70.3, 101, 140.6
and The Numbers Game.
By Tom Demerly.
There’s a new race series
for 2007 and it’s called Triathlon One O One.
This new series comes on the heels
of this year’s Ford Ironman 70.3 Races. Both new series
pull from the growth we’ve seen in the Ironman Triathlon
World Championship round of events. Do we need another new race
series? Yes, and I think Triathlon One O One is a good fit.
Triathlon One O One is a 1.86 mile (3 kilometer) swim, 80.6
mile (130 kilometer) bike and an 18.6 mile (30 kilometer) run.
It is an interesting distance that falls between the1/2 Ironman
Ford 70.3 distance and the full 140.6 mile distance of the Ford
Ironman World Championship Series.
Triathlon One O One is not intended to be a stepping stone from
the 70.3 distance to Ironman’s 140.6 mile distance. Triathlon
One O One is “Pepsi” to Ironman’s “Coke”.
Let’s think about the prospects for
Triathlon One O One:
There are a few so-called “immutable” rules to marketing
and Triathlon One O One is implementing all of them. The first
one is that all competitive markets eventually turn into a two
horse race. Long distance triathlon has been a one horse race
since the late ‘70’s when Ironman was invented.
The most significant thing the Ironman series has going for
it is brand recognition. The growth of this recognition comes
from two decades of history, good media and a very sticky name.
“Ironman” rolls off the tongue well. People want
to be an “Ironman”. It is the “Kleenex”,
“Xerox”, and “Coke” of triathlon. There
is no defeating or competing with the recognition of Ironman
and Triathlon One O One knows it. Ironman will always be the
most recognizable brand in triathlon and one of the most recognizable
trademarks in the world. I doubt anyone will want to become
a… “One O One”.
Triathlon One O One is intended
to be the triathlete’s triathlon. It is the longest distance
we can really “race” with any level of competition
amongst ourselves. If we’re honest, hardly any of us “race”
Ironman, we simply survive it the best we can. That is part
of the allure, but part of the problem. The new shorter Ford
Ironman 70.3 distance is a sinister distance since raw speed
is still a very real aspect of the 70.3 race. If you want to
have a good day at 70.3 you have to swim, bike and run very
fast. It’s a racer’s race. Triathlon One O One strikes
an interesting truce between endurance and speed. You’ll
need both to have a good day at One O One, but not a preponderance
of either. It’s the long distance race for the “everyman”.
We follow our customers’ progress at Ironman on ironmanlive.com
during race day. One thing we consistently see is that our customers
have a good race through 9 hours. After about 9 hours the wheels
start to fall off. There are probably a few reasons including
nutrition and the amount of training time most people have.
The fact remains that up to 9 hours we are in control of the
race, after 9 hours the race is in control of us. Since most
people will finish a Triathlon One O One event in around 9 hours
this is likely the high water mark of what most athletes can
I did a One O One race inadvertently when I did the IsoStar
Nice Triathlon in Nice, France in 2004. This was the last edition
of this race before it was swallowed up by the Ironman machine
and lengthened to become Ironman France. The 2004 IsoStar Nice
Triathlon was the One O One distance by coincidence. I can tell
you it is a good and race-able distance that can be contested
more than once a year. I probably have a couple “One O
One’s” in me a year. The next day you feel it, but
you’re not hobbled by fatigue for a month.
If a 9 hour event is about the competitive limit for us mortal
40 hour a week people then Triathlon One O One fits that need
quite nicely. A similar circumstance on a smaller scale has
changed adventure racing. So-called “Expedition”
length adventure races such as the old version of the Raid Gauloises
and the now defunct Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge died partially
because the distances and time involved were too much for the
average participant/athlete. These events got great media and
that ignited a brief spat of interest in adventure racing. Adventure
racing has since settled on shorter events more accessible to
the 40 hour a week crowd. With Triathlon One O One we may see
a similar shift in triathlon away from events that finish at
midnight to events that finish for most people when the sun
is still up.
Triathlon One O One has also latched firmly onto the possibilities
presented by Ironman’s Achilles. There are too many athletes
and too few races. Entry for domestic Ironman North America
events fill so fast a significant number of potential participants
are left out in the cold. Will some of those people be happy
with Triathlon One O One as a surrogate? No, Triathlon One O
One isn’t a substitute for Ironman. But I wager that once
enough athletes experience Triathlon One O One as it is being
depicted there will be a natural gravitation of athlete/participants
to the series. And that brings me to how Triathlon One O One
will gain a foothold on the marketing beachhead and expand and
consolidate their position despite the fact that this is likely
the first time you’ve heard of it.
