Spectators and Fans of Triathlon: Random Thoughts
Do you know Scott Tinley?
Neither do I. But I am familiar with his books and a bit of his history in the sport of triathlon. His writing style resonates with me and probably will appeal to you too.
Today I focus on one particular column that he wrote many years ago. It may have been originally published in Triathlete Magazine, or Competitor Magazine, or Cosmopolitan Magazine… not sure which. Probably not Cosmo.
Anyway, the gist of the article was a humorous take on the difficulty of being a triathlon spectator. You should read it. Look for it in the book, “Finding the Wheel’s Hub.”  Tinley, S. 1995. Finding the Wheel’s Hub. The Trimarket Co., PaloAlto, CA. p56. . To me it seems that he laments that triathlon is not a spectator friendly sport.
In case you are not clear on the concept of what it is like to watch the action in a typical triathlon, think about what it is like to watch your daughter’s college graduation: a lot of people you don’t know quickly moving across the arena/stage and then, for a brief moment, you see the one person you came to cheer for.
Here’s my take on triathlon spectators: love them if they are there, but don’t bust your butt trying to get them there.
Maybe you’re thinking, “All legitimate sports have large fan bases” or “All legitimate sports attract large crowds” or “All legitimate sports have drunken brawls in the bleachers”. Triathlon doesn’t need any of that to be ligit; even though the brawls would be fun to get on video.
Just Do It
Triathlon and other endurance sports are legitimate in a way that is different from the big three sports (or four if you’re from Canada). Fans of triathlon don’t go to WATCH a triathlon. They go to BE triathletes. They are true fans of the sport; not of a team or a league or a star player.
In general, triathlon is not something you watch. It is something you do. I don’t mean to act as judge and jury over the question of what defines a triathlon. If a race director puts together a race that happens to lend itself well to viewers, then so be it. That’s great. However, to design a competition for the sake of viewership is to put the athletic challenge second and that’s not cool.
From what I understand, triathlon was not draft legal until marketing professionals advised that drafting be allowed. I’ve read that this was done to make a media friendly format for the sake of becoming an Olympic sport. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the PTO Collins Cup definitely wants to modify the nature of the sport for the sake of media and viewership  https://spark.adobe.com/page/HbSnRkzfa5ThF/. FAQ. “What is the Collins Cup” . The PTO certainly has an agenda  Triathlontaren.com/pto. 2020. Interview with Professional Triathletes Organization CEO, Sam Renouf. . I’d love to watch the Collins Cup and probably will, but then it becomes entertainment just as much as sport.
How ‘Bout Them Commercials
And what about sponsors’ marketing tactics (ads, commercials, etc)? That’s a whole different thing when the focus is on the spectator and not the athlete.
When you watch a football game on TV, who are the sponsors? Banks, potato chips, cars, computers, soft drinks, beer and, my favorite, Quaker Oats. This is just a small fraction of the sponsors, but none actually cater to the football athletes. Where are the ads for Wilson brand footballs and Fanatics brand jerseys? No where. It doesn’t make sense for that kind of fan base.
On the other hand, fans of triathlon are bombarded with ads for bicycles, running shoes, GPS watches, nutrition products and a whole host of cool stuff for training and racing (I still want to get a pair of FORM goggles). IRONMAN events used to be sponsored by the likes of Ford Motors, Nautilus, Gatorade and Bud Lite, but they’ve been replaced by Roka swimwear, Hoka shoes and Ventum bikes: all three catering to the athlete fans of the sport.
Maybe a heavier focus on spectatorship will have no negative impacts on us age-groupers. But I leave this post with one last thought.
You can spend several hundred dollars on a ticket to watch athletes beat the crap out of each other at a hockey game. Or you can spend several hundred dollars to beat the crap out of yourself in a triathlon. The difference, however, is that after a triathlon, you feel like you’ve accomplished something great. And if the triathlon is well produced, you will feel like a rockstar. For that moment in time, you are the rockstar… maybe not to the level of Scott Tinley, but a rockstar nonetheless.
References ↑1 Tinley, S. 1995. Finding the Wheel’s Hub. The Trimarket Co., PaloAlto, CA. p56. ↑2 https://spark.adobe.com/page/HbSnRkzfa5ThF/. FAQ. “What is the Collins Cup” ↑3 Triathlontaren.com/pto. 2020. Interview with Professional Triathletes Organization CEO, Sam Renouf.