Hits and misses from Super League

The new Super League Triathlon offers both athletes and fans an exciting new addition to the triathlon landscape.

| March 20, 2017 | RACES

Photo >Delly Carr

With as much fanfare as they could muster, the Super League crew took a deep breath and leapt into the crowded triathlon racing market this weekend. But the Super League game is a different one that's not aimed at the mass participatory market. This is a racing series built for export and television. It’s triathlon, but not as you would know it. It’s not a new concept. It’s just been given a facelift and a broadcast platform. At the end of this weekend’s racing it is fair to say that this series has emerged from garage band status to legitimate player in the triathlon landscape.

We take a look at some of the hits and misses from the first edition of Super League.

Hits

Production: The production level for this event, beamed live was first rate. The sporting market place is over run with top-line production based on millions of dollars of ads and sponsorship the Super League crew just don’t have access to. But this event held it’s ground and the "show" was easily watchable. You can rehearse all you like pre-show, but when the red light goes on the truth is revealed. The course too allowed for the ease of production and it is clear a lot of pre-race planning had taken place.

Robbie McEwen: Robbie McEwen was the highlight of the commentary team. The former Tour de France Green Jersey winner was up and about and knew his business, which was to be a hype guy in the maelstrom of the transition area. His work on Australia’s Tour coverage has honed his media savvy. And while his mid-change interviews fell flat a couple of times, he was a bright point to the coverage. It was curious the rest of the commentary team didn’t defer to him on a wet and dangerous third day of racing given McEwen was one of the best bike riders in the pro bunch when he was going.

Money for pros: About freakin' time is all we have to say on this one. How nice for the commentary team to call a $100k race that shows some real signs of being repeated. It wasn’t the triple crown debacle or the another one off race that will essentially just die a slow and non paying death. This was a real race with a real prize purse. And it shows with the pros going hard to the end to improve their final overall places and their overall money position.

Compelling race format: Upon watching the very first race on Day 1 it was hard to get super excited. It really was nothing different to what we had seen for years by the benchmark in triathlon coverage the ITU. But, as the next race evolved and the fatigue on the athletes was evident the real crux of the Super League proposition was revealed. A Hunger Games scenario unfolded as the athletes, starved of rest and oxygen took to the next race. And then another. It became something more than a monotone ITU race which, while well covered, has some sort of predictability about it.

Richard Murray and Jacob Birtwhistle: We have known what Murray is capable of for years and he has provided many highlights. And, in building the narrative of the stars of Super League, we are led to believe he is a wild man (not sure how that works). But he raced like a MIT professor, assessing what needed to be done to secure the win and bag the six figures. Birtwhistle can win a gold medal in Tokyo - it’s as simple as that.

Misses

Brownlee and Gomez: The two marquee guys of this first edition were rarely sighted. Brownlee garnered a lot of coverage in race one, but that was due to the fact he was running like an age grouper in a field of pros. It was one of the few times in the last decade we have seen Brownlee out of his depth and struggling. Post race he cited a stitch as the issue, but he never recovered and failed to show for day three. Add that to the pre-race withdrawal of brother Jonathan and the Brownlee one-two promotional punch fizzled. Javier Gomez, too, was seen, but never really threw a punch. Again one can understand this as Gomez doesn’t make a living out of Super League (yet). He is programmed for ITU racing.

Ian Thorpe: Thorpe did some pre-production work on Super League and made a mercifully brief appearance on the live coverage where he appeared listless and not that well informed. Ian Thorpe is a genius athlete and masterful swimmer, of that there can be zero doubt. He was a national hero and carried himself superbly. But let’s leave it there Thorpie.

Confusing start: Anyone else sit there wondering what the heck was going on? Different racing formats confused even knowledgeable triathlon people. Added to that all the banter about puling numbers out of hats for pontoon placements, etc., left a "what the heck?" taste in the mouth. They have to simply their delivery of this format because "Joe Average" watching this is going to be left stunned. Triathlon is a niche play at the best of times but appealing to the uneducated won’t help by confusing them.

Adding women: This is not so much a miss as a dilemma. Expansion plans for Super League are well founded. Follow owner Chris McCormack on any social media platform and his jet setting will tell you what’s in store. But here’s the catch. Adding women will add more TV time and will extend what can only be a stretched budget. Commanding 90+ minutes is one thing but adding double that to include a women’s event leaves the organisers with a real headache. This of course will depend on dollars and ratings but it will be a legitimate problem for the Super League crew.

The Final Word.

Will Super League have a mainstream sporting place? The jury is out on this. In Australia the event was broadcast live on pay per view TV and live streamed so only a select number of people would have had the opportunity to see this. It was timed well as the frenzy of domineering ball sports hasn’t taken hold yet. The product is a good one. It was shot well, looked good and, with some refinement and lesson’s learned after this weekend, the product can only improve. The quality of field too will get better as pros realize this is legit and pays like a real sport. It has a future and shows more staying power than some of the other flops and empty announcements we have seen in triathlon in the last few years.