Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Financials of a Pro Triathlete

This is Part 3 of my 2015 wrap up, "Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Financials of a Pro Triathlete".  It was a bit delayed, but timely due to tax season just wrapping up.  If you missed Part 1 and Part 2 those can be view here: "Part 1, Through the Len" and "Part 2, by the #'s".

Back in 2013, I had tracked all of my triathlon expenses to get an idea of what it would take financially to race a season of triathlon professionally.  At the end of the year I looked at what I spent, and it was SCARY, $13,128 scary to be exact!  It was my first year back in the US after 5.5 years of being stationed overseas, and my first year in the US full time, to put a triathlon schedule together.  I lined up that schedule to what I thought would be pretty comparable to a pro race schedule, it included races in Florida, Texas, California, Nevada, Wisconsin and Hawaii.

I drove to a few of the races keeping the cost somewhat low, as my car got great gas mileage and I was able to avoid bike fees.  I still had a hard time fathoming how I could possibly make it as a professional with the expenses being pretty high.  That $13K did not include the expenses for Hawaii and Vegas, as the Air Force had stepped up and covered those races since they were World Champs at which I was representing them.

Cody Beals had written about his financials as a first year pro in a blog titled "My Rookie Pro Triathlon Budget" and that is what inspired this blog.  Some of this will look familiar to what you may have seen in his blog, and some of it is my own take on the numbers.


When I started thinking about making the jump to the pro ranks, my wife and I agreed that I could do it for 2 years and see what the financial implications were and then we would re look at it after year 2.  I however wanted to make sure that I was making smart business decisions so that I could continue to do this as long as possible.  We didn't really set a "budget" per se, but I was loosely watching the amount I was spending on the sport.  I am in a fortunate situation that I came out of the Air Force with a bit saved up and was debt free.

I set out as a first year pro with ZERO expectations on the prize money front.  I had planned a strategic race schedule to hopefully build up a resume that would help with continuing to grow my current sponsor relationships as well as build new ones.  That race schedule just so happened to land me on some great start lists, so that when I raced to my potential, I was able to collect a few paychecks.

I was really fortunate to build a strong sponsor base through my progression as an age grouper and all of those carried over into the ranks as a professional.  I had hoped to continue to grow those relationships throughout the season and build upon them.

Goals / Reality-

It was pretty simple for year one.  Race, race well, and hopefully lose as little as possible, all while trying to build a resume and get my name out there.  I also wanted to be able to continue to contribute to my retirement fund and max out my Roth IRA ($5,500).  Unfortunately that was not going to be possible purely on triathlon income, so that meant working a part time job.

I had been previously volunteering with Team Red, White, and Blue as the National Triathlon Director.  That role was on a volunteer basis with ZERO income.  I continued that work as I felt keeping my "resume" active and giving back to the Veteran community was important.  I also held a part time job at US Military Endurance Sport,s where I have a flexible schedule working an hourly wage and being able to work from anywhere in the world.  It is a great job for someone in my position and I was working anywhere between 18-25 hours a week.  On top of that I had started coaching in early 2014 and picked up a small group of athletes which was another minor source of income and also very flexible and rewarding.

So let's dive into the expenses and revenue.

Revenue (click to enlarge):

Equipment Sales / Bike Rental:

44% of revenue was from equipment sales. This was due to having a few sets of extra race wheels, a few extra bikes and some random gear that was sold. Part of this sell-off can be attributed to our move to the UK, where we have a tiny flat and my wife and I needed to be selective on what bikes we would keep. I would expect this number to be lower in 2016, but if a new bike comes around, then that means selling the current bike, which will create some revenue.

I am fortunate enough to be partnered with Spinlister and have some of my bikes listed on there.  I had a few rentals this year which contributed to the $206 in revenue.  Small, but it is $206 I would have otherwise not had from the extra bikes I have laying around.

Sponsorship: Cash, Commission, and Bonuses

I was fortunate to have a few pure cash sponsors for 2015.  These are by far the hardest sponsors to get in the sport.  It is the equivalent of finding a herd of unicorns at the end of a rainbow that are eating from that magical pot of gold (at least that is what a majority of pros consider these cash sponsors to be).  So to generate $3,779 (looks a bit funny as one sponsor paid in foreign currency) in cash sponsorship was something that I consider a huge win for 2015, but it is still an area that I think I can improve upon for 2016.

Commission is something that I am a bit torn on.  A few companies are against having pros push sales as they do not believe we should be "salespeople".  These agreements had carried over from when I had started making partnerships as an Age Grouper and I hope to transition these partnerships into a bonus structure or pure cash.  However, I believe that one of the greatest assets I have to offer as an athlete is my reach within the triathlon community.  So with that being said, I believe the commission setup works really well for me as a professional, but as I continue to progress in the sport, I think it is something that I may do less and less.

