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SuperLeague Triathlon: The Next Chapter

Updated: May 6, 2021

If you follow Triathlon, you will have seen all across social media today that SuperLeague Triathlon have announced their 2021 Championship Series calendar for this September. Starting in London, the series will take place on four back-to-back weekends with further events in Munich, Jersey and Malibu. We were lucky enough to sit down last week with one of the founders and current CEO of SuperLeague Triathlon, Michael D’Hulst, to discuss all things past, present and future for SLT.

The brainchild of both Michael and Macca (triathlon legend Chris McCormack), SuperLeague Triathlon was in the works since 2011 before hitting the scene with a blockbuster event on Hamilton Island in late 2017. “I met Chris through the Challenge Family in 2011 and amongst our many business ideas we always came back to the idea of creating a spectator friendly race series,” explained Michael, “the ball really started rolling in 2016 when we met Leonid Boguslavsky and he provided the financial backing for us to launch SLT.”

The aim from the beginning was to make Triathlon a spectator friendly sport by pitting the best athletes against each other on challenging courses and providing revolutionary broadcast coverage. “After completing our proof of concept on Hamilton Island our initial operations for the 2018-2019 Championship Series were relatively bootstrapped,” continued Michael, “we had already proven the concept in terms of media and broadcast, the next hurdle was to make it an economically stable event. The venues we decided to work with were key for that, each became like a micro test case for SLT to keep building.”

Clearly stating that their intention was to work around the Olympics and the Olympic cycles in order to attract the best athletes without detracting from their Olympic ambitions, Michael went on to explain the thinking at SLT behind the new Championship Series for 2021: “The idea was that after the Olympics we would level up the investment again and deliver the series in the manner that we had imagined it from the start. Delivering the events in key global triathlon markets like London & Munich creates massive opportunities for growth.”

The other element we wanted to include was the storytelling. By choosing back-to-back weekends you can create a snowball effect and continuous storytelling that will engage experienced triathlon fans and standard sports fans alike. Look at the example of the Spring Classics in Cycling, the guys race on Saturday, Wednesday and Sunday and fans get involved in that story as they wonder who is coming into form or losing form for the next races.”

From an operational standpoint, SLT have turned their Championship Series into a roadshow that will set up for single-day events in the four different venues throughout September. “From a media and commercial standpoint, it’s a lot stronger of a product,” concluded Michael on the new format, “it’s easier for the audience to follow and a clear window for commercial partners to gain visibility in major Triathlon markets.”

Whilst SuperLeague is quite rightly very Pro-Athlete focussed at the moment, Michael also recognises the importance of creating the participation and engagement pyramid for amateur athletes to feel a part of the story. “Building countless mass participation events isn’t our domain of expertise, not all of our Championship Series will include Age-Group events,” explained Michael, “however each will have a different element tagged onto it such as corporate experiences like we did already in Jersey.”

Speaking briefly about the vastly successful SLT Arena Games presented by Zwift, Michael added that this will most likely evolve into a separate series in the future: “Our focus is obviously on the Championship Series at the moment, however the three test events for the Arena Games provided proof that it’s a concept that can be sustainable in the long run and we will look to build out that concept into a separate series.”

Returning to the subject of the 2021 series, Michael revealed that it was agreed with the athletes that each event would only consist of one day of racing, doing multiple days over back-to-back weekends probably wasn’t feasible from a sporting standpoint. Much of the video content will be produced in-house and has begun already on their Youtube channel with several videos featuring some of the SLT stars in training for the Arena Games and the Olympics. The aim in September will also be to film a behind the scenes documentary added Michael, with the focus on the high performance environment that goes beyond just the racing.

“I want to continue to improve the broadcast and media product, it needs to be immersive for the viewers at home. We’ve got a few ideas up our sleeves that I think the athletes will like, you’ll have to wait until September to find out more.”

The race formats and scoring system for the 2021 series will be the same as before, with a closed-league system consisting of 20 male and 20 female athletes. Five of each of these slots will be allocated as wildcards throughout the summer depending on athlete results or breakout stars emerging. “We will also be doing the various coloured jerseys again,” added Michael, “like in the Tour de France it will provide viewers with more storylines to follow but also opportunities for the athletes to make money in other ways than just winning races.”

Concluding the conversation, we asked Michael to look towards the future and tell us what it has in store for SLT: “The aim will be to grow the Championship Series by adding a couple events in key markets like France, but we will keep it small enough to avoid diluting the product. The income sources for SLT will continue to improve with more broadcast and media rights, but also opportunities for series partners to come onboard once the series is more established.”

It’s a great time for the sport of Triathlon,” he concluded, “we see investment coming into the sport via the PTO as well and if everyone plays their cards right there’s a fantastic opportunity to do great things. Whether it be us at SLT, the PTO, World Triathlon or companies like Challenge Family and Ironman I believe the playing field is big enough for us each to exploit our own niche successfully.”

For more information on the 2021 Championship Series, head to: https://superleaguetriathlon.com/announcements/super-league-triathlon-announces-2021-championship-series/

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