The twenty years that have elapsed between the birth of Ironman
and the conception of Triathlon One O One are pivotal years
in how anything new is brought to the public’s attention.
The Ironman brand has taken almost all of two decades to reach
its current level of recognition. Triathlon One O One will likely
achieve a decent percentage of that recognition, mostly among
athletes, in a fraction of that time. The difference is the
evolution of the media.
If Triathlon One O One can become 20% as recognizable as Ironman
in 5% of the time it took Ironman to achieve their brand recognition
they will have arrived as a viable competitor. In round numbers
that means Triathlon One O One must have about 7000 participants
to Ironman’s 36,000 in 2007. Ironman has about 20 events
worldwide; Triathlon One O One has four on the schedule for
2007 right now. There is no science to these numbers other than
to suppose that 7000 participants in Triathlon One O One, give
or take a thousand, will create enough of a buzz in the popular
user-generated Internet media like forums and blogs for the
event to gain acceptance.
Don’t underestimate the power of the participants to drive
the growth of Triathlon One O One. Time magazine named anyone
using the Internet as “Person of the Year” and heralded
the power of the user-generated “digital democracy”.
The best selling book “The Tipping Point” mentions
several factors that help a trend start and then grow quickly.
Triathlon One O One is using strategies documented in “The
Tipping Point” and will benefit from experiences had and
shared on the Internet by participants. Whereas Ironman was
reliant, and still is to a large degree, on traditional network
print and television media to inspire new participants Triathlon
One O One relies on a much more reactive and faster media: The
Internet. Word about Triathlon One O One will spread like flame
in a windy brush fire once the first group of athletes experience
the race and report their experiences in forums and blogs on
the Internet. The Triathlon One O One guys know this and will
make a full court press to knock athlete’s socks off in
the initial year.
Another savvy tactic for Triathlon One O One is to control its
own media. This has worked for the military and will work for
Triathlon One O One. Triathlon One O One will cover their own
event themselves live on the Internet through the Slowtwitch
web site. Slowtwitch features the most active and volatile triathlon
user based Internet forum. Many Triathlon One O One participants
will come form the ranks of Slowtwitch users and lurkers, the
same group who participates in, but is openly critical of the
This is a great plan, and is likely to work. The Internet is
a double edged sword. It can giveth and taketh away. If Triathlon
One O One misses a beat in their opening events they will face
an impossible battle trying to get people into their races.
There is no margin for error in the first Triathlon One O One
races: There can be no drafting in the events, the swim courses
must be perfectly measured, well-marked and filled with playful
dolphins and mermaids. The bike course must be smooth and there
must be a tail wind on every draft-free part of the course.
The aid stations must feature sports drinks chilled to your
taste and served by agile, smiling volunteers. If Triathlon
One O One doesn’t have people to wipe our bottoms in the
Porta-Potty someone will bitch on the Internet. They can’t
afford to miss a swing on their first time at bat. Ironman is
a great series and they have set the bar very high for Triathlon
One O One. A failure anywhere during the first races will be
exposed and embellished on the Internet forums in the grandest
“trial by Internet” style.
Two advantages Ironman enjoys over Triathlon One O One is the
detachment of the network telecast and a broader audience. If
something goes wrong during the race there is plenty of time
to practice “perception management” with the editors
before the telecast is aired a month and a half later. Even
though Ironman is carried in a webcast on Ironmanlive.com the
audience is predominantly participants and enthusiasts in the
sport. The future athletes and the casual viewers are the network
audience. That is the crowd that Triathlon One O One will miss,
especially at first.
Triathlon One O One also has a few other tricks up their sleeve.
The men behind it are the sports “A” team of event
management and promotion. These are guys and girls who have
already produced and hosted hundreds of endurance events. They
know what athletes want in an event and how to deliver it. They
wield the Internet media with consummate skill. They have deep
enough pockets to float the event without a major sponsor until
it gains traction. And perhaps most importantly, they have all
been part of other series that have died on the vine, like the
attempted resurgence of the United StatesTriathlon Series, the
old Bud Light USTS.
The success or failure of Triathlon One O One won’t depend
on a conflict between governing bodies or a tussle of what pro
athletes attend which “Championship” event. The
make-or-break of Triathlon One O One will come when your buddy
comes back from one of the races and sends you an e-mail raving
about the course, the finish line, the goody bag and how much
fun it was. That infection of enthusiasm will spread across
the triathlon Internet community. One athlete at a time Triathlon
One O One will grow. The Ironman moniker will likely never loose
steam but the Triathlon One O One logo may begin to emerge as
the mark worn by the athlete who is in the sport to stay and
has moved beyond the conspicuous status of being an Ironman.