Revolutionising Triathlon: Captivating Global Audiences with The Professional Triathletes Organisation.

The Professional Triathlete’s Organisation (PTO) is a high growth sports body, co-owned by the athletes, breaking new ground in the sport of triathlon. PTO believes triathletes are the ultimate endurance athletes and has a mission to grow the sport and take it to the next level. To understand PTO’s vision for the future, Neil Joyce sat down with Tim Godfrey, the Chief Marketing Officer in Miami, following our keynote session at Sportel Rendezvous Miami.

With a remarkable background in sports media and entertainment, Tim Godfrey has consistently demonstrated his expertise in developing effective marketing strategies for rapidly expanding sports organisations. Tim has leveraged his wealth of experience to both professionalise, promote and monetize triathlon on a global scale. From setting the foundations of developing the initial media, broadcast, marketing and brand strategy, to focusing now on attracting new audiences and elevating triathlon as a marketable sport, extending its reach to the masses and propelling the sport to new heights.

Without further ado, let’s jump into the exclusive Q&A.

Q1. So Tim, how does PTO differ from other mainstream sports? Does PTO represent a similar audience to other sports and what makes it unique?

I would say Triathlon is unlike any other sport, it’s never had the same level of awareness or the same level or platform that other major sports have had. A wider audience outside of the avid tri fans have never been able to see what these athletes do on a day-to-day basis or during competition time. Triathletes are, in my personal opinion, some of the most phenomenal athletes because they do it all, they swim, they run and they cycle. They’re training consistently throughout the day across all three disciplines. Then they go and compete over 100km in around 3 hours. This all comes back to storytelling and the stories that these athletes have are so compelling.

In terms of our core audience, this is a participation audience – so our first point of call is, can we make this interesting to people who already partake in triathlon? Secondly can we look at broadening the net to sports fans like you or me, where we reflect and go “wow, bloody hell. I had no idea about what it takes to be a Triathlete or what they do”. So there’s a little bit of both. The Triathlon audience is very engaged as they watch content when they’re training but the average sports fan doesn’t know what they do, so there’s a dual battle here.

Q2. Within the Triathlon – is there a natural skew towards people who swim, cycle or run – or is it balanced?

There’s a big transfer over from cycling, this remains the biggest crossover and naturally we’re going to lean into that cycling audience. That’s one of the key benefits of our deal with Warner Bros. Discovery. They have one of the biggest cycling networks in the world and one of the biggest Triathlon networks in GTN. So through rights and content distribution deals, this allows us to gain access to their huge audience and strong community.

Q3. Considering your relatively niche status, how do you approach a large organisation such as the Discovery Channel to negotiate deals around the event? Can you provide insights into how these conversations typically unfold?  

At the most basic and obvious level, it’s through knowing the right people (due to the size of the organisation), but then you’ve got to be able to sell them the vision of the product very quickly and they’ve got to be confident you can deliver it. Warner Brothers are most definitely not going to agree to anything if they’re not confident you can deliver it.
When it comes to PTO Tour production, the first question has been, “so, who’s producing it?” – “Well Martin Turner” we say, and for those that don’t know, Martin Turner is the ex Head of Sky Sports for F1 and ran that channel for 35 years so his credibility is massive.

Those are the initial three steps, but then you need to deliver the first product, and if you do that well and attract a good audience, they’re most likely going to come back for more. So we did an initial one event deal with Warner Brothers Discovery and off the back of that success we signed a three-year contract with them, giving them exclusivity for all our live rights. It’s important to them that they’re seen as the only destination for live and the home of Triathlon and that’s what we want as well.

Q4. So there’s a level of premium and exclusivity around which broadcasters can get this first before everyone else? 

100% – it’s a fine balance but you need to be able to offer the broadcaster enough for them to be engaged in the product. I mean originally when we started this business it was going to be a pure Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) streaming proposition. We honestly thought we would be doing this on Youtube and Facebook for 3-4 years, but quite quickly due to the way we reformatted with the Collins Cup (which is a Ryder Cup style event), we had more interest than we anticipated and we leveraged that interest quite quickly. So I’m proud to state we have 35 broadcast partners, live in 195 territories, within 450m homes which Triathlon has never seen before to this scale and level, not at this distance and not with the level of athletes competing. The 100km distance takes 3.5hrs of broadcast, that’s never been seen before and on linear tv as well, it’s quite something. So no, this isn’t just streaming, it’s compelling live tune-in television which is what the sponsors want.

Q5. The sponsorship aspect is interesting. At CLV, we extensively engage with various sporting categories, such as football/soccer, where metrics like views, shares, and likes are central to evaluating success. When it comes to sponsors, do they inquire about ROI beyond these metrics? Could it be that operating within a niche area allows them to leverage a specific audience for their benefit? Or are they primarily interested in generating new sales through sponsoring the PTO and its events?

