PTO signals intent to pursue Ironman purchase, despite Wanda rejection

The finish line at the women's race at Ironman Barcelona on October 6, 2019 (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images for IRONMAN)

The Professional Triathletes Organisation has responded to Wanda Sports Group’s rejection of its bid to purchase the Ironman series, stating that it intends to pursue the acquisition and that “the triathlon community would be well served by a new owner”.

The PTO, which represents the interests of professional triathletes, first signalled its intent to buy Wanda’s Ironman assets late last month. The body’s new chief executive, British former triathlete Sam Renouf, indicated at the time that he felt Wanda’s investment into Ironman had been lacking since it initially purchased the World Triathlon Corporation – which operates the series – in 2015.  He said that the sport would benefit from being athlete controlled, pointing to developments such as golf’s Ryder Cup and tennis’ ATP Cup and Laver Cup.

WTC chief executive Andrew Messick and the WSG board rejected the offer, writing “while we appreciate your interest, we are not prepared to engage in a discussion around a sale at this point.”

In a letter addressed to Messick, Renouf and the PTO have responded by arguing that “the over-leveraged capital structure of WSG has hampered the ability of the organisation to make the needed investments in the business, putting great constraints on its operating capabilities.”

The letter states that “the PTO is uniquely positioned to be able to pay a fair price to WSG”, but the bid would appear far-fetched at this stage, particularly as the PTO has not made clear where its funding to purchase the WTC assets would come from. In an interview given to specialist triathlon publication 220Triathlon, Renouf said the PTO was “in the process of talking to a number of partners and we will be quite selective as it is important for us to work with a group that shares our vision.” In 2015, Wanda announced its $650m (€582.4m) acquisition of World Triathlon Corporation, the operator of Ironman events, from Providence Equity Partners.

In that same interview, Renouf claimed that “while we have not had any overt signs from Wanda before our letter, our bankers, North Point Advisors, have analysed the WSG Financial Statements and the performance of the IPO, and have advised that this an opportune time to start discussions.”

However, Ironman has proven a bright spot for WSG in a year when its own IPO floundered amid market uncertainty. As SportBusiness reported last month, while overall group profits were down $4.2m (€3.8m) per cent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2019, mass participation profits rose 21 per cent. Indeed, WSG attributed its overall revenue growth of 4 per cent in the second quarter to increased activity in the mass participation sector.