The conference in Tempe, Arizona, brought together race directors, coaches, retailers and others in the multisport community.
The inaugural Endurance Exchange triathlon industry conference brought together more than 500 race directors, coaches, retailers and others in the multisport community for three days of learning, sharing best practices and networking Thursday through Saturday at Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium.
The event, a collaboration between USA Triathlon and Triathlon Business International (TBI), was created in an effort to grow, inspire and support the triathlon community by collaboratively hosting the nation’s largest experiential triathlon summit where everyone within the multisport community can learn; share best practices, trends and innovations; network; and collaborate.
Featuring a dynamic lineup of expert presenters from across the multisport community, Endurance Exchange offered content specific to coaches, race directors and retailers, along with general sessions relevant to the entire industry. Sessions included interactive roundtables, question and answer forums, panel discussions and presentations on a variety of topics relevant to endurance sports.
Among the topics covered were diversity, equity and inclusion concepts and their relevance to the future of triathlon; mental health and performance; CBD usage in endurance sports; creating new and unique revenue streams for your events; how to create a successful charity partnership; what race directors can do to make their events more environmentally friendly; running biomechanics and the growing trend of gamification of endurance sports.
In addition, professional triathlete and Picky Bars CEO Jesse Thomas and longtime Boston Marathon race director and USA Triathlon Hall of Fame member Dave McGillivray delivered entertaining and inspiring presentations, chronicling their experience with the sport of triathlon.
“I was really seeking out the endurance sports type of conference. I’ve been to a lot, but this was pretty different. I wanted something triathlon-specific that would help me grow my business and help me grow as a coach and help me pass that knowledge on to the next coach that I’m mentoring. This is one of the better conferences I’ve been to,” said Jen Myers (Chesapeake, Va.), a USA Triathlon Level I certified coach.
Eric Byrnes, former MLB outfielder and current MLB Network analyst, and Pasquale Romano, President and CEO of ChargePoint — both avid triathletes —delivered keynote presentations.
Romano’s keynote explored the relationship between endurance sports and entrepreneurship, put into context for athletes, race directors, coaches, manufacturers, brands and other business stakeholders in the multisport industry.
Basketball… “Flat, Challenging” times in Tri … and Lance Armstrong:
“I went from the stars to the ground, seemingly overnight”
The Monday morning start of Day 2 at TBI began early, with a group workout at the local Dallas YMCA, put on by ACTIVE. Following an old-school basketball lay-up drill, Arch led participants through four, 7-minute “Tabata” sets and had us all sweating and dreading sitting on sore glutes later in the day, but smiling goofy endorphin-induced grins. (Only the first three sets were physical – the fourth set was a mental “Triku” writing exercise… we may – or may not – hear more about those submissions later in the conference.)
By 8:00 a.m. the breakfast crowd was ushered into the presentation hall for a few opening remarks by TBI President Richard Adler. Citing registration data, Adler pointed out 41% of this year’s TBE attendees are race producers, followed by those in the technology field, and manufacturers with 15% each. And then a large “other” category, that includes coaches, tri clubs, city representatives, advertising/marketing entities, sponsors… a good cross-section of the industry.
This year’s conference theme is “profitability and success in triathlon,” and Adler referenced data presented by Gary Roethenbaugh yesterday and reiterating the current “flat” triathlon climate makes for “challenging times.” However. The entire purpose of this conference is to collaborate and share ideas; TBI is, at its core, a “sounding board and connector of resources.”
And then a hush fell over the room as Lance Armstrong was ushered down the center aisle, red carpet style, haloed by a bright spotlight, led by Slowtwitch publisher Dan Empfield. As they walked Empfield referred to Armstrong as his “very good friend,” and Armstrong made reference to Empfield being his “first sponsor” (Empfield was Lance Armstrong’s first bike sponsor, with Quintana Roo, the bike brand Empfield founded).