Initially they want to know the TV audience and the TV broadcaster partners, is it premium enough? Have you captured a decent volume of people engaging in the product? They want to know that this isn’t just a streaming property going to a small fanbase.

Secondly, they want to know how affluent the audience is and their propensity to purchase. Triathlon actually proved to be the most valuable household in terms of income across all sports. The average household income for Triathlon audiences is $220k, which is much higher than golf at around $120k. Immediately any CMO is thinking, they’ve got the right audience, but just never before have they had the product to build their brand around it. This now exists with the PTO Tour.

Traditionally triathlon has been quite fragmented and this imposes issues for a lot of sponsors and consumers. Let’s say you’re the CMO with $20m to spend to reach an affluent global audience, you’re going to go to tennis, golf, or motorsport. But if you wanted to reach triathlon fans, that cheque would normally have to be split 5 to 6 different times because there’s so many different event organisers in triathlon and endurance. Until the PTO Tour launched there wasn’t the regularity of high-level competition – and we are still not there yet . At PTO we’re consolidating that audience to one tour with the best athletes competing head to head on a regular basis.
That being said, yes the audience size is smaller but it’s a fraction of the cost and the audience is arguably more engaged.

We’ve had conversations with various different consumer brands that are very interested in this audience but we absolutely need to show them a return on investment. How does this result in more sales and that’s something we’re having to prove out. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the swim, bike, run ,and nutrition sponsor categories and this really is triathlon’s heartland and more straightforward to convert into deals.

Q6. Are there any other verticals that you look at and think, wow they really should be sponsoring us?  

Yes, lots! Automotive is one but they already sponsor a lot of triathlons in the US but not on a global scale. Insurance is another. We’re an athlete body so naturally there’s health insurance synergies, plus there’s the data and tech space, and fintech. I would say they are the top tier.

There’s obviously verticals such as airlines and travel, think Expedia or Tripadvisor. Triathlon is one of the few global sports where we travel everywhere to race, so how do athletes get there? Where do they stay? It’s quite exciting as there’s never been a product like this for brands to attach themselves to.

Q7. Keeping down the path of ROI – How does PTO view the phrase “monetization of fan audiences”.  

I think initially in the first 4/5 years it would be more indirect because we need to build and scale before we can think about generating meaningful revenue through these streams. The need to get direct revenue from our fanbase from a media standpoint hasn’t been a necessity as we’re VC backed – rather we are building our overall engaged fan base across all avenues. The question really is how is that going to develop overtime? From a participation standpoint we are already in the early monetization phase. The PTO Tour product has several revenue streams when at maturity and scale which other sports don’t have.

We know there’s a propensity to purchase high level triathlon events within our audience groups in our three key markets (US, UK, and Germany) and they’re going to pay for that content, so we can switch off all broadcasts tomorrow and go exclusively direct-to-consumer and start getting cash flow on a subscription basis but we believe strongly in the power of working with big sports entertainment broadcasters. So the landscape isn’t that straightforward – I wish it was – so the opportunity we believe is with streaming alongside a global TV broadcast, giving us a hybrid media rights model. With a hybrid media rights model, we could decide to go D2C in some markets and have a broader TV model in other markets.
When we started PTO it was a streaming business and for our first ever event, within 48hrs we had 100k subscriptions to our live triathlon event.
Yes it was all free, but we know with the right approach they will pay for it as it’s unique and compelling content, with the best athletes competing head to head. The path to monetizing those fans directly is through media and then through merchandising and shopping, participation, and membership.

But before we get there we need to build the audience and the scale.

 Q8. Interesting, so do you see yourself as the next version of what Amazon has achieved? Combining the dynamics of a marketplace for athletes and fitness.

There’s a huge opportunity for live streaming and ecommerce. There’s people watching Lucy Charles Barclay or Jan Frodeno running, imagine if they could immediately click through to what they’re wearing.

There’s millions of fans that idolise these athletes and they’ll wear what they’re wearing. There’s a natural connection between the immersive shopping experience. It’s a great opportunity but comes back to the importance of technology and do we have the underlying tech to support it?

Q9. What role does data play with all of this? From the live data to the data around your audiences and the value it can create for sponsors and proposition planning?

Sure, there’s two things on data. The first is that live broadcast simply won’t work without live data. For someone to be interested in the event there needs to be data around performance and biometrics and if we don’t have that then no one will be interested. Without it, commentators can’t tell the story and sports fans won’t be able to resonate or follow the event properly.
Traditionally, triathlon has had very poor data as it has never invested in the technology behind getting live data like GPS data for example on the live broadcast feed. We’re not fully there yet either, the standard in Triathlon is timing mats spread over the course. If they had that in Formula 1, no one would watch because you don’t know where they are on the track. So yes, at the moment triathlon is so behind on the narrative/ storytelling standpoint when it comes to broadcasting. We need to invest a huge amount of production dollars into creating that because if the live TV product doesn’t work, we’re not going to create value in the product, no one will watch it, fans won’t consume it and sponsors won’t be interested.
Then there’s consumer data for marketing, which is important right now but it’s not everything at this moment in time. We’re putting everything in place to make it important down the line. It goes back to the point that we’re still maturing, so we’re putting the mechanics in place so that we’re ready.

