Efforts to ensure equal access to sponsorship dollars, training and racing environments, and media visibility for both male and female triathletes have been underway for decades. (Just check out WITsup.com’s invaluable history of women in triathlon.)
Though there is still much work to be done, significant trends in the past several years have gained power and more urgency to coalesce around gender equality in triathlon and support the vitality of the sport.
Through our work with elite professional triathletes, major brands, and international sponsors, Human Interest Group (HIG) also senses this breakthrough moment, and we are excited to put forth a new project that both acknowledges current trends and extends their momentum. Our Women’s MOVEment project will have two signature components: the first international all-women professional triathlon team and a “sister” one of female age-groupers/amateurs who are training and/or racing alongside the pros.
“Now is the perfect time for a pro women’s triathlon team,” says IRONMAN Champion Rachel Joyce. “There’s been a shift in perception over the last few years around triathlon, and the sport is now seen as a sport for men and women equally.”
Two-time XTERRA World Champion Lesley Paterson believes that an all-female pro team will encourage future title holders. “It’s important for young girls coming up through the sport to have role models and incentives to work hard and be committed to the sport. In the past, the potential for women to get visibility and financial reward has been very low, and this would provide a great platform.”
HIG account manager and SANSEGO high performance coach Matt Smith calls this an opportune time. “I personally think that here in the US, with the development of triathlon as a collegiate sport for women, the rise of Gwen-sanity and our other Olympic hopeful women proving they are performing superior to our men’s team, and even some women in long distance racing starting to close the gender gap on times, it’s time for a significant project such as MOVEment to hit the markets. It’s one more way that all of us can sustain and celebrate the accomplishments of women triathletes.”
HIG agrees with Rachel, Lesley, and Matt, and we’re even more optimistic about the future of women in triathlon when considering the following three trends.
Businesses Serving Growing Demands
Triathletes are willing – sometimes obsessive – consumers for the latest gear, nutrition, and products improving their performances, and an industry exclusively serving both new and seasoned female triathletes is growing to respond to this demand.
Earlier this summer, Strava conducted a survey of over 5,000 female cyclists in the United Kingdom, and the findings offered a helpful glimpse into the mindsets and habits of active women. About 60% now believe there are no barriers for women to take up cycling. Other findings included:
- 61% are inspired by pro cyclists.
- 60% ride a women’s specific bike. Of those, 85% chose such a bike because of better fit.
- In 2015, survey respondents spent an average of approximately $1400 on cycling apparel, gear, events and other items. Women cyclists who have been riding from 1 to 5 years spent the most on average.
- More mainstream visibility would encourage more female riders, especially if the top barriers to cycling – perceived danger and mechanical proficiency – were addressed.
Women’s-specific cycling products accounted for 14 percent, or $468 million, of the total cycling sales from May 2014 through May 2015, according to the NPD Group’s Sports and Leisure Trends Division. In the United States, the total spending by multisport athletes was approximately $2.8 billion in 2014 according to Triathlon Business International’s most recent study.
Several companies now successfully provide products and services expressly designed for and marketed to female triathlete while avoiding the “pink it and shrink it” model.
For example, LIV, the women’s cycling brand of Giant, offers a comprehensive product collection from bikes to gear. Its website describes in detail how its bikes are expressly designed and built for the female triathlete.
Since its founding in 2010 as a triathlete-focused brand, SOAS has expanded its product line for women athletes and now offers cycling and running apparel and accessories. It also recently launched a new clothing collection aimed at the thriving active lifestyle market.
And smaller, local businesses are also opening their doors and selling products to meet the demand of the female triathlete. Tribella Women’s Multisport in Denver, Colorado describes itself as a “one-of-a-kind retail concept tailored exclusively for women how embrace the multisport lifestyle.” Athletes can find bikes, gear, apparel, and nutrition along with bike fitting services and training clinics focused on women – all under one roof.
Companies like LIV, SOAS, and TriBella underscore the timeliness and feasibility of the all-women pro team by proving that a robust industry currently exists and is ready to support athletes.
