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Tri community networks at conference

Published February 22, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA (BRAIN) — About 230 multisport event organizers, media, suppliers and retailers gathered here earlier this week for the second annual Triathlon America Conference.

The three-day event, which concluded Tuesday, was held at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. Themes throughout discussions and panels at the conference centered on how to attract more youth into the sport, how to turn more spectators on to tri races and events, and getting the “lapsed triathlete” re-engaged and participating in more events. A study conducted by Triathlon America and the Active Network identified the lapsed triathlete as offering the biggest potential for growth.

Recently much of the growth in triathlon participation has come from sprint distance races, which account for approximately 45,000 new one-day members a year according to USA Triathlon CEO Rob Urbach. But the key challenge remains how to convert those typical one-day members to annual members. The other factor that has fueled interest in tri are “dirty races” or off-road tri events that include dirt trails or mud runs.

Photo (right to left): Melissa Merson, executive director of the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, T.J. Murphy, editorial director for Competitor Group Inc., John Quinn, regional sales manager for Specialized Bicycle Components, and Robert Vigorito, founder of the Columbia Triathlon Association, head up a panel on the state of the sport.

Urbach said the rate of growth in USAT membership—which was in the double-digits in the early 2000s—has slowed, something he attributes to the economy and industry maturation. Still, in 2011, total USAT membership grew 7 to 8 percent. Its total annual membership is up to 150,000. That number jumps to more than 400,000 when you count the 270,000 one-day memberships. But he points to strong double-digit growth in youth members (ages 17 and below), and youth is a target for the sanctioning organization.

“Race records say 9 percent of kids come back year after year,” he said. “Youth are important.”

The number of sanctioned events is also on the rise. Urbach said USAT sanctions 3,800 events a year. The number of tri clubs is also up, from 830 in 2010 to 920 last year.

“The state of the sport is certainly healthy, but the health and continued growth depends on creating an experience,” said Robert Vigorito, founder of the Columbia Triathlon Association, during a Monday morning panel. “In order to grow we have to make every event an experience.”

Triathlon America unveiled several new initiatives at the conference including a tri shop certification program and a triathlon participation study it conducted in partnership with the Active Network.

The triathlon industry trade group capped off the event with an awards ceremony to recognize the best companies, retailers and athletes in the industry in 2011. Receiving the triathlete of the year awards were Chrissie Wellington and Craig Alexander. Most innovative product award went to Quintana Roo for its QR Illicito.

It also recognized the top 10 tri retailers in the U.S. last year: All3Sports in Atlanta, Georgia; Athletes Lounge in Portland, Oregon; Austin Tri-Cyclist in Austin, Texas; Gear West Bike & Triathlon in Long Lake, Minnesota; JackRabbit Sports in New York, New York; Nytro Multisport in Encinitas, California; Running Away Multisport, in Deerfield, Illinois; Tri on the Run in Houston, Texas; in Tucson, Arizona; and Triathlon Lab, Inc. in Santa Monica, California.

The conference drew leaders from the triathlon industry including International Triathlon Union president Marisol Casado and World Triathlon Corporation CEO Andrew Messick. Sessions covered topics including marketing to women, tri clubs, online technology and sponsorship.

Topics associated with this article: Racing & Sponsorship

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