2021 proved to be quite a year for Ruth Astle – but did terrific results on the course translate to financial success?
The overall Age-Group winner at the 2019 IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Astle soon switched to the Pro ranks after achieving that target, and finished eighth at IRONMAN Western Australia in December 2019 on her Pro debut.
Ruth finished 2021 at #30 in the PTO World Rankings. That would have resulted in a $5,000 year-end bonus – but how much did she earn across the whole of 2021?
That was the topic in an insightful video on her YouTube channel, which dropped over the holiday period.
2021 – a breakthrough season
We were on-site for Ruth’s two UK-based events in 2021 – fourth at the PTO-supported Dorney Triathlon, and a first Pro win at the Outlaw Half Holkham, another event with PTO backing – but it would be Q4 2021 when she truly made her mark at the top level.
Despite having to nurse a running injury in the second part of the season, Astle secured a breakthrough win at IRONMAN Mallorca, taking the tape (and breaking the nine-hour mark), barely a minute clear of Justine Mathieux (FRA).
Off the back of that success – and just five weeks later – Astle headed to Port Elizabeth for the IRONMAN African Championship, where (by less than two minutes again…), she held on for victory at Nelson Mandela Bay.
Two wins – both with $15,000 first prize cheques – happy days, right?
The finances of pro triathlon
If your primary motivation is financial success, then professional triathlon is unlikely to be a career of choice. There are certainly worse options, and the landscape is in a transition phase at the moment with initiatives from the PTO, Super League Triathlon and others. But for the vast majority, ‘living the dream’ might not be quite what you expect.
Inspired by the likes of Cody Beals and his annual budget analysis blogs, Ruth now provides an insight into the question of whether she makes any money from triathlon.
While those $15,000 prize wins are great in isolation, there are a lot of costs associated with being a triathlete across the year, especially for one who is at the relatively early stages of her Pro career.
In her first (pandemic-impacted) full season of 2020, Ruth estimated that her overall year brought a loss of about £1,000. How would 2021 compare?
Just to train, race, travel, buy equipment and the like, Ruth outlined costs of just over £16.5k for the year. Even there, those costs could have been significantly more had it not been for friends providing accommodation on several overseas trips. Accommodation costs kept to just £1,280 is remarkably low, given the amount of travel undertaken.
Significantly above that were flight costs – not helped by the Omicron virus creating travel restrictions just at the moment that she was in South Africa. That alone was an impossible-to-predict incremental £2,500 hit, just to find flights to be able to get back to the UK.
It’s easy to look on with envy at some of the high-end bikes which Pro athletes ride – but there’s no F1 pit crew behind the scenes to keep them running perfectly. More than £4,000 was incurred on bike parts and servicing alone. “I ride a lot, things break!”
One interesting takeaway from the video is that as of yet, Ruth hasn’t received the prize winnings from those race wins in Mallorca and South Africa, so cashflow is another curve ball to add into the mix.
Alongside the PTO events, estimated prize money for the year is around £22k, nicely topped up with some podium bonuses of around £6k.
Further evidence that it takes time to build financial relationships with sponsors while you are developing as an athlete, is some welcome – but relatively small in the overall picture – financial sponsorship. Twelve months on from now, on the back of her 2021 season, hopefully that will continue to grow.
The bottom line? Well, the smallest current source of income for the season is from YouTube ad revenue, which of course will be highly linked to subscribers and video views.
Given that… we are not going to spoil the ending here (and hopefully help push a few more of you to watch the video!), so go ahead and give it a watch. It is well worth eight minutes of your time.
While she is racing and winning as a professional athlete, Ruth is still working part-time too, where she is a Senior Manager for Lloyds Banking Group.
“I’m pretty happy that I’m not relying on triathlon for my income! At the moment this is my go into a little savings pot to help go back towards triathlon next year.
“I hope that by the end of next year I’m in a position where I’ve had good enough results that I can hopefully attract a few more cash sponsors, as well as other sponsors.
“For me the priority is still working with brands that I really like and believe in. That’s partly why I’m still working for Lloyds, to make sure that I’m not dependent on triathlon for my financial support as it means that I have the freedom to choose who I work with, which is quite nice.”
Sponsorship – a two-way street
We’ve spoken frequently in recent months about the changing ways in which athletes are engaging with the audience – fans, sponsors, media and more – and that is something that Ruth is well aware of.
“The other thing that is really important is thinking about the value that you add back to people, which is where we’ve got to try and create this content package, giving good content back to the brand that are supporting me and Jack [Schofield, of Two26 Photography, who produces Ruth’s YouTube content].
“It’s important to think about why they are supporting you. Yes, results is part of it, but ultimately they need something to help them sell things to people.”