SOAS owner Stephanie Swanson believes that the female-focused industry will benefit from exposure generated by the team. “A team like this could bring more visibility to women’s specific brands and products.”
Advocacy Efforts Raising Awareness
Recent advocacy efforts to address and establish equality in the sport’s practices and policies, especially related to racing, also lay the groundwork for the pro team.
Dedicated individuals offer their time, influence, and money to make triathlon equal for genders, and in the past several years, these organizations have been at the forefront of such efforts:
- TriEqual: A group of men and women dedicated to fairness, development, and equality. TriEqual provides information so that all groups are treated equally and with respect.
- #50 Women to Kona: A campaign to encourage action and advocacy for gender equality at the IRONMAN World Championships where pro women are provided 35 slots compared to the 50 for pro men. TriEqual coordinates the website 50womentokona.com and its online petition for equal slots.
- Women for Tri: IRONMAN’s formal program to “identify and diminish primary barriers to entry, and mobilize triathlon advocates to encourage and engage female athletes across all distances and representing all athletic abilities.”
- Online media, news, and information portal, Witsup.com also has been an essential player through its high-caliber coverage of professional and amateur female triathletes.
“I have had different levels of involvement in a number of these organizations: TriEqual, W4T and Witsup,” says Joyce. “I really see professional women as being a key part of helping promote the sport to other women. A team would be highly visible in the triathlon arena and thus show: Yes, women do belong in this sport and do it very well.”
Those organizations are making it easier for female triathletes to train and race in environments free of gender-biased limitations so their energy can be applied to the sport itself: amateurs can enjoy the swim/bike/run lifestyle while professionals can focus on their careers.
Best Practices For Good Teams Available
An all-women pro triathlon team is new – but not a big leap in the world of sports. In fact, there’s a remarkable amount of knowledge and experiences about effective team development available from seasoned coaches, elite athletes, and sports management professionals.
HIG founder Franko Vatterott developed and managed Tri Dubai, the first major professional triathlon team that assembled 10 of the world’s elite male and female athletes such as IRONMAN World Champion Craig “Crowie” Alexander, Lisa Bentley, Tim DeBoom, Peter Reid, Joanna Lawn, and Normann Stadler. In 2006, Tri Dubai athletes placed 1st, 2nd and 3rd at IRONMAN Hawaii, the world’s highest profile triathlon and ultimately set the standard for todays multisport teams. “Teams are an outstanding platform for influential messaging if you can find the balance of performance credibility and higher purpose,” says Vatterott. “Like many projects that rise in significance, timing is everything.”
The groups that have succeeded in the sport to date have consistent management and a non-endemic sponsor, and just as importantly, suggests Smith, athletes need to feel like there is no risk of the sponsor falling off or being cut for political reasons so they can focus on performance.
Denver’s TriBella Women Multisports has organized an amateur team since the store opened in 2011 with tri-newbies to IRONMAN finishers ages 25 to 65 years old joining the team. The experience showed first-hand the importance of being welcoming, genuine, and approachable in the group dynamics. “If a pro or age group women’s team can start with those values and build from there, it will be a success for business and the sport overall,” says TriBella’s founder Liz Sharpe.
SOAS also successfully manages its ambassador team. “We have everyone from Kona qualifiers and athletes that have turned pro to women that are relatively new to the sport,’ explains Swanson. “We are so proud to have them representing our brand. A professional team created around individuals with different areas of expertise could do the very same thing for each other at an elite level.”
Where A Women’s Pro Team Will Take Triathlon
If favorable trends are leading to the first professional all-female triathlon team, the team’s impact will ensure its longevity.
For long-term financial sustainability, the all-women pro and amateur team can provide a new platform for sponsor visibility, partnerships, and activation. The teams can add value by being a collective presence for sponsors and becoming a movement in the sport versus the performance of an individual athlete.
