With less than a month until the debut of the much-hyped PTO European Open in Ibiza, the start lists and wildcards are yet to be announced, with speculation on who just might show up running at an all-time high.
As we referenced in our recent articles, there will be a number of athletes desperate for a spot on the start line, but equally so, there are a number of big names who will be absent.
With the fields capped at 30 athletes in PTO Tour events this season, in a move to “spotlight the very best athletes“, have the PTO shot themselves in the foot and risked overselling their flagship events?
There are still so many question marks about the strength of field, the wildcards, and the big players who will be present, that with race day fast approaching, Ibiza risks slowing down the momentum the PTO has gathered over the last 12 months.
Has the PTO lost its appeal?
While we are on the subject of Ibiza, we have another pertinent thought to throw into the mix. With the World Triathlon Long Distance Championships held over the same weekend in Ibiza, the PTO are losing some of the best athletes in the world to an event over a similar (but slightly longer) format, with significantly less prize money.
Whilst the PTO European Open boasts a total $600,000 prize purse, the World Triathlon event offers a fifth of that amount, with a total of $120,000 up for grabs. This begs the question, which athletes would take an 80% hit on their potential winnings, and why?
Despite the significantly reduced kitty, world-class athletes who have featured heavily in PTO videos and social media posts in recent months, such as Kat Matthews, Joe Skipper and Clement Mignon, have all opted to race the Long Distance Championships.
Whilst “money isn’t everything” is a popular saying in professional sports, could it be that the PTO are beginning to feel the impact of this mentality? Are the best in the world, such as Skipper and Matthews, opting to leave the money behind as they instead chase titles?
If this continues to be the case, and the PTO fails to offer an attraction as meaningful as the title of World Champion, future events which clash with World Championships – such as the PTO Asian Open in August – will suffer, and the organisation will struggle to live up to the goal of ‘best of the best’ racing each other.
Whilst still a growing and evolving entity and only starting year two of its ‘Tour’ event, the PTO quickly needs to establish its place in the world of long-course triathlon. No matter how much money they throw at the professionals, the best in the sport are always going to be remembered for their performances in championship events, and not on how much prize money they accumulated.
Can the PTO Tour reach that level of status? That’s the puzzle that their new Executive Chair, Chris Kermode, has to solve. With a long history in Grand Slams of the tennis world, he does have some significant experience to call on.
The class of Europe, but where’s everyone else?
Whilst the PTO will want to showcase world-class field in Ibiza, the likelihood is, some of the biggest players on the world stage will not make the trip out to the Balearic Islands at the beginning of May.
Already, billboard names, such as Lionel Sanders, Sam Long and Jackson Laundry look to have committed to racing IRONMAN 70.3 St George instead, and despite being tipped for a wildcard slot, in-form Kiwi Mike Phillips is another who may well decide the travel is not worth his time.
On the women’s side, Skye Moench looks to be set for St George, with Jocelyn McCauley unlikely to race as she opts to defend her title at IRONMAN Texas, leaving the North American women as well as the men especially under-represented at the PTO’s first global event of the season.
With this event only being announced in February, and with professional athletes typically planning their racing season well in advance, it’s no surprise that athletes with a Transatlantic trip to consider opted to stay closer to home, leaving fields less competitive.
In fairness, this is something Kermode recognised in a recent interview with us, sharing that “I wanted to get the team to focus 100% on delivering four amazing events this year, rather than stretch themselves too thin, because we’ve got a plan to go bigger in 2024.
“And it does take time, but I can tell you when we are really up and running in 2024, we will have a calendar that will be fixed for five years.”
Nonetheless, dropping the ball on the early release of the 2023 schedule is likely to come back to bite the PTO this year, and the ramifications to the strength of fields will likely be felt in Ibiza. If the PTO is to succeed, the organisation needs to be exactly what the name suggests, organised.
Could Frodeno and Brownlee do more harm than good?
Unfortunately, both Brownlee and Frodeno have already withdrawn from races at the last minute in 2023, leaving the subsequent events in South Africa and Oceanside, despite featuring great performances by incredible athletes, a little underwhelming.
Triathlon fans have by now got their hopes up one too many times for a Frodeno or a Brownlee comeback, and an announcement of the pair competing in Ibiza might well be greeted with a fair bit of scepticism.
Whilst it would be a step too far to say the event would be better off without two legends of the sport, the hype around a potential showdown between the two – especially if it fails to materialise – threatens to detract from the potential match-ups elsewhere.
The more the PTO depends on the narrative of a clash of the titans in Ibiza, the harder it will be to deliver if one or more of the big names don’t pull through on race day. Banking on Frodeno and Brownlee, despite their stardom, is a risk that the PTO cannot afford to take.
What to expect
Despite the hype, the PTO European Open could have its work cut out to live up to expectations, especially if the fabled match-up between Brownlee, Frodeno and Olympic Champion Kristian Blummenfelt fails to materialise. That dream failed to materialise more than once already in 2022.
This starts and ends with the athletes, which is why already the 2024 PTO Tour should be finalised and on the verge of being announced now. Without this, athletes will stick to what they know, build up to the ‘Championship’ season arranged well in advance, and continue to choose IRONMAN over the PTO when it really matters. As an ‘athlete-owned entity‘, that’s clearly not optimal.
A reliance on the big names to garner interest is dangerous, as is creating calendar clashes for a “global” field.
The PTO project is still in its development phase, but Ibiza will be a significant pointer to its short-term future.