Saturday, September 19, 2009

What Now For Triathlon?

It's been an interesting year in the triathlon business to say the least. While carnage and chaos was the story elsewhere, the triathlon business kept growing. All indicators are as we start another business cycle, that 2009 was another very good year in the business - and 2010 is looking good as well. Wholesale and retail sales have been good and in some cases great. Race entry numbers have stayed steady or have grown. Many are focused on the big high profile events such as the Ironman and 70.3 triathlons, but it's the smaller entry level triathlons that are the true indicators of what's going on. Most Race Directors that I have spoken to recently have told me that their entry-level triathlon events geared for first-timers have been at capacity all year long - a good sign that new people are still coming to the sport of triathlon.

Of course, it's not been a year without challenges, because some big businesses( automotive and financial services) took huge hits, corporate sponsorship of events has taken a down-turn, I am told. Some large events went on without a corporate title sponsor, buoyed by the fact that the successful model in triathlon race management is that the user/participant fees( entry fees) should cover all the hard-costs of putting on the event. Corporate sponsorship, is usually gravy money.

On the retail side I have noticed that it's been a challenging year for more than a few smaller triathlon focused retailers, and/or retailers who came late to the triathlon party and were not that well established when the worst of the economic storm arrived. And there was regional variation as well across North America. In Canada for example, it would be hard to tell looking at the world through a triathlons lens that there was a recession going on! Whereas, in parts of the United States, there were specific areas of the country that seemed to be taking a bit more of a hit, and no surprise, it was in the areas of the U.S. that were hardest hit by the recession - California, and the auto manufacturing centers such Michigan. I note that the really good triathlon retailers have had good to great years and have solidified their place on that A-List of retailers in the business. This group has become stronger.

What now? As we enter another business year with Interbike next week and orders starting to flow in for 2010, many seem optimistic about where the sport of triathlon is at. One issue is the number of brands, that are competing in a number of categories - I know this is the case with wetsuits. People often ask me, "How many wetsuit brands do we need?" Often the trend is that there is a sector giant, such as Gatorade, in the sports beverages category, and then an ever growing roster of other sports beverage makers jumping in. Some well known, others we may have never heard of. The challenge is that retailers, always seem to have a limit as to the number of brands or choices for their customers that they will carry. This seems reasonable - good if you are on that short list, not so good if you are not!

One thing that may have saved the Tri business is the timing of the worst of the economic news and hard-ship. It came, during our "off" season of the fall/winter just past and then when the good news, and that talk of, "green shoots" and some more optimistic news started to come out, is when, our "on" season of spring/summer of this year kicked in. Tri-retailers were lucky in this regard as, so much of just about all other retailing centers around the Christmas selling season - December can make or break the year for them!

Let's hope the good news continues!

(Picture at the top is of power cables and outlets waiting to be distributed to booths at last year's Interbike Trade Show)

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