Race Winnings:

Like I had mentioned above, race winnings were not something that was expected this year.  Picking up 3 pay checks totaling $4k ($3967 after fees/taxes) was quite nice.  Not sure what 2016 has in store on the prize money side of things, but ideally this number continues to increase over the years!  To have a better understanding of what Pro Triathletes make in prize winnings I would recommend this article: http://trstriathlon.com/pro-triathlon-money-list/ .  In short, 40 athletes made over $50K, 40, yes 40 athletes, both men and women.  This list is not annual, rather based on the Kona Points Year and ITU World Series.  So with that, only IMUK counted for me putting me at $2,000 and 267 on the list of 444 males that took home money.


I have slowly started to build up a base of athletes that I coach.  It has been purely by word of mouth but it brings in a few extra dollars and I really enjoy helping others succeed in this sport.  In 2016 I look to continue to grow the number of athletes I coach and make this another source of revenue to support my triathlon career.

Expenses (click to enlarge):


With the amount of bikes that were sold and the change to bike sponsors in the middle of the year, that really contributed to the equipment being a big expense for 2015.  It was basically a wash with the amount of revenue generated in sales.  I am not "sponsored" per se by Cervelo, more "supported" by Cervelo, so that means that I am still having to pay for my bikes.  I don't mind, as being on the best bike in the business is something that gives me confidence when I get on the start line knowing I have the best equipment.  Ideally,, that partnership will grow and hopefully one day I will be a fully sponsored athlete by Cervelo.
Transport / Bike Fees:

Taking the big risks to travel to Asia for some races meant some big flight tickets.  That is what drove the transportation expense so high, but for 2016, I have accrued enough flight miles to cash in on some free flights.  The evil of flying with a bike is the amount airlines charge.  This took a big hit to the expenses, but is getting harder and harder to avoid.  When I was in the military, I very rarely paid for my bike to fly, maybe once every twenty flights.  They were really generous to those of us on Active Duty.  Now it is just part of the pain of traveling with a bike, forking out anywhere from $75 - $200--other than that one time where Asiana charged me $495 as they were charging by weight.

This may look really high, but it includes two different training camps I did and the lodging for those, so that is what drove this number up pretty high.  For racing, I was at $695 and that was pretty low considering I had received a home stay for 1 race and then complimentary hotels for both Korean races.

Pretty straight forward.  Most Pro Athletes pay a flat rate for coaching and then a % of winnings on top of that.  That is the setup that I have with my coach (Scott DeFilippis) and it works well.
Race Entry / Membership:

This is where I saved quite a bit of money from racing as an amateur.  WTC/IRONMAN has a pro membership that cost $848 in 2015.  This allows you to do as many races as you want as a professional and as it may sound expensive, it ends up being a lot cheaper than what I had to pay as an amateur.  Challenge Family did not charge for race entries in 2015 and I did one of their races.  The "memberships" include the local Tri Team in the UK I pay to swim with, along with 2 other places that I swam at throughout the year. 

Overall I lost $194 in 2015, which as sad as it is, I think that is a WIN for a majority of pro triathletes. When talking to someone else about how the financials had shaken out for 2015, they had mentioned looking at it like a "start up".  Most start ups are not profitable for the first few years, so to come that close to breaking even, I am really happy with that.

For 2016, I have worked out several new financial sponsors which have had a huge impact on allowing me to not worry about how long I can do this for.  It has given me the confidence that I can make this work and continue to do it for as long as I am passionate about the sport.  I will continue to work hard in training, but also continue to work on the business side of my "brand" and hopefully with the hard work in training the results and progression will continue to trend in the right direction. 

By the Numbers:
2 Full IMs and 5 70.3 races in 2015
3 Paychecks, totaling $4,000
$571 – average prize money per race
$2,000 – highest prize money at IMUK
122 Days– slowest prize money payment (70.3 Incheon)
$1,265 spent on airline bike fees, a LOT of international flights
$545 spent on hotels (lucky enough to have a few homestays + free rewards nights)
$4,291 + award miles on airfare
79,145 miles flown
$11,089 spent on 3 new bikes and parts for said bikes, this is what happens when a sponsor deal goes bad mid year……….
$11,480 on selling old equipment and 2 bikes


D.Graf said...

That's good stuff. Keep at it.

Benjamin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Benjamin said...

Brad--thanks for sharing, really interesting insight into the pro triathlete world! Congrats on a great year and excited for your future endeavors! BP

Calendula said...

It's good that you sponsor base is growing.