Chris McCormack on PTO challenges, triathlon ‘a really hostile place’ and ‘boring’ Collins Cup

Chris McCormack on PTO challenges, triathlon ‘a really hostile place’ and ‘boring’ Collins Cup

Chris McCormack is perfectly placed to assess the impact of the PTO (Professional Triathletes Organisation) – he’s seen up close and personal the challenges facing any newcomer to the sport of triathlon.

The two-time IRONMAN World Champion is a key part of Super League Triathlon, which has blazed a trail with its breathless, made-for-TV short-course entertainment.

The PTO meanwhile – backed by billionaire investor Sir Michael Moritz – is trying to carve out its own niche with high-profile races at the 100km distance.

McCormack of course is a very interested observer to the impact of PTO – and the challenges it faces – and he gave us a detailed take during an interview with TRI247, starting with how it hopes to make money.

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How does PTO make money?

He told us: “They’ve raised a lot of money but I never quite understood their business model, to be quite honest with you. Day dot, when they came and were asking for cash, we were like, ‘okay, walk me through it’.”

McCormack says he loves the concept of the distance PTO is promoting, but says as yet they just haven’t produced anything to make him really sit up and take notice.

“I still watch the Roths. Maybe I’m just a diehard. I locked in on Roth [last month]. I watched it. I’ll still watch the World Championships. I’m going to go to Nice. Those events still mean something. I still watch the WTCS. Right. And I watch Super League.

“But the PTO events. Yeah, I watched the highlights, but I’m not really tuning in for them. They haven’t done anything that has blown my mind. I did watch the event in Ibiza, only because we got the showdown with the three Olympic champions, which I thought was great. And I do I like the 100K distance, to be honest.”

One thing which surprised McCormack when SLT entered the sport was the way the new business was received. It wasn’t at all what he expected.

Triathlon ‘a really hostile place’

“Sometimes I feel like, and I never realised this until we started Super League, I thought we’d be greeted with open arms. We’re coming into this sport, investing money in it, but then suddenly you realise everyone has their little island and they protect it and no-one wants to work together and everyone’s spitting on each other and you’re like, ‘wow, this is a really hostile place’.

“And I think if we can all get together at some point and start sport down and start to work together from a sports perspective, it’s never going to happen. It’s a dream, but it would do a lot.”

McCormack is pretty clear with his feelings about the future for PTO – he loves the concept, but struggles to see yet how it can be successful commercially.

“Yeah. I like where the PTO is going again. I just don’t understand at what point how this is sustainable,” he admitted.

“IRONMAN couldn’t make the pro racing sustainable and it’s just IRONMAN with a different name on it. And sure, they’re trying to create and they’re doing a lot on the digital channels, trying to create some value, trying to commercialise and make money out of it.

“But it’s a slow bleed, it’s a slow spend. We’ve realised that with Super League, which is much more dynamic and it’s a difficult play, but I’m a fan of the sport and I love the best racing the best. 

And I think what Andrew Messick did, I guess with IRONMAN and growing it to having so many races, we very rarely saw the best race the best in that era.

“Whereas back in the day, you’d race, say, IRONMAN Germany and it meant something. Roth meant something, it still does, I guess, but these races meant something because the best would race Ironman.”

Collins Cup was ‘boring’

One PTO innovation which didn’t work for McCormack was the much-hyped Collins Cup, the team event which was introduced in 2021 with a view to being the organisation’s flagship event. It took place in 2021 and 2022 but is not part of the 2023 calendar.

“I thought the direction of the concept was great, but I found it highly confusing and boring to watch. I watched one and went, I’m done. Yeah, it doesn’t make sense. Yeah, not interesting.”

Despite the challenges, the PTO are attracting high-class fields to their events – promoting that ‘best race the best’ mantra that McCormack loves. Again though, he comes back to the challenge of actually making cold, hard cash.

“I’d like to see it because I’m a believer in the sport, always have been, and I didn’t understand what they were doing, but they’re doing it and it seems to be effective in terms of the pro fields they are attracting.

“I’m glad there’s a big event in Singapore but I don’t know how you monetise that event because you can only have 500 people in water. And in the economic environment we’re in, rates are rising, money is harder to get as are investments, you’re going to start to see a real economic squeeze on a lot of cash-heavy event promoters and that could change the whole dynamic.”

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