Warner Bros bets on extreme sports with triathlon start-up

A London-based start-up aiming to capitalise on the popularity of triathlons has secured the backing of Warner Bros Discovery, underlining how media companies are expanding their bet on sports to drive subscriptions.

Warner Bros is among the backers of a $30mn fundraising by the Professional Triathletes Organisation, which arranges events in Canada, the US and Europe.

The PTO, which attracted investment nearly three years ago from its majority owner, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Michael Moritz, plans to use the new funds to expand its programme of events and lift the amount of prize money for participants.

Triathlon is a relatively young sport, with the first recorded example of the gruelling event — that requires competitors to swim, bike and run — dating to San Diego in 1974. It has mushroomed in popularity since the sport first featured at the Olympics in Sydney in 2000.

“Football, NFL and tennis have been multibillion-dollar sports for a long time,” said PTO chief Sam Renouf. “Triathlon has really been in the dark ages from a commercial perspective, and that’s really why the PTO was formed.”

The investment by Warner Bros follows a July agreement it struck with the PTO in July to screen the races live.

The importance that broadcasters attach to sports was underlined this week when Google’s YouTube secured the rights to screen some US National Football League matches from next season.

As the competition for mainstream sports intensifies, investors and broadcasters “will expand their horizons beyond the most obvious big-name sports and leagues”, according to law firm Latham & Watkins.

Luxembourg-based private equity firm Divergent Investments led PTO’s fundraising, making its first investment since it was set up last year by former derivatives trader Francis Bento.

PTO is not the only extreme sports company to attract investment this year. MSP Sports Capital, an investment firm with a stake in the McLaren Racing motorsport group, bought a controlling stake in X Games from Disney’s ESPN in October. The series features events such as biking, skateboarding and snowboarding.

The PTO’s flagship event is the Collins Cup, a $1.5mn prize money race that pits Europe against US and international teams.

The PTO, which estimates that there are 10mn amateurs who have participated in at least one triathlon, says the sport needs to improve the way it reaches audiences through broadcasting and streaming platforms.

“It [triathlon] appeals to the overachieving executive and the professional class, that isn’t a new trend,” said Renouf. “The whole point of the PTO is that although you’ve got this incredibly valuable market that’s global, it’s completely fragmented by this lack of media product.”


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