Gambling And The Sport Of Triathlon – Can It Help Or Hurt? – {Guest Post}

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.

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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.

Screenshot 2014 01 21 15 06 42 300x203 Gambling And The Sport Of Triathlon   Can It Help Or Hurt?   {Guest Post}

Balazs Csoke Twitter Post Re: IIMLP

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?

Join the discussion below:


**Excluding playoff games

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Comments

  1. Jeff Irvin says:

    Oh boy, probably should stay away from but it has been awhile since I’ve read something with this many holes. Not sure where to start with this one, so being that I am an experienced gambler (ie: degenerate) let’s just jump right in to the questions you posed:

    What if we could wager on professional triathletes?
    - We can. Get a group of Tri buddies together, place bets. Ok, this is where the thought process on this one should have ended. No one does this because no one really cares about the majority of the outcomes of any race in Triathlon other then Kona. Tri is driven by the AG experience because it is a participation sport and not an entertainment sport.

    Could money be generated to increase the prize purse?
    - Your idea to have RD’s take a 10% Vig on wagers and place vig in a pro purse has me (and probably anyone else who read this) asking one question, “Why?” .. Why would an RD do this? Why would an RD care? What is in it for an RD? And if an RD did do this who would even wager? Oh, and in order for an RD to be allowed to conduct State Sponsored Gambling (which is only allowed in certain States) they would need to be licensed and sanctioned which these “requirements” which usually cost in the 7 figures to obtain. But these are minor details.

    Would it give triathlon mainstream appeal because of the wagering?
    - You wrote, “..there is only so much sponsorship money to go around.” The reason is because Tri companies are small. Because not a large portion of the world does Triathlon. This thinking is the, “If you build it, they will come” business approach. Which in my extensive business experience, only works in Kevin Costner movies. So to answer this question directly – NO.

    Could more mainstream appeal increase the likelihood of television/internet coverage and drive up revenue to pay athletes more?
    - Huh? You are assuming that wagering will increase ratings? We can already wager. No one wagers. No one watches.

    Would wagering corrupt the sport?
    - No, PEDs have already done this.

    What about wagering on age-groupers?

    - Okay, lets both paint a wall, we can bet $50 on who’s wall will dry the quickest!

    Now my question? Why do so many age groupers all feel like they need to come up with an idea for Pro Triathlete’s to make more money?

    Seriously, don’t answer that. Enough time has already been wasted tonight.

  2. Scott says:

    I agree with Jeff, this sport is an age group driven sport. I have raced in numerous races that had a pro field, I could not tell you who won those races, it doesnt matter to me and it doesnt matter to the majority of the field.

    And who are the spectators at a triathlon, family of the racers. Family members barely know much about the sport besides their S.O. swims, bikes, and runs a lot. The chances they would know any pro in the field is next to none, unless Kona winners like Chrissie, Miranda, or Craig are there.

    Perfect example. when the Kona special is aired on TV, the majority of the triathletes watch it for the special interest stories and I will take an educated guess that everyone that is not in the sport that watches Kona for the special interest stories.

  3. Jason Bahamundi says:

    On my run this morning I came up with a handful of more holes about gambling on triathlon.

    1- This sport is not consistent like the NFL, NBA, MLB or even the NHL. It does not have the same players in it the way PGA does either. The closest you get is Horse Racing and I am not sure that jockey’s are raking in the dough. The reason is that, as a person who gambles I am looking for the trends. I study the stat sheets of teams and who they are playing, the weather, time of the year, etc. This gives me the best educated guess I can make. In triathlon there is no consistency with the athletes. Some will race multiple times and others will only race 1x just to get into Kona and then use the year for training to get the best performance they can in the big race. For me, that is not something I will touch when it comes to wagering.

    2- I thought about fantasy leagues. Can you drum up enough interest to create a fantasy league, and again I came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t work and it certainly would not work to the benefit of the pro triathletes. They would not see a dime because if I started the league and had people pay me to run it for them online there is no way that I am going to share any of that revenue with the athletes. There is no reason to.

    Lastly, let us forget about wagering on triathlon and think about the popularity of it. At one time, not that long ago, doing an Ironman was considered remarkable because not a lot of people were doing it and that distance was ‘crazy’. If you were a company you would want to jump on that and sponsor it but with restraint because it wasn’t popular. Today it is more popular than ever but it is not because it is crazier but because it is more mainstream. The feat is no longer untouchable or undoable. It can be done and will be done.

    I liken Ironman (140.6) to where the marathon distance was not that long ago either. It was hard and tough and then every Tom, Dick and Harry started doing them but they are now doing them as bucket list items. They are no longer racing them as seen by the slower times Americans are posting on average at the marathon and half-marathon distance.

    I am not against people wanting to do an Ironman to prove that they can and never doing one again. I get that. This shit is hard and it takes a ton of time and dedication but what I am afraid I see happening is that every Tom, Dick and Harry is doing the sport but again not racing it. Just finishing and saying I did it and I am an Ironman where is my tattoo and sticker for my car.

    If you are a company is this something that you want to be attached to and at a high expenditure level? Crossing the Gobi Dessert is an incredible feat but we do not see companies beating each other out to sponsor those types of events.

    Maybe, what the sport needs to do is create a league in which athletes can compete in many races (Olympic distance) and create an aura around that and then maybe the sponsors will come in droves because it appeals to the short attention span we have, athletes can participate in many more events, and the bigger companies that are not triathlon specific (Nike, Adidas) can become more involved.

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