Chris McCormack reviews triathlon broadcast state of play

Mar 18, 2024 | News

There is sport as it has been traditionally played. And then there is sport made for broadcast entertainment and the consumption of viewers today. When it comes to drawing eyeballs and holding attention in this era of live streaming, video on demand and second screens, sports have needed to evolve as they compete for a limited pool of commercial partners and airtime.

The sport of triathlon already has a history of evolving to be broadcast-friendly: the Olympic format (1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike, 10-kilometre run) came about because competition needed to fit within a two-hour timeframe for the Olympic broadcast packages. The mixed relay format introduced at the Tokyo Olympic Games added even more excitement and unpredictability with team members each racing super-short swim-bike-runs in quick succession.

For the past eight years, four-time triathlon world champion and Mana Global executive chairman Chris McCormack has been at the forefront of triathlon’s continued evolution as a broadcast entertainment product. He co-founded the world’s fastest triathlon series supertri (formerly Super League Triathlon) in 2017 and has continued to tweak its structure and execution in the years since, as well as mounted the behemoth Pho3nix Sub7 and Sub8 Project, powered by Zwift in 2022 that saw four world-class athletes race the fastest-known times across the triathlon full distance.

Both supertri and Sub7 Sub8 were conceptualised with a key focus on entertainment, bringing the excitement, drama, and superstar athletes of the sport into millions of households and in front of new eyeballs globally. And it worked: by 2022 supertri was aired by 20 broadcast networks across 7 regions and 145 countries, with an estimated reach of more than 35 million unique viewers and media value of 88.5 million Euros. For Sub7 Sub8 the same-day nine-hour livestream drew more than 1 million impressions on Youtube; the one-hour highlights package was distributed to 40 networks worldwide with a reach of 550 billion people across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the Caribbean and the Americas and is now available on demand on Prime Video in the US and the UK.

It is with this background that McCormack views any triathlon coverage currently available.

“Many say we should just be happy to have our sport presented on television, but anyone with any knowledge of the sports industry and the value of content and eyeballs will tell you that sport doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” he told Tri247 in an interview about the broadcast coverage for the T100 Miami race over the weekend. “The commercial side of sport is valued against, from a broadcast point of view, the content quality and output, the storytelling, camera selection and director cuts from a live perspective, live planning, branding and the product itself.”

For McCormack, the visual storytelling is key. “It is imperative to have a clear and defined brief on what the visuals for the race need to look like, and align this with fixed camera positions, camera focus shots (long shots versus up-close shots) and align all that with a broader story narrative.”

The wrong selection of camera angles can make athletes look like they’re going at a leisurely clip rather than breakneck speeds powered purely by human effort. Conversely, the right shot selection communicates the importance and significance of what the athletes are attempting to achieve. Commentary and graphic packages also offer background and context and set the narrative for what is being visually presented. 

“Triathlon is a unique sport compared to so many others as we move from water to fast bicycles to running, so this transition of pace needs to be aligned,” he said. “When we delivered the Sub7Sub8 event in the midst of COVID, we were aware of the lack of crowds and what this looks like on a TV broadcast – how can you claim this is the biggest sport in the world and then show that no one even locally finds it exciting enough to turn up? It’s about ensuring you cut tight camera angles and bring the athlete to the front as the hero.”

In the end, for McCormack it’s about making sure the finished product lives up to the hype you’ve built around it. “I think in any venture you are involved in, it’s imperative that you put the focus first on product, and delivering on what you claim you will achieve. That’s the way I have always operated.”

Read the full interview on Tri247.

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