Could We Be Seeing the Death of Triathlon?

The beginning of the end of the triathlon may have started. The coronavirus has been running roughshod over most of the world. There’s even bible thumping missionaries seeking to spread Christianity and disease to the non-contracted tribes of the Amazon, yes they bought a helicopter so they can do this. The coronavirus will be everywhere soon enough.

The economy is about to get smashed like it was Carrie Underwood’s ex-boyfriend’s pick up truck in the song “Before He Cheats”. Dark times are vastly approaching as commerce starts to grind to a halt. The policy of social distancing has had a significant impact on the sports world. The NBA canceled their season, there’s no March Madness (which really sucks for the University of Dayton), there’s no more NHL season, there’s no Master’s tournament. That’s just the shortlist of things that aren’t happening, and they all have economic consequences.

There are events in the sports world that are trying to postpone instead of canceling. IRONMAN falls in this category, but they’re not doing it because they love their triathletes, they’re doing it because they HAVE to. See, the decision to go public was a huge mistake by Wanda Sports, their IPO was one of the biggest flops in history. As I write this their stock price is at $1.60, which ain’t good. IRONMAN doesn’t have many races in the first financial quarter, but the second quarter is huge. If they outright cancel races it’ll crush them. If they give triathletes a deferral they lose a ton of money. A refund is not happening. The show must go in for them.

Now postponing and rescheduling a race is logistically a nightmare, but not impossible. In 2018 when Hurricane Michael landed just east of Panama City Beach about three weeks before IRONMAN Florida I thought IRONMAN would probably have to cancel. Nope, they couldn’t afford to, so a Hail Mary was thrown and IMFL was moved to Haines City, Florida. The race turnout was pretty low and that run course had enough turnarounds to make you want to hang yourself…but they still put it on.

That’s the issue IRONMAN is faced with now, how do they reschedule these spring and early summer races? Ask the organizers of the Boston Marathon how hard it was to find their new date. It’s a joint effort for all parties involved. Personally I think we’ll see some combining of races. Chattanooga 70.3 will move to September and be held concurrently with the full. It’ll make for a crowded bike course, but it may be the only way it happens. I imagine Gulf Coast would have the swim modified and moved to November with IMFL. Basically…any race that has a half and a full will be held on the same day. In North America it’s Santa Rosa, Lake Placid, Eagleman/Maryland, Wisconsin, Coeur D’Alene, Arizona, Mont Tremblant, along with the aforementioned Florida and Chattanooga.

That solution may solve some of IRONMAN’s headaches, but may give you more. It’s kinda like in Goodfellas where Henry Hill talks about the restaurant owner paying for Paulie’s protection, “Business bad? Fuck you, pay me. You had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? Fuck you, pay me.” They don’t give a fuck about how the date they reschedule the race for affects your life. Got a wedding? Too bad, just send them a gift card. I have a 70.3 the following weekend? Go pound rocks, that’s the date. I can’t get a hotel anywhere close? Sorry, that’s not our problem. Life would be better for all with a refund or deferral, but that’s not an option for them.

By the time this pandemic is over IRONMAN will be a penny stock if they don’t go bankrupt, and hey if you can get it that cheap, why not go after a long shot and throw down $100 on it with Robinhood? Worst case scenario you lost $100, best case scenario you make enough back to pay for an IRONMAN entry fee for a full.

What about the independent races? Companies like Georgia Multisport or Team Magic…can they even survive till next year if this season gets flushed down the tubes? Their races would have a much slimmer chance of being postponed, however they’re more likely to throw triathletes a bone by giving them a deferral or pick another race in their series (which Tri the Parks has done). That’s okay for maybe one or two races, but if they lost the season it could cause a collapse. They can’t afford to defer an entire season.

We can’t forget about the places that host these races either. When you sign up for a 70.3 that’s an easy two day commitment, and a minimum of three for a full. These larger races inject about $10-15 million into the local economy, why else would they let you shut down traffic with a race course? Hotels, restaurants and general tourism all take that hit from no longer having that race.

Man, bike manufacturers are probably going to get railed the hardest. If the economy collapses no one is going to have money to spend on a new bike. Bikes are a shitty way to invest money as is, I’m sure it’s probably worse resale value than a car. I expect to see a few bike manufacturers go out of business. I am certain that Dimond (Ruster Sports) will fall by the wayside, as it takes about one week to manufacture one bike start to finish. It’s a shame because they’re really cool bikes too, I’ve always dreamed of owning a Marquise. They’ll all feel the sting of this out of control downturn.

All the other triathlon related products will struggle as well. Triathlon is an expensive sport, and we’re not in a time of economic prosperity any more. People are going to be buying necessities and staples, not shit like carbon wheels or power meters, at least not new. I expect things to get so bad that you see a lot of nonessential race products go up for sale on Facebook Online Swap Meet or Slowtwitch.

Your local tri shop (and local bike shop) will soon become ghost towns. They already don’t get much traffic during normal business hours, but now it’ll be completely empty. Most of these places are going to need to start letting employees go, and eventually most of those employees will move onto other jobs in other lines of work. They won’t sit around pining for the day the shop calls them back, they need to eat and pay bills like the rest of us. Any shop knows good help is hard to find, so they really can’t afford to be letting these quality associates and mechanics go. A lot of shops make good money off doing bike fits, and as a luxury expense people won’t be getting them for a while.

I don’t know how much of the triathlon world survives in the wake of the coronavirus, but I do know it’s going to change the landscape. I know it’ll change how big the pro field is as the majority of pros can’t survive without racing and sponsorship, those back of the pack pros are up a creek, and in an economic downturn may not have the luxury of a day job to fall back on. Things will be different going forward, and I hope my hobby doesn’t go away because I wouldn’t know what else to do with that time…fishing perhaps?

A brief edit: My second race of the season, Peachtree International, was canceled on March 19, 2020. The race director said they were working with Active.com and would be refunding everyone within the next three weeks. I was truly shocked by this and honestly didn’t expect to get refunded for any events in my 2020 season. They are a truly independent multisport race production and to my knowledge don’t put on any other events. By doing this they will incur significant losses as they’ve invested money into putting on this race that they can’t recoup elsewhere this year. If you’ve read this and don’t live too far from the Atlanta area I suggest supporting them by participating in their Olympic or Super Sprint distances in the future, I know I will be.

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