PTO Tour: Ironman, Challenge Family face tough competition -- what does it mean for triathlon in 2022?

Switzerland's Daniela Ryf, three-time Ironman world champion, and five-time Ironman 70.3 world champion was part Team Europe who won the inaugural Collins Cup in August, 2021. Patrick McDermott/Getty Images/Ironman

Following on from the inaugural Collins Cup in August, which saw the world's top-ranked triathletes team up and go head-to-head in a team Ryder-Cup style race to an audience of over seven million, the athlete-led Professional Triathlete's Organisation (PTO), last week announced the launch of the PTO Tour which includes four major events over the next two seasons.

The PTO, which launched in late 2019, is a not-for-profit organisation owned and run by the sport's athletes alongside various stakeholders and investors, which aims to bring non-drafting athletes -- racing at middle distance and above -- together to create a more powerful force in driving the sport forward.

The model is similar to that of golf's PGA, LGPA and tennis's ATP and WTA organisations. The PTO Tour will also take a similar shape to the tour events in golf and tennis.

The U.S. and Canadian Opens are set for 2022 in Edmonton (July 23-24), and Dallas, Texas (Sept. 17-18), with an Asian, and European Open to follow in 2023.

The 2022 Collins Cup, the PTO's flagship team event where athletes compete for Team USA, Europe or International, will take place in Bratislava, Slovakia on Aug. 20-21.

All races will be broadcast live, have additional races for age-group athletes, and take the 100km format of a 2km swim, 80km bike and 18km run.

The PTO Tour is the first of its kind in triathlon and is poised to shake up the elite side. Up until now, events have been predominantly chosen by both amateurs and professionals purely by location and course design, usually with a view to qualify for the annual Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

Instead, what has worked so well for golf and tennis with Majors and Grand Slams, is that with fewer key events on the calendar, the (professional) athletes will compete for prestige against their high-ranked fellows and race for a much bigger ($1m at individual PTO Tours) prize.

In addition to prize money, they would increase their payout for the end-of-year ranking which is paid out to the top 100 male and 100 female athletes in descending order, meaning the combined total from all competitions for the year is a huge $5.5m. For comparison, the pot at the Ironman World Championships is $650,000.

Ironman, Challenge Family face stiff competition

The Ironman brand have more than 150 events in over 50 countries and have monopolised the sport into a conglomerate, fiercely taking the largest share of non-drafting racing for almost two decades. Their closest rival is Challenge Family, a smaller organisation, who have by comparison 40 events in 27 countries, and compete for the same slice of the sport.

Moreover, Challenge Family co-founder Zibi Szlufcik resides on the PTO board alongside former ATP executive chairman Chris Kermode, and athletes Tim O'Donnell, Alistair Brownlee, Meredith Kessler, and Rachel Joyce.

Challenge may, perhaps, be more receptive to the idea since they have teamed up with the PTO in organising events previously.

Although the coronavirus pandemic saw most events cancelled for almost two years, the PTO seem to have used the time to gather momentum and catch up with their competitors. The overall mission is for the sport to grow funds and be reinvested through the athletes who compete in it.

Double Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee said on the Tour announcement: "I am very excited for triathlon to entertain new and existing fans. The PTO is showing that by having professional triathletes working together and having an equal interest in the success of the Tour, the sport can continue to gain in popularity and reach new audiences."

Meanwhile Kermode said in a statement: "The PTO evolution and path is very similar to professional tennis which transformed itself when the professionals united together to promote the sport. Triathlon will grow and thrive by having the best athletes competing against one another and delivering this in an engaging broadcast format.

"Triathlon is perfectly suited to follow this successful model as it already has a fan base that is obsessed with performance data."

The calendar is already packed in 2022. Ironman are hosting an additional rescheduled world championship in Hawaii alongside their slate of other races which doesn't bode well for recovery time. The power remains with the athletes to pick their schedule accordingly.