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The New Race Every Pro is Talking About

The Collins Cup promises pros prize money, TV, and major sponsorships—if it goes as planned.

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The Collins Cup promises pros prize money, TV and major sponsorships—if it goes as planned.

In July 2015, group of 15 pro triathletes, including Ironman world champions Mirinda Carfrae and Sebastian Kienle, joined together to form a union meant to represent non-drafting pros, and boost their visibility and leverage. The idea fizzled after several prominent pros pushed back, unhappy with membership fees topping out at $600, among other things. So the PTU refocused and rebranded as the Pro Triathlon Organization (PTO), making a surprise announcement in September that they’re back with plans for a killer new race designed to get pros the recognition—and funding—they deserve. The question is: will it work?

The Collins Cup promises to be a first-of-its-kind triathlon that will have teams from the USA, Europe and the rest of the world squaring off against each other in a long-distance race. It’s the brainchild of Charles Adamo, an American age-group triathlete living in England, who was brought in as the PTO’s first CEO. The first thing Adamo sought to do was to help the group clarify its mission. He sat down with the founding members of the PTO and encouraged them to become more of an inspirational organization than one that advocates for change in the sport.

“If there are things they wanted to change, then I encouraged them to do their own race,” Adamo said. “The next step was to figure out a race format that would be compelling in terms of drama—something long-distance races struggle with.”

Adamo, an avid golf fan, was well aware of the success of the Ryder Cup, which pits the best golfers from the United States against the best from Europe in a match play format. It’s one of golf’s most popular television broadcasts, drawing up to six million American viewers for the bi-annual event. With the Ryder Cup as their inspiration, Adamo and the rest of the PTO leadership devised the Collins Cup, which is expected to take place in June of 2018 at a location to be determined.

“We looked at the Ryder Cup and that’s how we came up with this format,” Adamo says. “We think it’s suitable for live TV and it’s a format that’s known and successful. The non-endemic sponsors, the broadcasters—they understand the Ryder Cup format and they’ve seen its success.”

The Collins Cup format will have three teams of 12 athletes (USA, Europe and the “Internationals”) and will essentially be 12 individual races between three athletes. One athlete from each team will go off at 10-minute intervals and will score points for their team based on how they finish in their three-person race. The expected distance is 3K swim, 120K bike, 25K run. Athletes will be mic’d up on the bike and run and their conversations with their team captains will be part of the broadcast. Metrics like heart rate, speed and power output will also be incorporated into the broadcast.

“This race format allows for big incentives and promotion,” says pro triathlete and PTO board member Angela Naeth. “With mic’d athletes during the bike and run, captains of the team can encourage and simply scream at the racers to push and go hard. It’ll be an exciting event to be a part of.”

The press release announcing the event stated that it would have one of the largest prize purses in the sport and Adamo specified that all 36 athletes competing would receive a piece of that purse. The promise of big prize money is based entirely on the event’s ability to attract TV broadcasters and thus non-endemic sponsors—two things that triathlon has struggled to do in the past. To accomplish this, the PTO has brought on sports marketing mega firm Wasserman, who will spearhead the commercial aspects of the event, including negotiating TV rights and sponsorship.

“The big benefit of working with a company like Wasserman is that they have experience in the general sports market and not just triathlon,” Adamo says. “They’re able to bring a different view to triathlon because they’re looking at the sport with fresh eyes.”

Wasserman will also be in charge of the bidding process to find a host city for the inaugural event. Adamo says he’s unsure if the first event will be held in the U.S. or Europe and said he could foresee a situation where it’s hosted in one place for two years and then moves to a different country for a few years. He didn’t let on if there were any early frontrunners for a host city, but did say that the East Coast of the U.S. has appeal from a television standpoint.

Will the Collins Cup be a boom or bust? Right now it’s too early to say and luckily for the organizers, they have more than 20 months to make it a success. In order for the proposed format to work, live broadcast partners are a must, and any race organizer can tell you that that’s a tall order. But, as the inaugural Island House Invitational proved last year, a race with a unique format, tons of prize money and many of the world’s best athletes can work (and can even get on TV) if it’s done right.

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