In continuation to Part 1 where I identified some problems in defining what a professional triathlete is I offer 3 options that would help better define professional triathletes, and could be used as a starting point to rebrand and grow professional triathlon.
Option 1 – Open Racing
In this scenario I would say there are similarities to running. Everyone lines up and starts at the same time or corrals based on projected finishing time and the first one across the line wins the prize.
The cream rises to the top. No one really called a pro because a professional category doesn’t exist. How do I see this working at a world championship like Kona? They already award points to the pros at their races. If they extended these points to say the top 200 overall at a race then the top 100 throughout the year get to race in the prestigious first wave at the championship and everyone else can race in age group waves the way it currently is.
Option 2 – Category System
The second option to defining professionals is a category system similar to what you see in cycling. When you first enter the sport you race in the open category and you get to start in the last wave. If you come into the sport through being a top level swimmer, cyclist, or runner you can petition your national federation to allow you to enter the next category race. After placing near the front of your category in a few races you get bumped up to the next division, and similarly if you perform poorly you get downgraded at the end of the season.
In this format once again there would be a points system that awards points based on finishing position in your category and the top people in their category qualify for world championships. Race directors would no longer have to give out awards to every age group so they could give out smaller participation awards to everyone, and the ultra competitive among us will rally to move up categories. At the smaller local races you would have waves with combined categories.
Option 3 – The Team
The third option I propose, and my personal favorite, is the team system. This system would be similar to most of the North American sports where people are part of a team.
The team would pay each athlete a base salary, and then bonuses and prize money would be for the individual or a percentage goes back to the team. Therefore each athlete is making money and meets the dictionary definition of professional.
Then to race in the pro wave of a race you must be a registered member of a professional team. With the team system there would be different levels of teams similar to other sports where they have either feeder teams and major team (similar to the minor leagues and major leagues of most team sports) or you have regional, continental, and world teams like in cycling.
The framework for the team model is in place with a few teams such as Bahrain 13 and the Uplace-BMC team, but more large-scale sponsors would need to be brought into the sport to support this model. In short course racing there are a few teams that race in the French GP Series and I think a Belgian series as well, but it was difficult to find much information on how these teams and leagues function. There are many small training squads in triathlon currently, but I don’t know of very many of them that market themselves as a package to sponsors. It seems like it is still on the individual athletes to find their own sponsors.
The framework is there for the racing as well ITU has three different levels of racing and WTC has races designated as P-500 up to P-8000. This could easily be changed so only World Cup teams (could be a mixture of ITU and long course athletes) are only allowed to race in the higher ranked races and the continental and regional teams get to race in the lower ranked races and the top tier races in their area (similar to the Giro allowing continental Italian teams or the Tour allowing more French teams in).