I was contacted by John Newman, who writes the blog Family Sport Life, with his wife Tara about a guest post regarding gambling and triathlon. Seeing as I am always looking for a way to get the sport of triathlon into the mainstream conversation when it comes to sports I was excited to read what John wrote. As I went through each paragraph about how gambling and triathlon could work I found myself shaking my head in agreement on some areas and opposed in other areas. With the notion of gambling and triathlon and its various forms of how it could happen I realized that I can and should publish this for you to read.
Let’s have an open discussion about the impact of gambling on triathlon and whether it is good or bad. This is not going to be a one and done type of post as there are many facets to this idea. I will reserve my comments as to not skew your opinion, and will post tomorrow about what I think about gambling and triathlon. Here are John’s words and please leave your comments so we can truly engage in conversation over the next few days.
This past weekend was the Conference Championships games in the NFL. The winners would get the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl in two week’s time. My guess is, before the clock hit zero in the Forty-Niners/Seahawks game, Vegas odds makers had all of their numbers crunched and were ready to post their point spreads and money lines. At the moment I am composing this post, the Broncos are a 2-1/2 point favorite.
This point spread does not represent an expected 2-3 point win by the Broncos. Point spreads simply put a “sale” on the underdog team. Vegas doesn’t care who wins the game, or what the score is, EVER! They have one simple goal over the next 2 weeks. Get the same amount of money wagered on each team. If big money is going to the Broncos, the point spread will go up to entice you to bet on the Seahawks. All Vegas wants is the 10% VIG that the losers have to pay. If there is even money on each team, the outcome is immaterial and Vegas makes their profit.
The fever around the Super Bowl, and the hundreds of different options for wagering on the game, got me thinking about the possibility of wagering on triathlon.
I want to be clear from the start. I am a purist. I want our sport to be clean, fair and uncorrupted. But, could wagering on triathlon be a means to a beneficial end?
Triathlon, as viewed by the general population, is still a grass-roots, fringe sport that barely gets mainstream notoriety. If you go to FoxSports.com and look at the “Sports” drop-down, there is nothing even close to triathlon. ESPN.com is a little better with their recently added tab for “Endurance Sports”, but it mostly grabs RSS feeds from other websites, posting no original content. If we were able to wager on triathlons, would it become more popular to the rest of the world? Maybe.
I think it all comes down to where we want our sport to go. Professional triathletes (with the exception of the top dozen or so), barely make a living wage. Those that can make a decent living at it, usually only have a handful of years to make the “big money” before they are overrun by younger, faster athletes. Yes, they have sponsors and endorsements, but there just aren’t enough of those available to keep all the professionals earning a decent wage. When you consider the amount of training hours required to be a competitive pro triathlete, the costs of travel, nutrition, gear and coaches, financially, they would be better off working as a deli clerk.
The lowest paid player in the NFL earns $405K per year. He plays 16 games** that are 1 hour each. Almost every player only plays on offense, defense or special teams, so the maximum playing time any player would see is 30 minutes per game. We all know that the clock runs even while there is no action, but I am going to leave that out for now. So, 16 games times 30 minutes per game is equal to 8 hours per YEAR of performance time. That breaks down to $50,625 per hour.
Now let’s look at triathlon. The winners of the Ironman World Championships earned $120K for the same 8 hours of performance effort. That equates to $15,000 per hour. Keep in mind this payout is for the HIGHEST paid triathlete versus the LOWEST paid football player. When you add in the fact that the highest paid triathlete had to compete in at least 2 other Ironman races, where they would have been paid no more than $25K for winning (much lower if they placed 2nd, 3rd and so on), the pay per hour of race time is drastically reduced. It almost isn’t worth the effort.
At Ironman Lake Placid in 2013, Balazs Csoke, a professional triathlete from Hungary, finished 4th overall. Later in the day, he tweeted out that his prize money didn’t even cover his costs to attend and compete in the race. 4th place in one of the biggest Ironman events, and his net income was a loss! Just plain awful.
This brings me to the wagering idea. To be honest, I really don’t know how I feel about it, but it would bring up some interesting questions.
- What if we could wager on professional triathletes?
- Could money be generated to increase the prize purse?
- Would it give triathlon mainstream appeal because of the wagering?
- Could more mainstream appeal increase the likelihood of television/internet coverage and drive up revenue to pay athletes more?
- Would wagering corrupt the sport?
- What about wagering on age-groupers?
TriRatings.com is a website that ranks professional triathletes and then uses mathematical formulas to predict finishing times for races. This is essentially the precursor to wagering on triathlon. Once the odds are set, bets can be made. Thorsten Radde, the site’s creator, ranks and predicts triathletes for the fun of it, not for betting purposes. But the question remains, could his model be used to generate interest and revenue to further our sport?
The future of our sport, in my opinion, comes down to money. It always does. Whether it is WTC or your local guy, race promoters need to earn enough money to keep themselves in business for the next race. Currently, revenue is only generated from entry fees and sponsorship. No one wants to see the entry fees go up and there is only so much sponsorship money to go around. Perhaps a little “side-action” could go a long way to generate cash.
Here is how I might do it. A race organizer could either take the bets themselves or contract it out to Vegas/Atlantic City. Participants in the race could not wager because they could potentially affect the outcome. Odds are set for all the professionals and people can wager on athletes like they would horse races. The proceeds from wagering go right into the prize purse. The more interest in a particular race, the more prize money available. Statistics and history tells us that the race organizer almost can’t lose. After all, those buildings in Vegas aren’t cheap, and their lights are ALWAYS on!
We, as age-groupers, have the unique opportunity to race alongside (sort of) the top professional athletes in our sport. No other participation sport gives an amateur that type of experience. If pros were paid better, received more mainstream recognition and helped generate revenue for the promoters, there is a chance our sport could be taken to the next level and further enhance the age-grouper experience. Television coverage? ESPN highlights? Times Square billboards? Who knows?
Just to reiterate, I’m not sure if I am in favor of wagering on triathlon and I don’t know if the financial model even works. But I think it’s worth a discussion if we feel the viability of our sport’s future is, in part, resting in the ability for professionals to be compensated for their efforts.
What are your thoughts on the possibility of wagering on triathlon?
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