How Do We View Triathlon?

It’s an undeniable fact that one of the key launching points for triathlon as a sport is the infamous crawl of Julie Moss, broadcast to millions of viewers on ABC’s Wide World of Sports telecast about the IRONMAN World Championships. And it is arguably that moment that we have spent the past thirty plus years attempting to recreate. Those television moments have all but evaporated for triathlon, outside of the single hour-long broadcast of Kona on NBC. And with the decline in television chances, we’ve seen the disappearance of most large non-endemic sponsorships.

The fact of the matter is this: we have to find a new way to broadcast our most popular moments within the sport. And we’re seeing some of them come to life over the next couple of weeks.


Pay-per-view isn’t exactly a new model. For other large single-attraction events, pay-per-view is the backbone of their business. Boxing and professional wrestling have long drawn hundreds of thousands of buyers willing to plunk down between $40 and $70 for approximately four hours of entertainment. Seeing as your typical 70.3 triathlon would fit within this window, it’s arguably the most direct comparison.

We have seen pay-per-view in triathlon before. For instance, this past December’s CLASH Endurance Daytona event featured a pay-per-view model. And we will again see PPV on display this weekend with Waterfall Bank’s Couples Championship.

But for many fans of triathlon, PPV is a tough sell. This is especially true if what you’re selling is something that you have previously given away for free. For example, CLASH drew a significant livestream the year prior during the PTO Championships. They, in conjunction with the NBC Sports broadcast team, put together a compelling product. It was free. This year, they asked for purchases of that livestream and watched their viewership plummet.

One could make the argument that the issue was that the race itself did not feature the same depth of field that the prior year had, which meant interest was down. But I would hazard that many people made the decision that they simply weren’t willing to pay for something that had previously been offered for free. And, in many other cases, like some of IRONMAN’s premier events, will continue to be offered for free. What makes CLASH different is the speedway experience – and that’s compelling when it comes to choosing to race with them. It’s less compelling as a broadcast experience in the face of free coverage for other like-distance events.

Which brings us back to the Couples Championship. There’s nothing else like it in triathlon – it is a unique event featuring professional athletes, their relationships and their families. You can’t get a similar viewing experience elsewhere. And it’s short enough, and priced to reflect that. That gives it a better chance of succeeding for one-time viewing versus an event that more closely aligns with “traditional” events.

Subscription Model

Long-term, I believe this will wind up being the strategy that you see come from the Professional Triathletes Organisation and IRONMAN. It mirrors one that has already been relatively successful within triathlon – the World Triathlon subscription. You pay a single fee per month or for the season, and then you have unlimited access to livestreams.

It’s also the model that has been the go-to for most professional sports leagues as they look to pivot away from being beholden to a network (and the frequently changing landscape of cable). From MLB TV (and subsequent radio network) to NFL Network and beyond, we’re seeing leagues attempting to own and distribute more of its own content versus relying on a broadcast partner to ensure that it appears.

We’re starting to see inklings of this. IRONMAN’s partnership with Outside TV for certain 2022 events is the first domino. But this just covers event broadcasts and doesn’t contemplate, say, behind-the-scenes stories of athletes building for races and beyond. That’s where, in my opinion, you see PTO coming onboard. Yes, they’re producing some large-scale events in 2022 and will more than likely have a fee-based streaming model for those events. But I also think for there to be a viable subscription service, it’ll take a marriage of the kinds of behind-the-scenes content that some of their athlete leadership (say, Lionel Sanders) have produced, and marrying it with event broadcasts.

Regardless of the avenue selected by the event producers of our sport, we are at the closest moment we’ve been since the days of Wide World of Sports at being able to reach a hungry audience. Now all that’s left is to give them good content.