Reworking Ironman Numbers

There’s been a lot of conversation recently about how Ironman doesn’t care about its professional triathletes.  “Ironman makes so much money, the athletes should be paid more.” “Screw Ironman, they’re a multibillion company and they’re taking advantage of us…” and “I have to race so much, I’m a human, not a machine!”  OK, so maybe these aren’t actual quotes, but the dialogue goes something along those lines.

Brett Sutton’s recent departure from Team TBB, a team he Co-founded, and his subsequent video added fuel to the fire, so to speak.  And only a couple of days ago, my partner from This Week In Triathlon, Kevin Taddonio, wrote a blog suggesting a few ways the sport could change to benefit those in the “Elite” ranks.  If you’ve not read it, you can find it here.

I applaud those who want change, and are fighting for it, but I’m also one of those that don’t see the athletes having much leverage.  Sure the top 1%-3% long course athletes are making a decent living, and some are even making money off of the WTC as so-called “WTC ambassadors.”  But aside from that, there’s not a lot of ammunition left for them to use (pardon the gun analogy but we’re in America baby).  It’s hard to argue that those at the top are being underpaid, even if compared to their major sport colleagues.  It’s just not a fair comparison.

So, assuming prize money isn’t going to increase, that the athletes will continue to have very little leverage, can anything change in order to make the situation better?  In my opinion, YES – and in such way that very little has to be done, just a simple reorganization of sorts.  WTC can continue to line its pockets with money while also giving athletes an opportunity to make more money themselves.  Win-Win as they say.

The Current System

The first word that I think of when I look at the Ironman calendar for 2014 is “diluted”.  If I counted right, there are 83 Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events worldwide offering some sort of prize purse (see chart below).  There’s no doubt a need for that many races, they keep selling out, but is there a need for all of those to have a prize-purse and offer points?  Not in my opinion.

Pro Prize Purse

Number of Races

Total $

$15,000

31

$465,000

$25,000

12

$300,000

$40,000

4

$160,000

$50,000

12

$600,000

$75,000

19

$1,425,000

$125,000

3

$375,000

$200,000

1

$200,000

$650,000

1

$650,000

Total

83

$4,175,000

 

Furthermore, 20% of that prize money is given away in the two World Championships, which leaves an average prize purse of just over $40,000 per non-World Championship race.  Meaning, on average, the winner would get $8000 though most likely net $3,000-$4000 after taxes and travel (if they don’t have a coach).

Increasing Prize Money to Reflect Increased Fees

If you’re not aware, Ironman charges Pro Triathletes $750 annually to race any Ironman branded race throughout 2013, $400 if they only wanted to register for 1 full-distance race, and $200 if they wanted to register for only 1 70.3 race.  In 2014 that same fee will be going up by $50, $30, and $15 respectively.  Why does this matter? regardless of the reason for increasing the fee, it’d only make sense for the total prize-money to increase by the same rate of 7%.  This would make the $4,175,000 an even $4.5 million (rounding up a bit).

How is an extra $325,000 going to make any difference?  With 81 non-World Championship races, that’s on average only $5,000 extra each.  Or, $2,500 for each the male and female fields, that then needs to be divided into 5 places.  You’re right to think it doesn’t make a substantial difference.

The New “System”

Without any significant increase in overall prize-money, the best way to “increase” payouts is to limit the number of races that offer a professional field.  More specifically, coming up with a schedule of 10 races throughout the season that offer considerably more prize-money per race.

Here’s how a 2014 series schedule could have looked like:

Race

Date

Distance

Purse

Cozumel

12/1/13

Full

$200,000

Pucon 70.3

1/12/14

Half

$200,000

Melbourne

3/23/14

Full

$200,000

Oceanside 70.3

3/29/14

Half

$200,000

Texas

5/17/14

Full

$200,000

Kraichgau 70.3

6/15/14

Half

$200,000

Cairns 70.3

6/29/14

Half

$200,000

France

6/29/14

Full

$200,000

Whistler

7/27/14

Full

$200,000

Wiesbaden 70.3

8/10/14

Half

$200,000

IM 70.3 WC

TBD

Half

$750,000

IM Kona WC

10/11/14

Full

$750,000

Total    

$3,500,000

 

For the “regular season” races, prize money wouldn’t be distributed any differently than it currently is for the 70.3 WC, which offers a $200,000 prize purse.  Below you can see the breakdown.

