Private Equity Scooping Up Events

The two most visible corporations in triathlon that are backed by private equity have recently added to their holdings.

World Triathlon Corporation, backed by Providence Equity Partners, has brought most of the highest profile Australian events into its collection of races. It purchased USM Events last week, which means major triathlons in Noosa, Mooloolaba and Geelong are under the WTC ownership umbrella. USM also produces the Sydney WCS event, so it owns a piece of the ITU World Championship title.

Challenge Cairns is also part of the USM collection, which means WTC owns a major installment in the Challenge series. Challenge is one of WTC's most ardent competitors. WTC has not said whether the Cairns race will remain a
Challenge event after its June, 2012 installment, or whether there's a possibility it may flip to an Ironman after 2012.

The USM purchase also puts WTC's CEO, Andrew Messick, back into the cycling business. His prior job was heading up the Amgen Tour of California for AEG. By adding USM's events to the WTC family, he now runs the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, a 60-year old stage race that is Australia's oldest. It's also one of the world's oldest, having started in 1952. This is one of several cycling events USM produces in Australia.

Competitor Group, backed by Falconhead Capital, announced its purchase of The Nation's Tri in Washington DC during the annual Triathlon America Conference in Rancho Bernardo, California, this week. This race boasts the largest participant total of any triathlon in America, hosting a field of about 7,500 athletes.

The Nation's Tri is the second prominent triathlon Competitor Group has purchased in as many months. The Austin Triathlon becomes a part of the Land Rover TriRock series. This 2000-person event is to be rebranded Land Rover TriRock, and expands the number of TriRock races to six.

The TriRock finale will take place in November in Clearwater, Florida, such announcement made in early February. This is the former home of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. When WTC announced the move of its 70.3 worlds to Las Vegas, it placated the city of Clearwater with a season-finale 5150 race. But that race was one of several 5150 events canceled in 2011 due to subpar entries. The domiciling of a TriRock season finale in Clearwater may be sheer coincidence, but a successful TriRock in WTC's back yard would sting a little.

One note about the purchase of USM's races by WTC: This places Ironman squarely in the Olympic, and Olympic development, race business. This is not unwelcome by the International Triathlon Union. The ITU and WTC are on friendly terms and the staff of each held strategy sessions during the Triathlon America conference. This is a major change in posture for two groups that were bitter enemies for the better part of 15 years. But with changes in leadership at each organization, the bad blood seems a distant memory.

As all of the above activity has transacted during the first six weeks of 2012, is may be a harbinger of a more active pace in the roll-up of available marquis events.