Empfield opened the session with an air of caution and assertive direction, launching immediately into Armstrong’s The Forward Podcast, and skipping any preamble about the cycling world or doping or other obvious precursors. Admitting he is “very jealous” of Armstrong’s podcasts because “they are so good,” Empfield asked about:
Toughest interviews (“Seal was very emotional and dark; he and I did the dance and it came off…“)
Favorite interview to date (Michael Morton – wrongfully convicted for killing his wife: “He is my favorite by far, so far. He went to prison for 26 years for a crime he didn’t commit. And then DNA evidence proved his innocence and he was exonerated. His views on the people who put him away – what he wanted to do to them – for 15 years he had a plan for every one of them. Shoot & bury. Burn. Drown… And then he found God. . . The guy is amazing. Really cool guy.“
As Armstrong mentioned Sean Penn (whom he hangs out with in Aspen), biographer Hunter Thompson, Johnny Depp, Bo Jackson, Brett Favre (a “good friend”), Malcolm Gladwell (If he does a tri, “Who’s going to make the swim cap to go over that ‘fro of his?”) … Empfield points out, “These guys are all friends – you just call them up.” And later in the interview, regarding Armstrong’s residence in Aspen, “there’s a posse, and you’re in it.” Empfield continues, “You can hang with these people and talk with these people in a way a CNN interviewer couldn’t… I mean, a presidential historian and rock stars…”
Armstrong revealed his techniques for landing an interview with someone he finds compelling: “I grab coffee in the morning and read the newspaper. I see who’s in town… send a DM to a mutual acquaintance and get a cell phone number…” He goes on to point out how public most personal information is, saying, “You can find out about anybody’s life – start with Wikipedia, and then go to YouTube… There’s still some secrets out there, but very few.”
He also acknowledges the timing of his Forward podcast, saying, “I couldn’t have done this kind of platform five years ago. . . I went from the stars to the ground seemingly overnight, and all of my platforms went away. That was a humbling experience. The podcast is my first platform, my first offensive move, the first place I’ve gone back to to give people a place to go. . . I’m blown away at the success it’s had.”
When asked about the “corporatization” of sport, making big business out of triathlon or other endurance sports, he was clear, saying whether it’s Ironman or New York Road Runners or the Boston Marathon, “we still have millions willing to pay to play.” But. ASO/Tour de France is “much more evil” than Wanda Sports. “The business model of pro cycling is 100 years old and not sustainable. There is turmoil there. They want to control as much as they can and cast a shadow over all the other events. The Tour is too big – but they are the only one, and the only thing people care about.”
“I wish there were more players and riders who had a bigger voice in pro cycling.”
Armstrong’s latest venture, WEDU Sport, was touched on but not well defined. According to the trademark application, WEDU will incorporate monitoring & tracking (“Computer software and computer application software related to tracking, monitoring, planning, compliance and motivation”), clothing, and “athletic competitions, triathlon events, athletic coaching services.”
When Empfield asked about the new brand, Armstrong provided an explanation for the name, saying, “WEDU is an answer to a question: Who does 100X100’s in the pool or runs Rim2Rim? Who wants to do that? Who would be crazy enough to do that? The answer is WEDU. That is the brand. There is space for more events in the endurance world. Also, monitoring and tracking – GPS, Strava, wearables – allowing athletes to train better, smarter, and injury free.”
Later in the interview he added on the subject of WEDU: “We’ll provide events, content, and training. Similar to Endurance Nation – we’ll sell plans. And WEDU may be an app.”
And what about that subject of doping? Empfield raised the subject, and Armstrong elaborated, saying first, “It will never change.” He said there will always be cheaters Whether traditional doping, or course cutting, or mechanical doping with engines. He did an obstacle course race, and when he missed an obstacle he had to do 180 burpees. “I did all 180 burpees,” he said. “But how many people really do them? It’s the honor system. If they have to do 30 burpees, how many do 30? No one. They do 22.”
What about just letting letting drug testing go – just “chilling” – and letting athletes do what they will do? “Just chilling is not an option,” Armstrong insists. “I don’t have a lot of credibility on this.” (crowd chuckles) “You laugh, but it’s true. Should we test athletes? I’m probably not the guy to ask. But if it’s my kids, I say test them.”
And, on the future of triathlon: “Who knows? Who would have thought there would be the Tough Mudder and events like that? We just don’t know… You never know what the next event is. What will provide relevance and motivation? For Type A motivated people, what are you going to give them in ten years?”