Place

Money

1st

$35,000

2nd

$17,500

3rd

$11,500

4th

$8,500

5th

$7,000

6th

$5,500

7th

$4,500

8th

$4,000

9th

$3,500

10th

$3,000

Total

$100,000

 

The World Championships would pay equal money, and pay down to 20th place.  Looking something like the chart below.

Place

Money

Place

Money

1st

$120,000

11th

$6,250

2nd

$70,000

12th

$5,500

3rd

$45,000

13th

$4,750

4th

$23,000

14th

$4,000

5th

$19,000

15th

$3,250

6th

$16,000

16th

$2,750

7th

$14,000

17th

$2,250

8th

$13,000

18th

$2,000

9th

$11,000

19th

$1,750

10th

$10,000

20th

$1,500

Total

$341,000

Total

$34,000

 

While some of the money would remain the same as is currently awarded, increasing the purse by $100,000 would allow for the gap between first and second place to be shrunken, while still having enough money to award 11th through 20th places.

KPR and 70.3 Point Ratings

If you’re wondering where the remaining $1 million of the overall $4.5 million went, that’s where the points come into play.

As part of this proposed change, there would be a $500,000 bonus for an “overall” points classification at the end of the year.   Both Ironman and 70.3 ($250,000 each male and female) would award a bonus for the top 10 of the “points series”.  This would make up for the remaining $1 million unaccounted above, and would certainly keep a high level of interest throughout the year leading up to Kona.  And further reward those who not only raced, but placed well.

The current points system should be pretty compatible with the proposed changes.  With equal prize money would come equal points.  That’s to say all series races (140.6 and 70.3) would award 4,000 points to the respective winners in the same way they’re currently being awarded.  The only difference would be that both IM Kona and the 70.3 WC’s would award each 8,000 points.

Points would also have to be separated into 70.3 and 140.6 series points so the pros wouldn’t be able to use 70.3 points for 140.6 points classification and vice versa.  Also, while any pro could race as much as he or she wanted, the top 2 Ironman races and 2 70.3 races would count towards the respective point standings.  In the event of a tie in the overall points series, the highest finisher at the respective World Championship would be awarded the higher bonus.

Bonus breakdown:

Points Classification

Money

1st

$70,000

2nd

$55,000

3rd

$40,000

4th

$30,000

5th

$25,000

6th

$12,500

7th

$7,500

8th

$5,000

9th

$3,000

10th

$2,000

Total

$250,000

 

Thoughts on the Above

While in my opinion there’s never a “perfect” solution to any problem, this seems to be a good compromise.  WTC and Ironman would like for all of their races to feature pro triathletes but in reality, they don’t really need to.  The races keep selling-out, they’re as popular as ever, so why not re-arrange the same money that’s already being distributed in a way that can benefit everyone?  I guess I’m probably not the only one wondering about that.

This proposed change would give Ironman the flexibility to feature different races from year to year, and schedule them in such way that pro athletes can race other series as well.  At the end of the day, they don’t employ the athletes, why hold them hostage to an inefficient way to distribute prize-money? And in the process prevent them from doing Rev3, Challenge Roth, or Wildflower?  Something that would, undoubtedly, benefit Ironman in the long run.

Ironman IS the 800 pound gorilla already, and it can continue to be if that’s what it wants, even if making changes similar to the above.  By offering the most prize-money, charging the highest entry fees, selling out the fastest, there’s no doubt about that.   So my question to Ironman is, why not?

Feel free to post your thoughts below.

