The Business of Age Group Triathlon

In recent years, we’ve seen a new trend in triathlon marketing. In addition to using top professional athletes to endorse products, companies have recruited amateur (or age group) triathletes in their efforts to drive sales. Some of these amateur athletes, best known for regularly mentioning their brands on social media, are fast and very competitive. Others simply have a strong social media and/or blogging presence.

From my point of view, it’s extremely difficult to believe that brands could achieve a positive return on investment resulting from endorsements by amateurs, but the sheer number of companies implementing this strategy suggests that I must be missing something. In fact, there are a plethora of national and regional age group teams in the US that are built around this business model. In light of recent concern over the low pay of professional triathletes, I wish brands would focus their financial resources on supporting developing athletes and promoting the very best of the best. Others would argue that triathlon is a participation sport, not a spectator sport where fans are enamoured with famous celebrity athletes. Therefore, it’s just as effective to engage potential customers through peer-to-peer marketing.

This phenomenon is not unique to the United States. In fact, just like apologizing and going on holiday, the British are doing it much better than the rest of the world. To explore this topic further, I decided to interview an elite amateur triathlete from the United Kingdom. This gentleman, who has chosen to remain anonymous, is known on twitter as Elite Amateur Tri. He has been a passionate and strong proponent of age group triathlon in his home country, and I hope his story sheds further light on this issue.

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The Real Starky: We’re joined today by Elite Amateur Tri, an elite amateur triathlete from the United Kingdom. Elite Amateur Tri, tell us about life as an elite amateur triathlete in the UK.

Elite Amateur Tri: Hello from England! Well, what can I say about life as an elite amateur triathlete in the UK? All you really need to know is that there is an army of us talented and #blessed age group triathletes here in the UK. Most, however, are cruelly handicapped by having to work for a living, but one day we all aspire to reach the dizzy heights of full time training and full time sponsored athlete status. And we’re all sweating away in training, aspiring for the honour of representing our country and pulling on the famous blue #TeamGB trisuit. You also get to put ‘GB AG Triathlete’ in your Twitter bio, which is incredible. #OurGreatestTeam

In fact the only thing getting in the way of me fulfilling my potential and dreams of representing #TeamGB in the super-sprint distance aquabikathlon in Edmonville Canadia this year is that I have to work on Wednesdays. However, I’m considering crowd-funding as an alternative source of income. It is also because I saw that upgrading to premium economy on the flight costs an extra £300. I don’t want to pay for that myself, and my Dad isn’t that keen after shelling out four grand on my race bike.

TRS: In terms of prestige, how does representing your country as an AG Triathlete compare to the “honour” of representing your country in the Olympics?

Elite Amateur Tri: There’s no doubt that the Olympics is a decent standard, but I’m not sure you can compare the efforts of the professionals, who get regular massage and sleep 14 hours a day, to the trials and tribulations of an age group triathlete – especially those that have scaled the heady heights of qualifying for #TeamGB. Now in the 21st century, we can thank Twitter and Facebook for allowing these age group heroes to share their dramatic journeys with sponsors and fans! One fellow here in England used to be a smoker and now he runs 28 minutes for 5k and represented GB at the European Aquathlon Champs! He tells this dramatic, life-changing story on Twitter and a gripping blog. So thanks to social media we have shared this journey with him. There’s another chap who, by the sounds of it, has opened exactly 39 ‘cans of man up’ in preparation for the world champs sprint in Canadia. I can only imagine how many fingernails he broke in the process. What a sacrifice! This is what being an AG triathlete is all about – battling every day life’s challenges. The pros just don’t experience this.

TRS: Do you feel overshadowed by or inspired by professional British triathletes like the Brownlees, Non Stanford, Chrissie Wellington and Gordon Ramsay?

Elite Amateur Tri: Some of their performances are pretty inspiring, but actually I think it’s these guys that are intimidated by some of the AG athletes. As a group, we have far better marketing skills and attraction to sponsors. Watch the Brownlees – they have only two sponsors on their race suits. We have some AG athletes here in the UK that have about 10! One guy is stuck at 9 sponsors and is desperate to fill the last gap – his left leg – on his suit for the world champs in Canadia. Rumour has it that his local pizza restaurant is going to give him £3 off a ham and mushroom pizza this weekend which qualified them for the last spot on his suit. Getting the Luigi’s logo printed will cost the chap £10 but at least then he will have a full race suit. It’s a proven fact, backed by #science, that you out-psyche your competition on the start line of a race the more logos you have on your kit.

