“When the broader public realizes how superhuman the athletes are, they will become fans,” Sam Renouf, CEO of the Professional Triathletes Organization told Front Office Sports.
Renouf is working to build the triathlon from a hobby of fitness enthusiasts to a sport with anticipated tournaments and recognizable athletes.
To make that happen, Renouf has:
- A unique business structure where athletes own 50% of the organization.
- An executive team that pulls from ATP, UFC, and Formula E.
- A motivated lead investor in billionaire Sir Michael Moritz — an early investor in Google, Yahoo, YouTube, and PayPal — who led an “eight-figure” investment round in PTO last year.
“Triathlon is massively under-commercialized,” said Renouf. “There is a huge opportunity to disrupt and change the market.”
PTO is 50% owned by its athletes and will offer at least $1 million in prize money at each of its five signature events — Ironman’s 2019 championship purse was $650,000. The Collins Cup will debut in August, with U.S., Canada, European, and Asian Opens set to follow. Prize money is divided evenly between men and women.
The payout can lure top talent, but the real challenge is cultivating fan engagement.
“We are shamelessly copying the business models of other sports,” said Renouf. PTO borrows a tournament format from golf’s Ryder Cup and follows other leagues in mixing broadcast, social media, and its own over-the-top streaming service.
Inspired by Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” series on Formula One, PTO also commissioned a documentary on its own athletes.
“It’s not about putting sport on TV,” he said. “You have to make it engaging.”