New life for Philly Tri? (don’t bet your Zipps on it)

The Philadelphia Triathlon was one of the most exciting short-course races in the mid-Atlantic. The local race owners and directors were triathletes. They were in it because they wanted a solid triathlon on their home turf. They brought in a title sponsor that had triathlon in it’s DNA. From the hopping race expo and packet pick-up to the field of big name pros (Craig Alexander once set the course record here), the weekend was always a highlight of my tri season.

And then the local crew sold the race to Competitor Group. Competitor is not a triathlete: it is a business. It’s not in it to bring a great triathlon to the local scene – it’s in in to produce a McDonalds-ized version of triathlon with the cost control of mass production. Competitor Group ended prize purses (why spend the money?), which ended the excitement of being on the course with the big kids. Competitor ended local branding, so all the shirts and medals were exactly like those of every other Competitor triathlon. Given the paucity of the most recent expos, Competitor must have cut amenities and benefits for local tri-oriented businesses, while also jacking the cost of expo space, so even the expo was a sleepy, perfunctory version of its former self. Competitor Group even stopped paying for USA Triathlon officials to oversee the race, opening the door to more dangerous bike courses with no worry about penalties for drafting and lane blocking.

I have no problem with a business trying to make money. The healthier the business, the stronger its product can be. Think about Rev3. Now that’s a model of a business producing some great triathlons, with over-the-top customer service and attention to the individual athlete experience.

Back in Philly, the Olympic distance race went from more than 1,800 triathletes under the original, local producers, to fewer than 800 under Competitor Group. If Competitor Group was trying to make money on the Philadelphia Triathlon, it failed. Bigly.

When Premier Event Management announced in December it had acquired the Philadelphia Triathlon from Competitor Group, I was almost jumped up and danced a fartlek. But then Premier Event Management explained that it has been the local producer of the Philadelphia Triathlon for the past five years, under contract with Competitor Group. So who sent Philadelphia Triathlon to the ICU? Was it Competitor Group’s oversight, or Premier Event Management’s production? Were the cost cuts coming from Competitor Group, Premier Event Management, or both? Was Premier simply following direction and producing the race from a set of directions, or was it making its own cost-revenue decisions, on top of Competitor Group’s? Was it adding a handful of Xanax to the two bottles of cheap vodka?

Stay tuned, June  24 and 25, when I’ll be doing a double, with the sprint on Saturday and the Olympic distance, Sunday. Why? Because the Philadelphia Triathlon is the only tri close enough that I get to ride my bike to the race and back home, afterwards. Am I expecting a better event than in recent years? No, not really. But I’m willing to be surprised.

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