Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ironman: Can USA Triathlon really keep missing the point?

It confounds me that there is still a question as to why WTC's Ironman races sell out in hours and other races like the Duke Blue Devil fold. It's marketing 101. Ironman is branded. It's in our faces 24/7. Tell me off the top of your head, what time of year is Ironman Hawaii? Okay, now tell me when the Duke Blue Devil is held? Ironman's got large corporate sponsorship, television contracts, and the big name athletes. They've got Hawaii. Consider the newbie who wants to do something outrageously bold: a triathlon. And not just any triathlon, but the one we ALL grew up with: Ironman. Epic battles on the big island by people named Dave Scott and Scott Molina. They're the reason many of us entered the sport. Even non-triathletes know about Hawaii. Hell, Keith Jackson's hocking Gatorade with a pitch about Ironman.

On the other hand you get USA Triathlon's fractured message. What is their goal? They squabble with WTC. They squabble with the USOC. What is their product? What is their value proposition? Why USA Triathlon?

From a marketer's standpoint, to get any sense of credibility back and become a serious force again, USA Triathlon needs to begin behaving like a professional business. What can they offer that WTC can't? The Olympic dream, that's what. It's just about the only ideal that strikes as deep a chord in the amateur triathlete as Ironman. Forget the sprints. Forget the 1/2 Irons. Forget the Iron distance. Sell the rings. Olympic distance, period. Maybe set up ability categorizations like USA Cycling, so you can offer draft legal races to the more accomplished athletes. Sell the rings. The rings bring in corporate sponsors. The rings bring in TV time. Get the national championships in LA or NYC or Boston or Chicago. Big TV markets. Shreveport? Kansas City? Are you kidding me?

Sell the rings. Establish a brand, and then USA Triathlon may once again have the clout to push other races. It's just not a mystery. To be taken seriously USA Triathlon needs to get professional: A consistent message, a great product, and an identifiable brand. It's not rocket science. It's just business.