The challenge of bringing the stories behind triathlon and the sport’s jaw-dropping moments into people’s living rooms enticed broadcaster Alex Payne onto the PTO’s journey.
Payne, 42, is known for fronting Sky Sports’ rugby union coverage for the best part of 20 years and hosting the Good, the Bad and the Rugby podcast with James Haskell and Mike Tindall.
However, he has swapped rugby royalty for the Professional Triathletes Organisation and with Warner Bros Discovery on board for three years as a global broadcaster, Payne will anchor Eurosport’s coverage of the Collins Cup – the sport’s answer to the Ryder Cup – for the second successive year on Saturday at the X-Bionic Sphere in Samorin.
Having been given his first break in TV by the PTO’s head of broadcast Martin Turner, Payne is now hoping to transform triathlon coverage alongside the man who revolutionised rugby union, darts and F1 on Sky.
Payne said: “The trick that triathlon has got to find is those moments where jaws drop and where people go, ‘this is changing in front of my eyes’.
“And I think Martin is the man who will make that happen.”
Team Europe will defend their Collins Cup title from last year’s inaugural event in this year’s $1.5million showpiece against Team International and Team USA.
Each team has six male and six female athletes who will compete over a 2km swim, 80km bike and 18km run across 12 matches that were announced in Thursday’s opening ceremony with points on offer for winning your match-up and bonuses available for the margin of victory.
Payne added: “I think the format of the Collins Cup is fantastic. But the challenge that I’m quite excited about as a broadcaster is getting people to watch and stay with the coverage while understanding where the pivotal moments are.
“My knowledge is pretty basic I won’t lie but I’m fascinated by the characters and fascinated by what they do to perform at their best while being on a journey where there is a very ambitious governing body trying to make it as good as it can be.”
The PTO is helping more triathletes become professionals with unparalleled prize pots achieved through venture capitalist funding led by Welsh-born billionaire Sir Michael Moritz and progressive policies such as paid maternity cover.
And Payne, fittingly fresh from conducting a dramatic interview with Sam Long and Sam Laidlow which saw the former storm out, now believes it is down to the stars themselves within the athlete-owned PTO to help sell the sport as it bids for its slice of the pie in a world dominated by social media where consumers have an increasingly shorter attention span.
“The athletes themselves have got to be aware of the opportunity that’s in front of them,” said Payne.
“And I think that’s the difference with rugby, the PTO is athlete owned, and that therefore means it’s their commodity.
“Not every athlete has an understanding of what sells and what gets cut through and what gets people tuning in.
“And I think that is the opportunity for the PTO, to make sure they are fully aware of the impact they can have on the product.
“I don’t think you can afford to be a slow burner. There’s a new social media channel opening every week.”
While another sporting start-up, LIV Golf, is causing uproar and pulling up roots, the PTO is similarly aiming to take triathlon in a new lucrative direction, albeit without the controversy and damage to any established professional tours.
The PTO’s goal is to bring triathlon on a par with the likes of golf and tennis by having four or five major events as well as the Collins Cup and although Payne admits triathlon is unlikely to be able to hit the heights golf enjoyed during the Tiger Woods era, he thinks the PTO is a rocket-booster on top of a sport that already packs a punch.
Payne added: “When you look at what LIV Golf are doing, they are making their move, they are not going to die wondering.
“The PTO is causing less friction and there’s more unity around it but I would put them in that same race to get to where they believe they can and to do it quickly.
“Golf is so established and so many big players. Tiger Woods was at one point the most famous man on the planet but I’m not sure you’ll ever be able to say that about a triathlete.
“This is a rocket-pack job with unbelievable characters and achievements whereas in golf it’s a stick of dynamite and trying to start again.
“What triathlon has got is the advantage of seeing what others have done and to be able to capitalise on what works at speed.”
The Collins Cup takes place on Saturday 20 August at the X-Bionic Sphere, Bratislava. For full listings of how to watch go to https://protriathletes.org/events/how-to-watch