One of the reasons we launched our own OTT platform was so we could understand our fans more. If we had everything on Discovery, Fox or Sky, we would get limited data. Whereas now we know where they’re watching, how they tuned in and what they did before and after. So the reason we have an OTT is so we can start to learn about the fans.

People are also very surprised about how long the triathlon fans watch our content for. We have a relationship with DAZN and they were blown away when they found out that average watch time for a PTO Tour event was way higher than some of their other sports. For them this is amazing because it keeps people on their platform, they will then go to watch more content and stay within that same environment and that’s how we create that value for them.

Q10. The FRI report uncovered a £250m+ content revenue opportunity, specifically across Football and is a huge opportunity across a multitude of sports. PTO released Beyond Human in 2021, I’m interested in understanding what success you saw from this?

This is a really good example of being too early. We invested a decent amount of money into that two part series and it was so well produced by leaders in the market, but we just didn’t have the distribution tools. We had that startup mentality of trying out new things, so we made it. The objective was to get it onto an Amazon or Netflix and it didn’t, but was it a success? I would say 70% yes. It gave us credibility. We weren’t ready and you could argue we could have saved that money, but it gave us that credibility where people said “wow, they must be serious about this.” 

It was a credibility play, and as much as I hate this word but it was an example of pivoting our strategy. Lionel Saudners has about 200k YouTube Subscribers and he was featured in the documentary so he showed the whole thing on his channel and has way more views than the PTO page does, we then had two other athletes do the same thing. We benefited off of utilising the athletes. They thought it was amazing that we had invested so heavily into it and it became less about PTO’s channels and much more about, lets provide compelling content to the athletes and they will promote that they’re competing on the tour. 

Q11. How much dependency is there on the athletes and members themselves? What happens if you didn’t have these stars?

Without stars it falls over, it just doesn’t work. That’s why we have an athlete board, and an athlete committee giving the athletes the power to make decisions on the things that matter to them, differentiating the sport from so many others. 

This is a business owned by the athletes and investors. We share a return of the economics back to the athletes so that they can make decisions, it’s important they feel they can make change within the sport but they also need to buy into it which is new for them. Other mass participation organisers have had the dominance over the sport –  but never really asked the pro athletes to do what we’re asking them to do from a marketing, media and content standpoint. The sport doesn’t grow unless they help it grow. It’s pointless from a content perspective for example us having all the content on our channels if the athletes aren’t sharing or distributing it. Our audience is tiny vs their audiences so we have to help them but must be organic and natural. 

Q12. It’s clear that triathlon is a very unique sport, but what sport do you see as most similar to you? 

I seem to be a magnet for sport startups having come from SailGP and Formula E. I  probably compare us to any other sport that’s looking to disrupt or innovate in an existing vertical. Formula E  did that extremely well in motorsport and SailGP in sailing. Formula E said “right we’re going to redefine motorsport” and they’ve kind of done that. They’re in their ninth season and they’re still finding their feet.

Any sport that’s sitting on the edge of doing something different has the same challenges.  Everyone’s fighting for the same space, the same sponsors, the same broadcasters and everyone wants to do the same thing so how do you differentiate yourself? That’s where I would liken us, probably to that space, to new sport concepts. 

Q13. Lastly, As the CMO – what advice would you give to football clubs if you were in this position?

Wow, It’s such a different proposition. I guess a lot of clubs have gone down the Amazon route, the Premier League then didn’t go down the Netflix route as a lot of the clubs didn’t agree on it, but I guess they’re leaning towards an “access is everything” model – this is what consumers crave and they have to come towards the needs of their fanbase. Now they’re granting access to cameras in dressing rooms at half time, so I think it’s hard to be a CMO of a football club because the demands are high. You’ve got massive fan bases, so if you think of Triathlon vs Newcastle- the challenges and propositions are so different.

When things go well, the CMO is one of the most rewarding jobs out there, however when things are rocky it often falls to the CMO to do more, change strategy, and to be ultra flexible. I think at a football club I assume that to be particularly difficult – you’re managing social, comms, managing different ownership structures, which has become incredibly challenging to keep on top of. I think all sports have that challenge now, but I highly commend any CMO of a football club right now so my advice is to always keep progressing each and every day – even when you think you can’t do anymore there are always gains or improvements to make. In short your work is never done!