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Sam Renouf of the PTO On Building a Technology-First Sport

April 17, 2024

Technology is continuously reshaping the landscape of sports and the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) is emerging as a leading innovator. With an ambition to create a ‘global stage’ for the sport of triathlon, the PTO is leveraging cutting-edge technology to enhance the athlete experience and fuel a direct-to-consumer (D2C) business model. 

In an interview with iSportConnect’s David Fowler, Sam Renouf, the CEO of the PTO since 2019, delves into the pivotal role of technology in delivering on the organisations’ ambition.

Creating the foundations for technological innovation to flourish

Michael Moritz, an investor in the PTO, has been a major influence in the PTO’s vision and belief that technology can underpin the sports’ transformation.

“When we first took our investment the original mandate was to take a technology-first approach. One of the things that Michael Moritz said to us, obviously one of the most famous VCs in Tech, having funded incredible technology businesses, was that it wasn’t a very technologically efficient sport.”

The launch of the T100 Triathlon World Tour in early 2024 marked a major milestone in the PTO’s journey towards creating a year-round global platform and narrative to grow the audience and create the foundations for mass participation.

“We needed to create a season-long narrative that had a product that media partners, but also the general consumer, could buy into and have a journey, a story, throughout the year.”

Crucially, the eight events that currently comprise the T100 tour (set to grow to ten events in 2025) provide the PTO with the opportunity to test and refine new technology and learn what works.

As an athlete-owned organisation it comes as no surprise that the athletes are at the heart of innovation. The PTO harnesses their ideas through the PTO Athletic Board, a board elected by the professional athletes themselves.

“We’re meeting regularly to discuss how we take the sport forward. We involve them in everything including the use of a technology that we’ve adopted this year called Race Ranger. It’s very specific to triathlon and allows us to predict drafting – the distance between the bikes – which ultimately leads to safer and fairer racing.”

Building the capabilities to enable a D2C future

Sam Renouf positions the PTO’s ‘investor pitch’ as “an audience consolidation play, using technology”, and notes that a D2C business model would not have been feasible just a decade ago. The PTO’s owned digital estate, most notably its OTT platform PTO+, and the power of social media have enabled the organisation and their athletes to have a direct conduit to connect with fans.

“One of the things we’re excited about this year is building out the second screen experience. There’s obviously a large customer segment that love triathlon and data and understand the performance of the athletes in a way that we can’t necessarily showcase on broadcast because that’s got to be for more of a mass consumer.”

At the heart of PTO’s strategy lies its commitment to data and building in-house data capabilities to enable it to collect, analyse, and act upon vast amounts of participant and audience data. 

“There are some things we’re very happy to outsource. There are others we want internally such as a CDP and BI tools that are unique to us. There’s a group of investors called Divergent Investments who have a really strong internal data capability. With their guidance, we have built out internal tools that take all the data from all these different fragmented places and serve it up in a more actionable way, whether that’s social media data through to performance data and the results of the athletes.”

T100 Singapore 2024 Pro Womens Race on the 13th April 2024 at the Marina Bay, Singapore. (photo; T100/James Mitchell)

Innovating the broadcast experience

The PTO currently counts 30 broadcast partners broadcasting live on linear TV across 190 markets.

“TV buy-in has been really, really quick. The reason for this is very simple. The broadcasters who obviously sit on more data than any of us totally understand the value of the triathlon demographic. It’s been called the new golf for a long time. It’s just that there hasn’t been much triathlon that’s produced to the right quality levels that broadcasters are willing to give airtime to.”

One of PTO’s key innovations lies in revolutionising the broadcast experience in a direction reminiscent of Formula One, where real-time data is transforming the viewing experience. By providing viewers with live updates on athlete performance metrics, the PTO aims to make triathlon more accessible and captivating for audiences worldwide.

“When we brought in our head of broadcast and we took him through the technology and data and the fact that we wouldn’t get timing updates until the athletes had gone over certain mats, his response was that it’s like watching a game of tennis, but you only get the score every third point! Alot of our focus has been on how to fix that. It’s been more challenging than we anticipated. But we’ve now reached the point where we have a combination of live in-broadcast and second screen data. We have real-time data from all the athletes in terms of GPS location, which allows us to do speed, time gaps, velocity and heart rate and we’re now beginning to bring in power and so all of those are the kind of things which we think are important to make the broadcast exciting”.

The collaborative nature of the PTO’s approach to innovation, not only with athletes, is evident through its partnerships with tech companies, both large and small. Innovation is fueled by a shared vision of enhancing the triathlon experience.

“We are not a tech company. We are enabling and promoting other technologies. I don’t want any proprietary tech.”

The tech-enabled future of triathlon

Looking ahead, the PTO’s vision extends beyond mere technological advancement; it’s about crafting a holistic experience that resonates with athletes and audiences alike. Through strategic partnerships, innovative broadcast solutions, and a relentless focus on data-driven insights, PTO is poised to redefine the future of triathlon, and sport.

To deliver this tech-enabled future, the PTO has opted to embed a technology culture across the organisation rather than creating a technology ‘silo’.

“Almost everything starts with technology and then we go from there. We don’t have a technology division that looks after it. It’s part of everything we do.

Singapore T100 winner Dutchman Youri Keulen emerging from the swim with the Singapore skyline behind. (photo; T100/James Mitchell)

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