If you are not prone to reading a long post, you can mouse to your next open tab. But read this first for a small sample of opinions. Bear in mind, this is one guy (some input from his wife) behind a keyboard who has seen IM grow from a handful of events in the late 80s to about 40 full distance events now. I represent our sponsors, but this post is just me. There is a lot that I could post here: who I think should/not be a professional triathlete, why I am a pro athlete, what value we have, etc. But, I am going to try to stick to the changes that WTC made to the Professional Triathlete landscape for 2015, at least in North America. And, I am not focusing right now on the changes made to the 2014 Kona race.
If you are prone to reading, then here is some background mater material from SomeRandomThursday, FirstOffTheBike, Witsup, TheRealStarky, and EricLimkemann. Search around, you can find more. In particular, Eric lays out his thoughts in a rational type manner. With few calculated exceptions, Amy and I approach our seasons in a similar way. I have been coaching since before I turned pro in 2004, and I have maintained that throughout. It is income that is a bit more 'dependable' than racing alone. I've was always a top age grouper, I turned pro when I felt like I could make money...not when I simply 'could' turn pro which would have been 5-10 years earlier.
In short for professional athletes racing WTC events in 2015 here is the Global summary with some items specific to North America and my not so brief commentary:
- Same total prize purse (roughly), just redistributed. Overall I see this as a bit of a positive. We didn't lose money, and it focuses on creating larger prize purses. Large prize purses get eyeballs and attention. That's good for media and potential sponsors, both for individuals as well as for WTC/IM. The last several IM events have barely been able to field a complete professional field. That is likely due to the structure of the ranking system this year that started September 1, 2013. But, again I can't say for sure. For every pro who is asking about 'developmental' races, etc. why weren't there more of us at these last few races, or at Rev, or at Challenge? I only know what I didn't. My next race is and has been planned to be Ironman Wisconsin.
- Slightly deeper payouts at key races, larger prize purses at some key races. Again, larger purses at select races is a good thing, see above. Mostly a good thing because we don't know the breakdown so not 100% a good thing. I suspect fewer total pros will get paid money and those on the lower end of the new structure will make less. I suspect the purse breakdown will be more like the current IM structure and less like the ITU structure, top heavy with a drastic reduction from 1st to 2nd, etc. I posted to Slowtwitch (yes) that no one really cares who wins a $25k IM. I posted that knowing full well that in 4.5 weeks I'll be racing one in Wisconsin. No one except maybe other pros, close followers of the sport, sponsors. I've posted my goals earlier this year. Like Eric, we try to set up schedules based on goals, etc. I will do a short follow up on prize purse distribution, ITU vs. WTC/Challenge/Lifetime for example.
- Reduction in the number of prize money races by 20 in NA (9xIM, 11x70.3). This is a TBD. Off the cuff, it's a negative as that seems like a lot of money and prize money spots gone from NA. Especially with the loss of the Rev3 prize money. The biggest negative that I see here is the selection of races that have been cut from North America. A couple of them are stalwarts in the NA Ironman scene, sentimentally that stings. BUT, more importantly from the pro side of things, there are only 3 late season IM races that athletes can use to gain points towards the following years Kona IF they didn't race Kona (as will be the case for Amy this year) OR if they need validation/points if their Kona race was poor and resulted in low points or a DNF. However, what this does is it makes a win at an IM/70.3 event more 'meaningful'. A LOT of athletes have said that with 39 races on the calendar a win means nothing (other than financial) in the grand scheme of things. This from someone without and IM/70.3 win to his name.
- Automatic World Championship qualifying for winners of Regional IM and 70.3 Champs. This I see as a good thing, though 'automatic' may be mis-construed by some. I say that because as it stands now the Kona Champ still has to validate with an IM following their win. Andrew Messick elaborated on this earlier in the year by using Challenge Roth in Germany as an example of why validation is still required of Kona champs...they will say that they do not want race an IM besides Kona, but then race Roth. Mis-Construed because it will be likely (not 100%, just likely) that the person who wins a regional will also have competed in Kona. BUT, the real bonus here is IF you did not go to Kona, and are a top-level athlete, you can qualify for Kona without racing multiple IMs in a year. Looking at the 2014 KPR only Dirk Bockel was able to win a regional AND make it to Kona...Dirk dnf'd Kona 2013 and has no other WTC races as scores.
So, right now I see a net positive for the sport as a whole. I say that because the shift moves towards legitimizing triathlon as a pro sport. It definitely makes it more difficult for a lot of us, even a lot of pros who have done relatively well in the current system. For pros who have been in the money recently, even those with quite a few 2nd or 3rd podium finishes...things got rougher as well. The regular top 1 or 2 will see more money...3rd and beyond likely less. For the pros who have typically been outside of the money as the system is now, things got a whole lot more difficult. Some additional musings:
- This is elite competition. It is hard. It is hard to make a living. Of everyone that I grew up with who played football, not a single one played professional ball. None. Qualifying for World Championships should not be easy, nor should the athletes racing be wrecked when they get there. This new set up will likely provide a field in Kona that is more ready to race. If you've made the decision to race professional, you might have to make more sacrifices to truly try to make it.
- Start lists are going to be massive for the regional champs and other races as well. Just be ready. Unless there are field limits which then begs the question as to who gets wait listed if anyone? ITU has a pretty strict entry process, WTC should/could as well. #Pay10Deep might look pale in comparison to today's set up if there are 40+ athletes on every start list instead of 15-20 for an 8 deep purse.
- I wonder what the reduction, if any, in the number of pros who sign up for an annual WTC license will do to the Anti-Doping program since we are supposed to be the ones funding it, and since it has been said to operate at a loss already?
- Is the decision to cut money from NA races simply due to the fact that on the pro side of things WTC really has a monopoly on the market here? Or, is it a test case for the blog I wrote Sunday evening?