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Ex-UFC exec looks to build triathlon’s profile
Published December 20, 2010
Michael Pine may be the only thing that the sports of triathlon and cage fighting have in common. Last week, Pine left his post as vice president of sponsorship sales with Ultimate Fighting Championship to join the World Triathlon Corp., owner of the Ironman brand, where he will oversee sponsorship, marketing and public relations as the chief sales officer. He answered questions from staff writer Fred Dreier last week about the transition to his new post.
Triathlon and ultimate fighting are two vastly different worlds. What knowledge can you bring to triathlon from your three years with UFC?
Pine: Right now [triathlon] needs more mainstream media exposure to drive its attractiveness and make people say, “I want to do this.” We can do that through storytelling. You watch “The Amazing Race,” and people are drawn to that. If we could do something like that, we could hook more people into the sport. You look at what “The Ultimate Fighter” on Spike did for UFC — it put us on the map.
What could a triathlon television show look like?
Pine: I don’t know, maybe you have six men and six women who go through weekly training challenges, and the end prize is qualifying for [the Ironman World Championships in] Kona [Hawaii]. I think a video game would also be very interesting. I was instrumental with kicking off round one of sponsorship inside the UFC video game. We expected to sell 1.5 million and it sold 4 million. I could also see us get into gyms and training facilities where Ironman athletes or aspiring athletes could train. The sky is the limit right now for the brand.
Triathlon is a sport that has traditionally relied heavily on endemic sponsorship. How will you change your approach to bring in more non-endemic brands?
Pine: The alcohol vertical is an interesting one, especially with people being so health conscious in triathlon. I spoke with the brand manager at Michelob Ultra, and I told him that just because you’re an Ironman doesn’t mean you never have a beer or a vodka tonic. Other verticals are with airlines and hotels because of the travel that triathletes go to for these races. I don’t want to break away from endemic sponsorship. I think there is a way we can live in harmony.
Ironman recently announced it is launching the 5150 series of Olympic-distance (one-mile swim, 25-mile bike, six-mile run) races, which are much shorter than the Ironman-length (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run) events. Isn’t the WTC worried about watering down its successful brand?
Pine: First of all, 5150 is not an Ironman, and no one wants to put any offense toward the people who have put in the time and sweat and tears to finish an Ironman. But we’re not just Ironman, we also have Iron Girl and IronKids and the 70.3 series. Strategically, I’m going to utilize different tactics to bring in different sponsors for those brands. It’s like we did with UFC. We also had World Extreme Cagefighting as the sister league. It was very similar, but we kept the brands separate.
After three years with the UFC, what is your parting advice to the league?
Pine: They need to continue to stay regulated. They also need to land New York City. They were close last year, but it took a bad turn politically. But I think they will eventually get it. Once you have a fight at Madison Square Garden, it will really solidify that sport.