WTC enters short course arena

World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), owners of the Ironman series of triathlons, formally made the long-awaited announcement yesterday of its foray into short-course racing.

The new distance is called 5150 (or 5i50), with Ironman's ubiquitous dot over an "i", reminiscent of its M-dot logo accompanying the Ironman races.

The series promises professional athletes "the opportunity to compete for $1 million in prize money." No breakdown of how that money will be paid out is listed in the press announcement.

At its 2010 event, the Hy-Vee race itself paid out roughly $750,000 in prize money. That race, held on Des Moines, Iowa, was sub-titled the ITU Triathlon Elite Cup in 2010, and for 2011 becomes the 5150 Elite Cup. The Hy-Vee race website already bears the name change. This race also serves as the 5150 U.S. Championship, while the final race on the 2011 calendar, held in November in Clearwater, Florida, will serve as the "Series Finale."

Several 5150 series race owners contacted by Slowtwitch referenced Ironman's power and knowledge of how to conduct a campaign of races across the arc of a season.

"Ironman knows how to produce a series," said Charles Brodsky, owner of The Nation's Tri contested in September, as well as a June race on the 5150 calendar.

Brodsky also noted that his June race (formerly a race on the ITU calendar) will benefit from the formidable advertising and notice presented in all of Ironman's publications, presumably incuding Lava Magazine.

Nautica New York City Triathlon's John Korff also found value in an Ironman partnership. His race bolts from the Life Time Fitness Series, and moves from the Race to the Toyota Cup to the 5150 Elite Cup. What Korff envisions is that, "New York will likely be a cornerstone for the series because it's New York.

"I feel the association with the Ironman brand is an equal brand partnership with the brand New York City," Korff also noted. "That's the appeal and why I signed up."

The races will be staged in a no-draft format. The 2011 series will consist of:

2011 5150 Series (United States)
March 13: Miami International Triathlon (Miami, Fla.)
May 1: St. Anthony’s Triathlon (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
May 15: 5150 New Orleans (New Orleans, La.)
May 22: Memphis in May Triathlon (Tunica, Miss.)
June 19: Washington D.C. Triathlon (Washington, D.C.)
June 25: 5150 Provo (Provo, Utah)
July 10: Boulder Peak Triathlon (Boulder, Colo.)
August 7: Nautica New York City Triathlon (New York, N.Y.)
September 4: Hy-Vee Triathlon/5150 U.S. Championship (Des Moines, Iowa)
September 11: 5150 Lake Lanier (Gainesville, Ga.)
October 2: 5150 Lake Las Vegas (Henderson, Nev.)
October 23: 5150 Galveston (Galveston, Texas)
November 12: 5150 Clearwater/5150 Series Finale (Clearwater, Fla.)

2011 5150 Series (International)
June 5: 5150 Frankfurt (Frankfurt, Germany)
June 12: 5150 Klagenfurt (Klagenfurt, Austria)
July 9: 5150 Zurich (Zurich, Switzerland)

There are significant departures from the 5150 series and the way Ironman has executed its branding in the past.

Ironman has always been in the name. Even 70.3 events carry the Ironman name, for example, Ironman 70.3 California, or Ironman 70.3 Muncie. It isn't "Ironman 5150." In the case of this new brand, "Ironman" is absent. This lack of the Ironman name in a WTC event brand is unprecedented, with the exception of Irongirl events.

Also new is the lack of brand continuity in the naming of these events. WTC has been routinely strict about the way it presents both the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 brands and logos, a practice noted in companies (WTC included) heavily reliant in the weight the brand carries. More than half of the races in the just-announced 5150 series do not carry the 5150 name in the race title.

Brodsky pointed out, however, that he'll advertise his Washington DC race with "A 5150 series event" just below the name of his race, as part of the logo lock-up.

"We're still the Nautica New York City Triathlon presented by RCN," Korff noted about his 5150 series event, and that is part of the appeal to Korff. Whether the subordination of WTC's new brand name will help build it remains to be seen.

Further to the naming confusion is whether this is 5i50 or 5150. WTC's press release prints 5150 in its text, and Hy-Vee references 5150. However, the logo is clearly 5i50.

Another departure is WTC's use of a distance neither of its own invention, nor is it a derivation of its own. Both Ironman and Ironman 70.3 feature distances born from the original Hawaiian Ironman. The 5150 distance was introduced by Jim Curl and Carl Thomas during triathlon's original run-up in popularity during the 1980s, and their USTS brand popularized the 1.5/40/10 motif that eventually became the template for the Olympic distance.

The personal and professional relationships between Bill Burke and several of the larger race owners helped cement the deals. "Bill is a personal friend, and his advice to me has always proven sound," said one such race owner. Burke works with most of the most prominent series race owners, including the Hy-Vee Triathlon, The Washington DC Triathlon, and the Nautica NYC Triathlon.