He speaks about the return of his Aspen mountain bike race in 2017 (the 2016 event ended up being “a party at my house” since he missed the permitting deadline), his preference for century rides over Gran Fondo’s, because they are untimed and easier to permit, and “alternative” events in general. He then adds, solemnly, “I want all of the ships to rise.”
Also: Jimmy Buffett & Margaritaville. “When you stay there, he is making money off of you from the minute you wake up until you go to bed. From music to blenders to everything… I really respect what he’s done with his brand.”
Finally: Empfield circles back to the Forward podcast. He notes that listeners are asked to rate the show, one star to five. “There are no 2s, 3s or 4s. Only 1s and 5s. Is this a metaphor for how people view you?” Armstrong responds, “I was an asshole for a very long time. I understand that.”
As Armstrong left the room (for 1.5 hrs of post-appearance interviews in the outer hallway), the TBI sessions continued with discussions covering the Future of Triathlon (“Triathlon has plateaued. But it’s stable. Flat is the new ‘up’.” – Chuck Menke); Sponsorships; Diversity in Triathlon moderated by Sara Gross (“Diversity brings innovation, and that’s what triathlon needs now”); and the USAT State of the Union address by Rob Urbach (which began with, “Do you remember the first time you made love?”). Late afternoon sessions allowed participants to choose between topics including Working with Municipalities, Retailer Relationships, Understanding Millennials, and Triathlon Teams.
The Ron Smith Reception and Awards Celebration filled the evening, with winners announced in multiple categories. Be sure to check out 303Triathlon’s twitter feed for all the details on the day’s presentations and events.
Today the annual Triathlon Business International meeting began, jointly hosted by TBI and USAT for the first time.
If you’re in the multisport business and are looking for information, tools and solutions to help you come out on top in today’s world, the Triathlon Business International 7th Annual Business Conference is where the business of triathlon gets done!
On the heels of the USA Triathlon’s Race Directors Symposium held Jan. 20-22, TBI’s annual North American business conference will continue through Tuesday.
Today’s presentations were hosted jointly by USAT and TBI.
After opening remarks by USAT CEO Rob Urback and TBI President Richard Adler, featured speaker Melissa Stockwell, Olympic Paratriathlete Medalist, World Champion and war veteran, took the stage and inspired all. (Be sure to catch Melissafor a rapid fire challenge with Allysa Seely and Hailey Danisewicz Danz – the women of the Paralympic Games PT2 podium sweep on USAT Facebook Live direct from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs Monday, 1/23/17 at 2:05 p.m.!)
Following Stockwell, Gary Roethenbaugh, Managing Director of MultiSport Research Ltd., presented the findings from the 2017 Confidence Survey. Data presented was compiled from 2017 TBI attendee responses, and is still being collected and analyzed. However, here were a few key themes:
The U.S. continues to lead the triathlon market, commanding 1/5 of the global total triathlon population. The next largest populations of athletes are in Germany, the UK, France, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
On a worldwide level the triathlon market is still growing in double digits at 10%, which is encouraging; but in the U.S. growth is slowing. Key quote: “Flat is the new growth” (in reference to U.S. growth)
For race organizers, margins are thin, and there is pressure on the bottom line as registrations drop as well as sponsorship dollars.
When comparing the 2016 TBI survey to the current 2017 results, there was a “drop in happiness” in terms of customer demand.
Perhaps the greatest challenge here in 2017 is identifying new ways to reach out and find new people.
“The Triathlon industry will always be seen as an innovator, and that is its real backbone.“
The TBI annual conference hopes to use sessions to discuss these challenges and identify positive answers for growing the sport.
The day concluded with a lively reception held a few blocks away at the ACTIVE headquarters, where the bike-powered blenders churned away and attendees enjoyed networking, championship football, and plenty of Texas-style food.
Monday sessions will resume first thing – following early morning group workout sessions at the local YMCA and led by ActiveX – always a fun time to line up next to fellow industry professionals to break a sweat. The Day 2 line up includes the expected TBI President Richard Adler’s welcome, sessions on the Future of Triathlon, Developing Partnerships, and Expanding Diversity before lunch. Oh, and Lance Armstrong. Yes, a “discussion” moderated by Dan Empfield of Slowtwitch will be held, along with an audience Q&A…
Stay tuned for all the coverage – including photos and video! (Follow 303Triathlon on Twitter for blow-by-blow updates.)