The Zwift Tri Battle Royale: What we want to see!
If you follow Triathlon, and unless you’ve living under a rock, you’ll have heard since last week that Jan Frodeno and Lionel Sanders will be going head-to-head in an Iron-Distance Triathlon (The Zwift Tri Battle Royale) on July 18th. Don’t be fooled though, whilst the title sponsor is Zwift this race will well and truly be taking place in the real world, in the picturesque region of Allgau, Germany. With these two athletes and their management teams in full control
of the race and the product that they’re creating, it’s an excellent opportunity to revamp once again the broadcast quality of Triathlon. Below are a few ideas we’d like to see in the broadcast on July 18th. If you like any of the ideas then help us get them in front of Jan, Lionel and their teams by sharing this article and tagging them on social media!
Microphones & Cameras: Everywhere!
When building a sports broadcast product, the first thing to look at is all the potential content outputs. Which elements of the sport can we bring out in the broadcast for spectators to feel immersed in the action? At the heart of this are the various camera angles and all the potential sorces sound-bytes. Rugby and American Football do this really well already. In Rugby the referee is mic’d up and in the heart of the action, TV spectators can hear the heavy contacts at each breakdown and the conversations between the Ref and the Captains every time a penalty is blown. On top of this, Rugby used a POV camera on the referee for a while (See the best bits from the World Cup here) as well as cameras on the post pads to catch the intense breakdown action on the try line. The number of camera angles in the NFL is almost unrivalled as well, on top this the NFL produces a SoundFX highlights video every game-week, compiling the best sound-bytes from various players and coaches throughout the weekend.
What do we want to see at the Tri Battle?
Start line sound-bytes, the conversation between Jan and Lionel, the instructions from the referee and conversations between the racers and their support crew before jumping in the water.
Immersive camera angles in the water: Ahead, behind, underneath, and above to show how they swim, how they sight, how they corner the buoys and how the gap evolves over time.
Hot takes in transition. Stick a microphone and a remote camera in transition and ask the athletes to provide a short debrief on their swim/bike as they transition or ask them to tell viewers their plan for the next part of the race.
Microphones and cameras on the bikes – feasible or not, now is the time to test it by putting the same equipment on both bikes and seeing what can be produced.
In-race interviews – Ironman racing is a sub-maximal effort by nature, meaning athletes should be able to converse at all times. If you can get a motorbike with an interviewer alongside the athletes a couple times throughout the race you could get their thoughts, plans and feelings to further help the viewers at home understand the evolution of the race.
Improved live tracking and splits: Help us understand the race dynamics!
How great would it be if we could see a reliable live tracker showing how the gaps evolve between the athletes, with a prediction of the finish times or predicted gaps at the end of each discipline based on how the pace of each athlete is evolving. This would help viewers understand the race dynamics and where/when athletes are pushing hard or holding back to try and make the race result go their way. Whether it be time gaps on the screen or a full on 3D graphic showing the evolution, either option would allow viewers to become immersed in the race dynamics. Adding predicted finish times and predicted splits per discipline throughout would also be a bonus.
Live Data: Show us the numbers!
Live data was broadcast on TV from the Tour de France in the 1980s, and yet it still hasn’t become commonplace across cycling in the modern-day broadcast. Velon bring the occasional live data snippet on TV at certain races, but often times certain pieces of data are missing, the data drops out or seems inaccurate based on the current race dynamics on screen. The Zwift Tri Battle Royale has an opportunity to test new ideas by showing viewers a whole host of data that you could never broadcast if you had 50 or more athletes on course at the same time:
Live Watts & Watts/KG on the bike
Live swim pace per 100m throughout the swim
What % of FTP they are currently riding at or % of threshold pace they are running at
How their current and average pace compares to their race plan
How much time they have spent in the ‘red zone’ above their threshold
Current, average and max Heart Rate so far with comparisons to their threshold
Nutrition and hydration intake - potentially complicated but why not give it a shot?
Blood Glucose evolution – check out SuperSapiens to understand this one!
Any, and all, data that is added to the broadcast would bring added value for the viewers, anything that helps understand the race, the athletes and the dynamics of how the race unfolds would be beneficial.
Good Commentary – The key to all broadcasts!
This one almost goes without saying but hiring experienced commentators and analysts who are in the know about triathlon and the two athletes in question will be key to providing insightful and gripping commentary. There’s nothing more frustrating than hearing an incorrect stat or fact about an athlete or race given by an inexperienced or poorly researched commentary team. This Zwift Tri Battle Royale will be a great opportunity to bleed new commentators by testing some retired professionals as analysts. On top of this, there is an opportunity to put microphones and cameras with the support teams of each athlete, interviewing them throughout the race to get their thoughts and feelings on the evolution of the race. Integrating pre-race interviews into the broadcast would add another dynamic, by sitting down with each athlete and asking them to go through various race scenarios and how they would adapt their race plan would allow the broadcaster to integrate these insights into the production as the race progresses and evolves.
Strong Commercial Integration – The key for success!
The key to success with the Zwift Tri Battle Royale is proving that it can provide commercial value not only for the athletes but also for sponsors and partners. Whilst single head-to-head races might not be the way forward, small pro fields racing pro-only events is probably a more likely outcome and this race has the potential to build off what Challenge North America (rebranded CLASH) has done recently. This could involve integrating each athlete’s sponsors into the broadcast, but also selling exclusive rights to commercial partners for certain types of visibility. A few examples below:
Sell ‘course’ title sponsors like Ironman to endemic brands in the Swim, Bike and Run spheres. With a strong broadcast product and strong branding on course this would provide much better value than what we’ve seen to date
Integrate a big-name Data provider/sponsor – SAP is the natural choice given their existing relationship with Frodeno. Dimension Data (rebranded NTT) did this on the Tour de France and had unrivalled visibility for a while.
Play short clips of each athlete presenting their race kit and kit sponsors – a commercial advert rarely beats hearing it from the athlete themself on why they use particular equipment.
Tell the athlete stories - for athletes to make money from sponsors they need to have their own brand. By providing commentators with adequate knowledge they can present each athlete and tell their stories in a way that can help retain and attract sponsors.
Overall, the Zwift Tri Battle Royale is a unique opportunity to test new ideas and potentially set another new standard for professional triathlon racing and broadcasting. The above is just a collection of ideas from the author, we would be delighted to hear your ideas as well, your thoughts and your opinions even if you think it’s just a gimmick. Expect to hear more from the Zwift Tri Battle Royale through social media over the coming weeks as we discover what they really have in store. Finally, stay tuned for another article on Toe The Line after the race for a review of what they put in place.