When a race is poorly broadcast, we lose out on the opportunity to properly sell the sport to the audience. Unfortunately, whether this applies (mostly) to Ironman and ITU racing, the product remains unattractive to major sports networks.
This obviously has an impact on the sport’s popularity, but also on the elite athletes because when the interest of age-groupers hasn’t been piqued, then the pros are not perceived as interesting investments for the big brands active in triathlon. Behind the scenes some are saying that the big bikes brands drastically cut their investments in triathlon. Why? Because they don’t need to associate themselves to an athlete’s performance in order to obtain visibility. Sadly, this retreat will also have an important impact on the development of the sport.
We can’t say…
That triathlon isn’t television friendly since this is completely false. The reality is that we have not yet found a way to properly carry over the racing dynamics to the viewing public.
The biggest problem is in its understanding. Triathlon has nothing to envy from cross country skiing, marathons, and automobile racing, but all of these disciplines are already on your television.
When looking at the competitive race, there are generally only a dozen athletes going for the win. Unfortunately, it is usually very hard to differentiate them from the rest. It may be the case that the race commentator will in able to distinguish an athlete by his or her swim style.
In the past, a different color swim cap was provided to the favourites. This isn’t being done anymore, even if it is essential. In a perfect scenario, it could allow spectators to see whether an athlete is being trapped in the turn around a buoy. This would surely add to the understanding of race dynamics and to the spectacle itself.
Over the first 400 meters, we could have an drone over the swimmers to track their evoluation. Unfortunately, at the moment, we can only content ourselves with seeing if the swim pack is breaking up without really knowing who is part of the break away group.
The race isn’t interesting at the front, but it is at the rear.
Modern triathlon should be viewed as a pursuit. Focusing on the leader doesn’t drive interest since the race is generally being played out behind. Viewers are mostly interested in knowing whether the athletes are setting themselves up or not. Sadly, depending solely on the plain video images is confounding.
Similarly to the Tour de France, ITU has the technology to know the gap behind groups in real time. This information should always be on the screen as it is a proven method.
The greatest advantage here is that this allows us to better place the athletes within the field, but also understand the evolution of the gap.
This formula would also be applicable to Ironman. The more a competitive a race is, the more we hear of the ‘lead group. Unfortunately, the biggest gaps are seen at the end of the bike leg. At that point however, it is impossible to understand who can’t hold the pace anymore. Viewers have to wait until the athletes cross the timing mats to get this information, making the broadcast very static. When commentators don’t have this information on hand, it is impossible for them to do their job.
Showing race dynamics.
The ITU has the advantage of holding its races on circuits. This means that it is possible to have visual cues regarding timing and speed. Unfortunately, this is an aspect which is never used. With this type of data, it would clearly be easier to understand what the trends are. Contrary to popular believe, there are no pauses, no drops in intensity.
What about the run?
What is spectacular in ITU racing are the risks being taken by athletes over the first few kilometers as they try to properly position themselves. Even if the viewer is impressed by the overall times achieved for the 10,000 meter run, the speed at which the athletes rush out T2 is even more impressive. We could imagine viewers being shown a split after the first kilometer as well as the corresponding speed.
As for the rest of the run, the coverage is unfortunately more complex than on the bike, except for the absence of the group dynamic. It could, however, be possible to give splits which are always accompanied by gaps and cues regarding speed.
According to us, triathlon will remain out of main stream media until we are able to better communicate racing dynamics within the sport. The solutions are already there.