“A women’s pro team stands to add immense value to team sponsors, as well as drive general awareness of the sport,” says Holly Bennett, owner of Hola Communications and communications professional with a focus on the endurance sports industry.
TriBella’s Sharpe also points out that age group teams can positively impact business at the local level. “An all pro women’s team would be interesting and splash worthy but, without a real local-level impact, it wouldn’t make much of an impact drawing new women into the sport or building up the sales of women targeted businesses.”
Furthermore, the age-groupers offer a multiplier effect for sponsors. HIG’s Smith estimates that syncing some amateur teams with pros can broaden the brand awareness and impact of sponsors by ten-fold or even more.
A team can encourage better performance at the individual levels – for both the pro and amateur athletes. Sharpe goes further: “I think the best way for a women’s team to have an impact on the sport (locally or internationally) and to bring more women into triathlon and thus impact business is to mentor other women.”
Paterson explains that a reason for her participation as a pro would be “to have supportand connection with great women around me with positive attitudes and who are dealing with some of the same issues as I have – body image, having children, family issues. Not only that, the financial and physical support of a team where you feel a belonging and a part of something bigger than yourself…hoping that can make a difference in supporting young girls coming up through the sport.”
Joyce agrees. “So many professional women share issues that affect age groupers: balancing family with racing, some have had previous careers, similar dilemmas as to when to start a family, etc.”
She also adds that an all-female group has a unique and authentic ability to reach other women already in the sport or considering the sport by sharing their experiences, what motivated them to participate in triathlon, and what the sport brings them.
Smith suggests local opportunities, or huddles, for the pros and amateurs to meet.
And it’s not only female athletes who will benefit from the pro woman crew. “There’s no reason these pro women can’t serve as role models to men of all ages as well. You see young girls who are inspired by sporting greats – both male and female – in swimming, basketball, soccer, football, etc.” explains Bennett.
The all-women teams can give media a newsworthy project with compelling and evolving stories. From the initial recruitment of athletes through the first season’s “A” races, the teams will offer a steady supply of stories and images about training, nutrition, work/life balance, and group dynamics.
“Media is realizing that women’s sport, in general, can be as exciting as men’s sport,” says Paterson. “The fields are getting bigger and more competitive, and as a consequence, there are interesting and captivating stories that people want to follow. An all-female team would capitalize on that.”
“There is also huge potential here to carry women’s professional triathlon well beyond just the tri media into more and more mainstream media (think general health and wellness, women’s fitness, nutrition, parenting, etc.),” says Bennett.
The amateur group can also quickly build a dynamic and committed fan base. Through her racing and coaching experiences, Paterson has found many amateurs to be incredibly passionate about the sport and adept at developing followers and publicity.
Bennett adds, “Most women that I know are far more interested in and engaged with social media than most men I know, as well as innately compelled to create community and bond with other women.”
“A Unifying Rally Cry”
Today’s outstanding performances and personalities of women professional triathletes make it somewhat difficult to believe that an all-women pro triathlon team has not happened earlier.
“Across all sectors of the industry,” Smith says, “the team would be something easier and more compelling for sponsors, media and race directors to get behind. For the athletes, one unified voice could lead to quicker change in the way the industry operates in relation to women in the sport.”
“A team would give the triathlon community a unifying rally cry.”
Now, with businesses, advocacy efforts, and team management aligned in a favorable direction, HIG is excited to take the next step in establishing the first international all-women pro team. Contact us to explore how your brand can be part of the Women’s MOVEment.
Based in Boulder, Colorado, the Human Interest Group (HIG) provides marketing bandwidth, sponsor activation strategies and services, and audience-building content for companies around the world. Our trademark PROTRI division is triathlon’s leading professional sports management agency. Our clients are established and entrepreneurial businesses in the triathlon, endurance sports, and the active lifestyle space. Whether needing a credible brand ambassador or wanting a fresher perspective on your business development strategy, clients value our relationships, knowledge, and credibility when it comes to building engagement within the active lifestyle communities. Got an idea? http://www.humaninterestgroup.org