PTO: is it heading in the right direction or is it too good to be true?

PTO San Francisco (Picture: PTO)

The T100 series: when the PTO announced the race series early this year – eight races spread around the world, a large prize pool and with the twenty best male and twenty best female triathletes racing – it all sounded wonderful. Ironman and Challenge Family, the two other major organizers in the Long and Middle Distance market, will no doubt have been watching the developments with mild suspicion. But what is it like now, five months and three out of eight races later? Is all going well with the PTO, or are we perhaps dealing with something that simply is too good to be true?

One thing is certain; the PTO is not lacking in ideals. Creating better conditions for professional athletes, exciting racing at the highest level that are also broadcast live on television, action between only the very best athletes in the world and, apart from all this, a huge injection of capital to move the sport of triathlon forward. There’s been a big push for a few years now – and all the more so this year with the T100 series – and all in all it amounts to tens of millions of dollars. But are PTO’s ideals being realized?

Because, at the same time, there are more and more rumors that the PTO is losing money very fast and that there is actually far too little coming in. It is not an unrealistic assumption, because the broadcasting rights would earn little or even nothing for the time being, and in addition, the races that the PTO opens up to Age Groupers are not lucrative either. Meanwhile, huge investments are being made to pay a relatively very small group of top athletes huge sums of money and eventually that has to come from somewhere. According to the same rumors, several investors have already indicated that something needs to change soon and thus, most importantly, more money needs to be (re)earned.

There are plenty of positive things to say about the T100 series – after all, we have already seen three wonderful and certainly exciting racing, with very nice battles, sometimes surprising winners and certainly good broadcasts. At least it is if you watch the PTO’s original broadcasts – there’s a lot of praise for Jan Frodeno for example, although there’s a lot of criticism of commentator Jack Kelly – because on a national level, the level of coverage and commentary is being complained about quite a bit in several countries. The PTO – to give just one example – has had comments from people from The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France about the level of local broadcasts anyway. From other countries, it will be no different.

Last weekend – when the third race (San Francisco) in the T100 series took place – an extra disappointment came on top of that. In a lot of European countries it was decided shortly before broadcast that the race would not be broadcast live on Eurosport after all. Despite big announcements that every T100 race would be broadcast live on television, people had to make do with motor sports and tennis, for example, and everyone therefore had to rely on the PTO stream online, or a summary that was broadcast hours after the finish.

Speaking of San Francisco, it also became clear once again that the PTO has trouble getting the twenty best men and twenty best women to compete against each other. In the first two races (Miami and Singapore), many athletes started with a wildcasrd – who in many cases performed excellently, by the way – and a number of the biggest names didn’t attend. This was also the case in San Francisco, and for the first time the women’s field was not even fully occupied: instead of twenty ladies, only eighteen women raced with the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop.

Perhaps the biggest blow was dealt to the PTO a few days before San Francisco, when it was revealed that Lucy Charles-Barclay, of all people, was shifting – or rather shifting back – her focus from the PTO to Ironman. In January, when the T100 series was grandly announced, the British athlete was there and announced that she would skip the Ironman World Championship in Nice and thus not defend her world title. Two reasons: the course would not suit her, but also Charles-Barclay wanted to be able to focus fully on the T100 series. The worldwide triathlon community was a bit in shock, as the fact that the defending champion chose the PTO over Ironman was considered unheard of. In San Francisco, however, she was suddenly not there racing the T100-series and as it turns out, Charles-Barclay is going to Nice after all, putting the T100 series back on the sidelines.

The PTO provides plenty of great things within the sport of triathlon – that’s for sure – but at the same time the organization does not seem to be doing as well as initially thought. Time will tell how the situation evolves.