Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Economy of Triathlon

In the book Marketing to the Affluent the author states that people with money will always have money.  Those looking to sell (anything) should sell to those people always.  Easy to say from the computer but hard to do if you are selling.

Unless...you are in the sport of triathlon.

Prize Money
What is interesting to me is in a sport where prize money has edged up a little bit recently, most pros still either work a very flexible full time job, are independently wealthy or have a trust fund from mom and dad.  Only recently have we seen some minor pressure on race organizers to have equal prize money for each division (men and women).  Aren't we past paying a men's champion more than a women's champion?   Apparently not.  It is hard to make a living on winning.  Harder when there is no equality in prize money.

Many sponsors want the return on investment; they are looking for an athlete that will expose the product in a good light and be a good person as well.  Attached are all kinds of rules about what you must do or cannot do.  I'm fine with that as the Polar sponsorship that I've had (and others before Polar) haven't asked me too much really.  I also haven't really received a ton of stuff either.  Most comes out of the annual marketing budget.  Mostly, you see "pro deals" where you pay 50% of retail and the company still gets the product exposure.  Think Zipp. When Bill first sponsored me when Zipp was a 6 person company it was rare to see Zipp wheels.  Now at major races Zipp dominates the market.

Bikes/Wheels & Stuff
I watch bike prices closely.  This year there was a significant jump in "base" price of most bikes.  The average bike you'll likely see in Kona...$6,700 with some bikes heading toward $14,000.  This is getting silly even for the "average" triathlete family with a $155,000 income (according to USAT).  Two things will likely happen: 1) sales will slow in the economy 2) triathletes in their drive to qualify for the holy grail of Kona will mortgage their life or credit to get the latest carbon/ti whatever.  Neither is good.  When do prices fall?

Coaching Services
My first coach was on the front of the coaching wave.  Today, anyone who has finished a triathlon (including myself) can put out a "coaching" business.  

In November of 1999, my coaching bill was $99/month with Troy.  As I look for a coach, I honestly cannot afford the monthly coaching fees being charged today.  As posted on their websites; Peter Reid $585/month, Scott Molina $485/month, Dave Scott $300/6 weeks, Troy Jacobson $485/month (for a plan an age group athlete might really want).  

Most qualified coaches are between $225 and $350/month which is actually reasonable.  I cannot justify that to my wife considering my experience level and in this economy with another round of layoffs looming in June it is irresponsible for me to sign on for $300/month.  What sucks about that...is that I don't know everything and I think a coach keeps you honest.  I believe you need a coach to really excel in this sport.  

The cost of four to seven day camps has gone the way of a luxury Caribbean cruise.  It is hard to keep my wife happy and justify disappearing for a week and spending $2,800 to ride my bike when my wife goes to work every day while I'm gone.  Even if I get a lot of swag and ride with a pro or defrocked Tour de France champion, when fitness is what you get...couldn't you do that on your own?

So as I rebuild my fitness and good health, I am looking for a coach but my ceiling of what I can pay is certainly not market rate or even a "pro deal".  I'll go do camp "Dean and Bob"  (which is probably now camp Dean, Russ, Jim and Bob).  I think you'll start to see a lot of typical folks doing it on their own and the time differences between the haves and have nots will grow at major events.  

So look for the guy in the well used jersey with no sponsors on it who had to scrape together the $1,000 entry fee for a triathlon, the $800 for the flight to Florida, $450 a night for a hotel at Disney (the race site)...where does this end?  The bike, a hodge podge of different parts cannibalized from different bikes.  Burgess Meredith screaming at him.  Long live Rocky and the spirit of the underdog.  We'll be seeing a lot more of this in the near future and one of them will probably be me.

Lastly, what does this say to the average kid who wants to try triathlon?  How about a blue collar worker who loves to run and wants to try a triathlon?  He/she couldn't afford to get in the sport and compete...so don't laugh at the guy or gal on the 20 year old steel Schwinn at the Chicago Triathlon.  This is the future of our sport.

I cannot be the only person in the sport thinking this.

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