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Panels, Breakouts, Sunshine and Elephants
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Friday 24th February 2012


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We've been covering the second annual Triathlon America Conference all week on Tri247 courtesy of our Brit abroad, Mark Cathcart. Here Mark rounds up some of the interesting panel sessions and breakout groups from the event, highlights the 'elephants in the room' and asks of Triathlon America - and the new UK trade body - "are they an association to grow the sport, or control it's growth?"

His roundup from the event? "The conference was a step-up from last year. A great set of keynote speakers, good breakout sessions and some interesting panels... One thing is clear, the UK Triathlon Industry Association has something to live up to."

You can find all of Mark's updates from the conference on these links:


Panels, Breakouts and more

There were a number of interesting panels. One of the standout contributions of the panel I attended was Melissa Merson, contributing to the "State of the Sport" panel, under the guise of Executive Director, National Coalition for Promoting Physical Education; but if you read my earlier post, you'll know she is also the USAT rep. to the ITU Executive.

Melissa spoke with passion and disagreed with many of the earlier speakers, including the sports leaders, when she said we do have spectators, triathlon is media friendly and that we've got to stop talking down the sport as we are setting up for continued failure to break into new markets. She talked about the new relay formats the upcoming WCS San Diego event and bidding for the 2014 WCS Grand Finale.

The breakout on "Importance of Tri Clubs to the Business of Triathlon" had three solid contributions, each of which had staggering club numbers, and budgets to go with them. Tri club of San Diego run many concurrent triathlon and training events, they obviously have easy access to the sea which helps, and year around reasonable weather. Interestingly, club President Thomas Johnson said that while they do triathlon and duathlons, their "biggest events were aquathlon". California Triathlon is an umbrella organization that has 125 member and affiliate clubs. Give the size of many of the clubs it would be bigger than many National Triathlon organizations. Briefly discussed by panel members were:

  • Training Ambassadors
  • Happy hours (of course!)
  • Advocacy, linking up with groups like the League of Bicycle voters
  • Family Support, celebrations and events
  • Monthly speaker series
  • Grant money for [non-tax liable] 501.C3 clubs
  • Olympic Champion programs for Juniors
  • Newsletters

I thought a couple of good points were organising volunteers to staff city pools and city training facilities so members could use them without the city funding staff. This makes sense anywhere with the recession is biting, have a few people trained to open, and act as safety for the location, lock up after the session; The other program which resonated with me was a no direct sale deal for companies wanting to sponsor or partner with the club. This means that a sponsor can't offer a discount of 25% direct to club members; they have to deal with a local retailer who then deals with club members. Another interesting point was 10% isn't a discount today, direct or indirect when national online retailers regularly offer 20% and in sales 40% and up.

Inside Sponsorship panel, Casey Cortese VP of Janus that I'd talked to on day one, made a great case on how athletes should approach sponsorship, "what's your story?". Don Shore, CEO Start2Finish marketing said RIP to "the long pitch", and complex presentations, understand your ROI, and what consumers were saying about sponsors products.

The writers panel featured three of the biggest recent triathlon books, including Fitzgerald (Iron War), Duggard (To Be A Runner) and Scott Tinley (Racing the Sunset, Ironman World Champion). Fitzgerald talked about a sport or organisations need to self censor, to publish only the good news and how it's a mark of a sports coming of age when authors don't self censor. Tinley talked about a similar concept, authenticity, recognition and legitimacy and writing "no fluff" and doing due diligence.

One of the breakouts covered the Triathlon America and active.com market research, you can read what panelist and conference attendee Mike Buteau, Bloomberg News made of the research here. The last session of the conference was the Hot Topics panel with Seaton Claggett, owner trisports.com and Dan Empfield, Publisher slowtwitch.com. The session turned quickly into a fireside chat with Dan, as it had last year. He makes a lot of sense in what he says about almost any topic related to triathlon, in this format though Dan is like Chinese food, 20-minutes later you are hungry for more.

You can find a complete list of the panels and breakouts in the agenda, here.

Sunshine and more elephants

In the writers panel, one thing in particular made me think. Fitzgerald talked about a sport or organizations need to self censor, to publish only the good news and how it's a mark of a sports coming of age when authors don't self censor. Yet here we were gathered at what was potentially the US most important triathlon meetings in years, with all the leaders of the top organisations world wide. Yet, there was little transparency.

For an organisation that included Empfield, who I count as a mentor, and who was a sponsor of the key USA Triathlon's sunshine policy, something I tried to get implemented at the old British Triathlon Association, but as a novice, got out-manoeuvred. Here I was, attending the second conference of an organisation where Empfield describes himself as a "funding" member although, officially a founding member. The lack of sunshine was certainly apparent in the awards; no call for nominations, no member voting, which makes it difficult to answer the five text messages that came in the next morning asking how one triathlon shop got an award, when another didn't. Me, no idea it was all done in secret.

Which is an interesting point for the UK Triathlon Industry Association to ponder as they go into their first meeting today, are they an association to grow the sport, or control its growth? Triathlon America needs to decide the same.

The other elephants at the Triathlon America conference were in no particular order:

Chrissie Wellington book. Despite having some of the sport's top authors in attendance, no one mentioned Wellington's biography which came out this week. Surprising, since Matt ended the writers session asking where was the next hero and Wellington had won the Triathlon America closed vote for the Ron Smith Female Athlete of the Year.

HITS Race series, an audacious attempt to run twelve new events, in 12 new cities around the USA, with a new organisation and over super-sprint, sprint, Olympic, half and full distance in the same weekend. At last year's conference I'd had the chance to do one of the early morning runs with organizer Mark Wilson, and to have lunch with Mark and the series backer. They were clear this was a multi-year investment, and when I exchanged emails back in October with Wilson he said things were going to plan, and they were still hoping to introduce professional competition and prize money in the 2013 series. Strange then that no one applauded, or even mentioned their efforts to grow the sport. I nominated them for a race award, most audacious new race series, voting was just held and they won. Who knew?

Drug Testing As I discussed in my opening post, last year drug testing of age groupers was even discussed, this year no mention.

And in discussion about the Olympics, and all the videos shown, correct me if I was wrong but while Alister Brownlee was ever-present, there was no mention or clips of Andy Potts and Hunter Kemper, the two stalwarts of US Olympic distance racing.

Overall though the conference was a step-up from last year. A great set of keynote speakers, good breakout sessions and some interesting panels. Meeting this time next year it will be interesting to see how the sport has indeed "grasped the nettle" and what changes are in place for 2013, with Messick's re-arranged schedule, HITS series with pros, USAT capitalising on Olympic distance and the Olympics and the ITU's ability to get buy-in to the new relay format.

One thing is clear, the UK Triathlon Industry Association has something to live up to.



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