In the last 18 months, there has been a push within the triathlon industry to make the sport fit for television and create a broadcast product that can both showcase what triathlon is all about and entertain the masses. Organisations such as Ironman (the biggest triathlon company in the world), World Triathlon, and the Professional Triathletes Organization have made their intentions clear and embarked on the task individually.
World Triathlon is responsible for the World Triathlon Championship Series staged in many cities around the world and streamed on their platform TriathlonLive, as well as carried by global sports TV networks. The PTO came up with the Collins Cup, which is a long-course competition similar to golf’s Ryder Cup; it was streamed live online globally and broadcast around the world with a highlights package also broadcast on Eurosport. Ironman has taken to their Ironman NOW Facebook page to livestream their major races in addition to what is probably the longest-running triathlon broadcast with the Ironman world championship airing yearly on American NBC.
These have no problem attracting triathlon aficionado eyeballs. However, runtimes of four to seven hours with lackadaisical commentary and nothing exciting really happening on the race course can turn off all but the most dedicated fans.
Amongst all of this discussion around creating a viable triathlon broadcast product, when did we all forget that there is a proof of concept that’s already done the job?
The wheel has already been reinvented.
When putting triathlon on TV with the aim to make triathlon newcomers familiar with and appreciate the sport, it needs to be sharp, fast, and easy to follow. Super League Triathlon is specifically geared towards making triathlon an enjoyable event for triathlon enthusiasts and newbies alike.
MANA Sports and Entertainment CEO Chris McCormack launched Super League Triathlon in 2017 to showcase the best of everything about triathlon: the spectacle of suffering competitors you want to root for, the iconic locales that give each race in the series its own flavor and challenge, the excitement of crowds whipped into a frenzy.
What makes SLT stand out from the rest of the pack is that it was made from the ground up with broadcasting firmly in front of mind.
They didn’t take any existing races to tweak for must-see TV; each race’s course was specifically designed for SLT to showcase the racing action with great camera angles (as well as on-course spectating areas). The courses also create drama: dead turns that challenge competitors’ bike handling skills, steep hills that can work to one’s strengths or exacerbate weakness, short cuts like the Short Chute one can take if they win a stage or are fastest in a discipline.
SLT’s short format, timely onscreen graphics during the race, and on-point commentary allows newcomers to catch up quickly with what’s happening, making sure that viewers aren’t lost in the triathlon’s quick pace. Each race is done in about 45 minutes (or 1 and a half hours if you watch both men and women’s races back-to-back), with results displayed after the end of each race using a format that’s easy to see who’s winning and who’s not.
These come together to build a scintillating product that all viewers can enjoy.
Even for the live spectator, SLT firmly had the Formula 1 model in mind where it was never more than a few minutes before the action was back in front of you.
With the 2021 season, SLT has also introduced a team concept to triathlons. While it is currently an internally run and managed concept, you cannot help but see the business applications for this in the future. Similar to the NBA, NFL or even cycling, business-owned teams or franchises draft players to compete for them. This brings an opportunity for sponsors to buy slots in the league and make it grow bigger and more professional.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic which saw a halt to most forms of major racing it would seem that many of us forgot just how entertaining a product SLT is. SLT is the gold standard and should be the standard by which other triathlons structure their competitions because they’ve gotten their broadcast down to a science.
While triathlon as a sport becomes more and more fractured, there is power in acknowledging when something works. SLT works well and instead of trying to continue re-inventing the wheel, the future of the sport as a broadcast entertainment package should be built around what we know works. Super League Triathlon is that package.