And don’t be silly about Gordon Ramsay, we all know he’s a professional actor not triathlete. In fact he is the model age grouper. It must have been a proud day for him when he finally qualified for Kona. What a great example to all of us hard working AG athletes chasing our dreams. We just wish he would swear less. It’s a little uncouth and American. Any more of that and you can keep him.

TRS: What the fuck are you talking about? Anyway, let’s move on. Talk to me about #TeamGB. Is the team as stacked as ever? How do you like your chances in Edmonville? I imagine it must be terribly difficult to make the national team.

Elite Amateur Tri: Quite simply the #TeamGB AG team is the gold standard in international triathlon and calling the team ‘stacked’ doesn’t do it justice. It is very hard to make the team, but a few hundred lucky souls manage it each year. I think it’s become so competitive that the younger male age groups now require a sub-2.30 Olympic distance time at the qualifying races. Wow!! It just goes to show the progress that has been made in our sport in recent years.

I haven’t made the team yet, but have my fingers and toes crossed that I get the last rolldown slot for the super-sprint aquabikathlon team. It would be a dream come true.

The dominance of the GB team is such that I think it scares other nations away from even turning up at the big championship races. Check out the results from the European Champs in Turkey in 2013 – all the other nations were running scared! I think we won 144 of 147 available age group medals. Now that’s #marginalgains

TRS: Tell me more about these #marginalgains. You Brits, like Team Sky and the track cycling team, are big on this. What examples are there in triathlon?

Elite Amateur Tri: We don’t need to look any further than the incredible advances in #science that British sports nutrition companies are making. You may have your #whitemilk but we have age specific energy and recovery drinks for the over 35s and the latest incredible invention is coming from the clever boffins at Jack Oat Bar, which has developed a sprint distance specific flapjack, which is scientifically proven, in an anecdotal study of 3 people, to make you at least 6% faster in a sprint triathlon! #wow #science #marginalgains #flapjack

Quite frankly, if you’re a 45 year old sprint distance athlete, I’m not sure you even need to train any more! We should be guaranteed a clean sweep of the medals at Edmonville in that category thanks to these #marginalgains, We are just #blessed that these incredible scientists are sponsoring #TeamGB AG heroes to spread the word, with their subtle tweeting and topless selfies clutching a bottle or energy bar between their butt cheeks.

TRS: You write quite a bit about knowledge. What does knowledge mean to you and how is it different than science?

Elite Amateur Tri: #knowledge is the practical application of #science. If applied correctly it should result in #sixpercent improvements. And that is British #flapmaths for you.

TRS: Obviously you must be sponsored. Tell us about the brands you work with and what that relationship entails. Do you think you represent your sponsors as well as a top professional athlete?

EAT: Of course! I am proudly supported by #AnyOldIron, Hampshire’s leading sheet metal wholesaler. I have a close relationship with the company and we’ve worked together for many years. I think the founder, Bob, who is also my Dad, sees the day to day struggles that the #journey to becoming one of the UK’s leading multisport athletes takes, and supporting me is his small way of giving back to the local community and contributing towards #TeamGB’s international sporting success. The contract we signed is that I work on Wednesdays but Bob pays me for 1.5 days of work per week. In return I put the #AnyOldIron logo on my race suit during my triathlon #journey and #podiumquest and I also tweet about #AnyOldIron to my 400 followers, any one of whom might be attracted to #AnyOldIron’s great deals on sheet metal and become one of its largest customers for many years to come.

But it’s gone further than this – after seeing the impact his support for me was having on business, Bob decided to launch an amateur development triathlon team called Flapjack AnyOldIron Race Team, or #FART, where each of the chosen team members would be given 500sqft of sheet metal to build their own luxury training #manshed. Then my uncle Clive heard about this and got rather excited. He runs Choppers, Hampshire’s leading tree surgery, and is keen to get Choppers involved in the team. So the team was then renamed #ChoppersFART. However it’s all gone quiet as I think they’re still negotiating terms on how any prize money that the team athletes win will be divided up between Bob and Clive. I tried to tell them that amateur triathletes don’t earn prize money, but they told me to shut up. Hopefully they’ll have the team up and running for the 2015 season. I’m keen to submit my application – I could really do with a new #manshed for my #smashfest indoor sessions.

Can we end this interview now please? I’ve got to do my second turbo (that’s ‘indoor trainer’ for you guys) session of the day, and I can hear my bike whimpering in anticipation of what’s to come. After all, #BetterNeverStops. It’s been fun talking. Hopefully see you in Canadia. #RockTheCock #flapjack

About the Author

Ben Hobbs
Ben Hobbs is Publisher of TRS Triathlon and host of TRS Radio. Follow @TRS_Tri