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Recent Comments
  • andres says:

    Thanks for reading and for the response Berk. Quite honestly, I don’t think much is going to change, so that’s why I came up with what I thought would be the most natural move, for the sake of conversation and argument’s sake. Which is, use the current overall purse and points system, and just tweak how it’s given out.

    In the case of the ITU, I’d say that less than the top 5-10% are winning most of the races and money, and that seems to be OK with people. Besides, with a system such as what I’ve proposed, while there’s a heavy emphasis on the Championships, it doesn’t alienate those who don’t perform well in Hawaii as they can do well in other races. It also gives the 70.3 series more recognition, which it deserves in my opinion.

    From a fan and spectator’s point of view, I’m fine with the same group of 20 battling it out 6 times a year. If they’re the best, they deserve it.

  • Berk Boge says:

    Some valid points made. However the modified KPR and $1M award is more likely going to go to the top 10% of the pros who also did well during the select races with higher purses so it is going to be a top heavy solution (rich got richer??). While I think not everyone should become a pro and expect to make a living out of the sport, we need “stronger” fields to make the sport more challenging in the long term. Top 5-10 in the world winning most major races will hurt the sport in the long term (I could guess 60% of the top 10 in both Kona and Vegas this year in both men’s and women’s pro fields and I am sure a lot of people did better than I did)
    My suggestion is kind of radical and “libertarians” would certainly hate it. But I think it can work. As of now USAT dictates that a race that offers a pro purse cannot discriminate between the sexes (no argument there). If you offer a pro purse for men/women, you need to offer the same purse in the opposite sex. Why doesn’t USAT dictate that a percentage of the gross revenue has to go towards the pro purse. For example if a 70.3 has 1,500 (paying) AGs sign up for the race at $275/person, their gross revenue is $412,500 (of course this number does not include title sponsor income, finish tape sponsor income, expo income, $$s received from local government etc). USAT can say the pro purse for such race should be no less than 10% of the gross sales (I doubt they will ever pay more) or 7% or any kind of “fair” sliding scale based on the size of the field and the entry fee. IM Florida probably had at least 2,500 paying customers at $675+ per person. That is close to $1.7M in gross sales. It had a pro purse of $24,000 or 1.4%. That is kind of an insult.
    “The Doc” has some very valid points and I think his methodology would work. Unfortunately he is not going to have any support from the top 1-3% of the athletes (understandably they can’t bite the hand that is feeding them). So he has to have a very high participation percentage from the rest of the pro field and enormous support from the AGs to make his vision a reality. I think as of now, his chances are less than 50%. I hope I am wrong.

  • bcagle25 says:

    I think you are onto something, however, this could possibly create a greater disparity between the pro’s. Take an up and coming pro in the U.S. Taking out the pro fields in some race would really limit their options for race to earn a paycheck, and qualifying points as well. For IM’s the have Cozumel, Whistler, or Texas and 70.3 they are limited to Oceanside. So now the money is greater, but the risk to get any money has dramatically increased and a paycheck is harder to come by. You are really all in for 1-2 races to earn qualifying points and money.

    I think you are onto a great idea, but maybe the money could be distributed a bit more spread out. The payouts wouldn’t be as high as you propose but they would be better. But I do agree that the WTC brand is diluted and every year they keep adding to their breadth. It will become an interesting trend to see if they expand too much and the talent is so thin at these races that it becomes easier to cherry pick as the depth decreases.

    In the end the discussion of prize payout is really getting more and more attention but I wonder how much traction is building.

    • andres says:

      Thanks for the comment. I think the issue isn’t that it would create a greater disparity. I think right now there’s a false sense of potential to be a successful pro triathlete. There’s a lot of races and not all of them have top talent. The problem is, against the top level competition, those athletes struggle, and also, having so many “Ironman Winners” dilutes (using that word again) the effect that the super-stars can have in getting more attention outside of the sport. It’s pushing athletes on a more level playing field versus creating marketable talent and personalities.

      For Ironman the current method isn’t broken. As they say, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. But it will break at some point. I like at least having the conversation, regardless of how realistic or not it is at this time.

      Cheers,
      Andres L.

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