Short answer: No one exactly knows yet.
Now, here’s the long answer:
Major League Triathlon is a new race series launching next year, with four races and a whole lot of talk about changing the sport. In some ways, it has many of the hallmarks we’ve all seen before. There will be age group sprint and Olympic distance races. There will be a professional series for the spectators to watch. There will be beer.
In some ways, though, it’s a little different. The 32 professionals will compete in a mixed team sprint relay — which, for some reason, is the event everyone keeps trying to make happen right now — on eight teams of four. Those teams will be the same throughout the season and will be tied to specific cities, just like the Kansas City Royals, ideally engendering those cities’ pride and interest. (Of course, the difference being that the players on the Kansas City Royals largely live in or around Kansas City.) Four of the teams will be named for the cities where the races are located, with the other four being locations that will likely have races next. Organizers Daniel Cassidy and Daniel Imperato are counting on that pro race, plus a whole fitness festival, to attract extra spectators beyond the usual friends and family.
Right now, plans are for the fitness festival to include a concert series of “top national bands,” kid’s events, fun runs, yoga or spin classes, for example, and a beer garden of local breweries.
“We’re trying to bring in a new spectator fan base,” said Cassidy.
Cassidy and Imperato were roommates at College of the Holy Cross, which they both graduated from in 2013. Imperato, who is serving as Major League Triathlon’s COO, worked for two years as an actuary at the Hanover Insurance Group before starting this venture. Cassidy, who is the CEO, worked in the financial services office at Ernst & Young for a year, after a grad school degree in marketing from Cornell, and then left to found Push Potential Marketing, a sports marketing company focused on the endurance market. It is Cassidy who brings the triathlon experience, having raced through college and after.
Cassidy said that it was when he finally watched his wife do her first and only race that he realized just how boring triathlons are — though, in my opinion, if you’re bored watching a triathlon, you’re doing it wrong; beer cans are portable.
“I want to make it more fun,” he said. That’s where the idea for Major League Triathlon came from.
The two are funding the venture for now through capital raised from friends and family. But the business plan is to bring in cash flow from age group registrations, with the hope being for about 800 athletes in the two age-group races at each of the weekends. They then plan to bring in long-term larger sponsors from outside the traditional triathlon companies, who Cassidy believes will be attracted by the extra spectators.
The details of the four races won’t be announced until later this year and registration isn’t expected to open for age group racers until late December or early January. It appears, however, that for now the races will primarily be in the south, midwest, and northeast. (Those of us in California are always waiting for these new cutting-edge races to make it out here…) After Cassidy and Imperato made presentations to various cities, they’ve now accepted bids from four of them and signed contracts, though it is not clear what those contracts entail. Four more cities will be added for 2017.
The other important details yet to be announced are who the pros racing are and what they’ll be winning.
All the professional racers will be guaranteed a minimum amount of money — a small stipend for each race — plus the potential to win additional small individual primes, and moderate-sized prizes for the top teams and for the overall series. It is also likely that homestays and some travel support will be provided, but nothing is yet finalized.
The goal, said Cassidy, is to eventually grow those prize purses and ultimately have provide salaries, but, he said, they don’t want to make the mistakes other races have made and grow too fast unsustainably. Ideally, they want to turn those pros into “local celebrities” and showcase them. One perk of the mixed team sprint relay is that it lends itself to being spectator-friendly and to potential short TV coverage.
Right now, the two are talking to athletes to finalize who the 32 professionals will be. All the athletes will have to commit to all four races, obviously, and will likely put on some swim clinics or do meet and greets as well. For equally obvious reasons, it’d be nice to have some local athletes from the regions where the races happen, to represent that city’s team. Talking to some interested athletes, it appears that it will be primarily US domestic pros, though I doubt MLT would turn away a bigger name.
Will it work?
If they’re truly able to turn it into a festival and draw larger crowds beyond the age group racers, then, sure, they’ll be able to attract larger sponsors. But that depends on specifics, like which bands are performing, what “national brands” put on the spin classes, where the event is, and how it is marketed. The appeal of hanging out to watch the pro race will depend on who the pros are and how good the beer garden is. A lot still needs to be figured out, but, if they did it right, I could see the fun of following and rooting for a local pro triathlon team over the course of the year — if it was convenient.