about the whole media package, not just a dedicated TV and streaming metric.
Content consumption habits are constantly evolving so our non-live content offering has flexed its muscle across our digital channels and been a key pillar of building our always-on engagement towards those big, live, tune-in moments. That’s why our organic social results last year were also encouraging. We delivered 29.1 million video views, 125 million impressions, and 2.4 million engagements.
That said, we know there is still much to do as we are only at the start of our journey. But I am confident we are on the right path and that this is an exciting opportunity to modernize a sport and give professional triathletes the platform they deserve.
How did that compare to expectations at launch? And after the successful Collins Cup debut?
Some aspects of the PTO Tour are ahead of where we expected to be. For example, having a three-year broadcast deal in place with Warner Bros. Discovery and the fact it also became an investor in the PTO at the end of last year – which is a great validation of our strategy to try and make triathlon a broadcast sport. We also have multi-year deals in place with DAZN, ESPN, Fox Australia, and SPOTV – a testament to both our product and audience.
But we would have loved to have introduced more live data into the broadcast product to enhance the storytelling further. We’ve certainly got work to do there.
We’d also have liked to get our full 2023 PTO Tour calendar out there much earlier, which we’re committing to doing moving forward.
What reception has the tour had from athletes, spectators, broadcaster partners, and sponsors?
I’d say the feedback has been largely positive.
It’s been encouraging to hear over the last few weeks how the likes of Ashleigh Gentle, Alistair Brownlee, and Kyle Smith are really embracing the PTO Tour races, but I think there’s also much more we can do with them.
From a sponsor perspective, it’s been great to have Precision Hydration, Canyon, and FORM involved in year one, but I think there’s also an opportunity for more brands outside of triathlon to get involved.
With more sponsors wanting to get closer to the athletes, there are exciting storytelling and activation opportunities at the PTO, given we’re an organization that is co-owned by our amazing athletes and a sport that has one of the most valuable audience demographics.
To what extent has the offer for broadcast partners and sponsors evolved ahead of the second season?
We are hoping to introduce live data to the broadcast and create a second-screen experience for our fans watching at home. It’s what they want to see, and it helps contextualize what they’re watching. Especially in an endurance sport like ours.
From a sponsor perspective, it’s an exciting time to partner with a new sports body trying to take a relatively young sport like triathlon to the next level. This is a tour showcasing the very best of human performance, gender equality, and technology and data on a truly global scale that a sponsor can align with from the ground up – whether that’s through broadcast integration, event promotion, or fan engagement in iconic cities around the world, or athlete storytelling.
Take Kat Matthews, for example, who our in-house content team is following back to race fitness following a terrible crash at the end of last year. Her journey over the last few months exemplifies the grit and resilience our athletes have to display in addition to their undoubted speed and endurance.
How has the PTO Tour been developed ahead of the second season, and what can we expect from the new locations?
It’s about staging our races in iconic cities. The Tour de France has proved the importance of the backdrop to an endurance sport. Hence our desire to expand the PTO Tour into different continents where we can test our athletes on different courses, in different climates, and see different winners.
It’s one of the reasons we’re excited to be going to Ibiza for the inaugural PTO European Open on May 6 and then Singapore on August 19 and 20 for the first-ever PTO Asian Open, where amateurs will have the chance to swim in Marina Bay for the first time, which should be epic.
We want to make each PTO Tour event an experience – whether you race, spectate, or watch on TV.
More generally, what does the PTO Tour now offer potential host destinations and how are they selected?
PTO Tour events offer a rare opportunity for cities to host a global sports event with international broadcast that has both elite athlete activity and mass participation opportunities for amateurs.
Hosts can work with PTO to design an event program that meets local objectives and drives domestic priorities. For example, the 2022 PTO US Open held in Dallas drove a direct economic impact for the local area and was complemented by a PTO-inspired media and marketing campaign that saw Dallas native and Olympic sprint legend Michael Johnson promote the race, train with the athletes, and also join the global TV commentary as a special guest.
PTO races also offer exciting opportunities for amateur triathletes and everyday sports enthusiasts to get involved over the weekend, whether that’s to do their own 100km triathlon (2km swim, 80km bike, 18km run), a duathlon, or a fun run.
In terms of what we’re looking for from host cities, it’s about creating stand-out courses in great cities that give both the participants and those watching at home a memorable experience.
Finally, with a PTO Tour season under your belt, what is being targeted for the second season and beyond?
It’s about trying to ensure we continue the momentum of our first professional season and incorporate all the things I’ve already mentioned into the right package.
It’s also worth remembering the core ingredients that make a successful, professional sport. It’s about having the world’s very best athletes going head-to-head on a consistent basis at the biggest races – and bringing those athlete backstories to life so fans really care who wins.
The first episode of the PTO’s documentary series, Beyond Human, launched last week and follows the leading athletes across 2023.