Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Financials of a Pro Triathlete Year 2
May 9, 2017
When you mention to people that you are a "professional athlete", the first thing that pops into their mind. (see above) The question that frequently follows up with the initial thought, "Do you actually make money doing that?"(Yes, people I have never met will ask , quite a personal question right?)
This is Part 3 of my 2016 wrap up, "Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Financials of a Pro Triathlete Year 2". Way behind schedule, but none the less here it is. If you missed Part 1 and Part 2 those can be viewed here: "Part 1, Through the Lens" and "Part 2, by the #'s".
If you missed Year 1 Financials and want a little backstory on why I am putting this out here, you can check that out HERE. In short, there are very few Pros that are transparent about the financial aspect of our sport. I feel that there are quite a few people that have ambitions of going from the Age Group ranks into the Pro Ranks, and figure this could be useful for them and give them an idea of what it takes and what the progression/regression (hopefully not) could possibly look like.
Credit is still due to Cody Beals as he was the first to write about this. You can read his most recent one here, "My 3rd Year Pro Triathlon Budget", which also back links to his previous years. 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.
Similar to 2015 I came into 2016 with few expectations. I am still in the “startup” phase of being a professional triathlete, when you look at it from a business standpoint. I wanted to continue to build my resume along with racing some bigger races to see how I stacked up against some tougher competition. The expectations at the bigger races were more of a “get your feet wet”, whereas at some of the smaller races I had performance-related goals.
Goals / Reality-
Similar to year one, the plan was to lose as little as possible and hopefully be able to make some money in 2016. 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 part time jobs.
In 2015 I was doing quite a bit in terms of “work”. I was working for US Military Endurance Sports, volunteering for Team Red, White, and Blue and also coaching a few athletes. In 2016 a LOT changed! In late 2015 I started my transition out of the Team Red, White and Blue Triathlon Director Role and by March of 2016 it was in the hands of the new Director. In April, I gave my “2 weeks” notice to USMES, ended up being 30 days, and I believe it was end of April or mid May that I stopped working there. Then in late May, we launched KIS Coaching, I say we as it is my coach, Scott DeFilippis, myself and our Team Manager and Coach, Sam Cardona. Lastly, I do a bit of work for one of my Sponsors that is based here in Oxford, FireStar Energy.
That was quite a bit of change on the employment front, but it opened up a lot of time for me to focus on the family (Oh, if you missed that we welcomed our first child to the world in July, Asher Ian). It also allowed me to have a more flexible schedule and not be accountable to a “boss” but rather to the athletes that I am coaching. It was a good move and I have been happy with how it has worked out.
So let's dive into the expenses and revenue.
Coaching / Part Time Work:
For 2016 I am including “Part Time Work” in here as well, I think it is important to understand that a majority of us hold part time jobs on top of training and racing. This throws off the data a bit in comparison to last year as I only included coaching and not the USMES pay.
This year a majority of this income was from Coaching ($15,665 of the $26,781). With the launch of KIS Coaching, it has helped with growing the amount of athletes I coach. Having an official brand really helps on this front and I am glad we decided to launch last year.
Sponsorship: Cash, Commission, and Bonuses
This was by far the biggest area of improvement for 2016. I made some great connections and friendships in the past few years, and this year those grew into sponsorship opportunities. I would not be where I am if it was not for these people stepping up and helping out, I cannot thank them enough. A mentor of mine had recommended while back home where I grew up that I network within the local community to see if there were any businesses that were willing to support a local athlete. A big thanks to Better Built Truss and Sean Crisp & Associates for helping out. Lastly, a great Team RWB Ambassador launched a new business last year and came on board to support as well, big thanks to J-Flo Designs for being a part of the team!
Bonuses!! This year with the win at 70.3 Chungju and the podium at Hefei 70.3 it came with some additional cash. I only had 2 sponsors with bonus structure, something I am looking to grow in 2017. But it was a nice extra $1,134 solely based on performance. I am working hard to work these into all future contracts as I believe it is a win-win for both the athlete and company, I do well in races and it gives them the ability to leverage that in their marketing campaign.
Commission: like I had mentioned last year it is something I am trying to move away from. However, I have some strong existing commission deals setup and it is a nice avenue of additional cash. I am no longer taking commission-only deals, all deals have to have cash and/or bonus structure tied to them. Don’t worry, I will still ensure that there are some discount codes available on certain sponsor products that I have.
Another area of improvement from last year. I believe it was more around $7,300 before taxes, but after Uncle Sam got his greedy fingers on it, I was left with $6,718. Thorsten Rhadde of TriRating.com has compiled a Prize Money list, and according to his list I was ranked #114 Male on the list of 375. USA Triathlon has also done a list, but seems to be missing a few races, leaving me at #130 of 442 with $5,750. Both of these lists are for Long Course Racing.
So what does the state of triathlon prize money look like? According to the TriRating.com money list, only 14 men were able to clear $40K in prize money for the year. The top paid male athlete was Jan Frodeno at $159,054. Hopefully we see an increase in Prize Money, but sadly I am not optimistic here and don’t think we will see an increase while I am racing at this level.
Unlike last year, I did not have much equipment to sell. So this “revenue” stream was cut way down. The main sources for this year were a set of wheels, my Cervelo S5 (which I replaced with a newer S3 w/ Di2) and then random equipment. With this revenue stream being down, it also meant that the expense category was way down as well. The revenue/expense for this category should always be fairly close together. So this could turn into an actual revenue stream, it really just depends on what deals I am able to secure in the future.
Another new perk for 2016 was some minimal support at events. I was offered travel support at two events which included a travel stipend, and then quite a few events provided either a hotel or homestay, which really helped cut down on expenses.
Transport / Bike Fees:
Similar to 2015, 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. I was able to use miles for a few tickets. The only “good” thing to come out of spending ~$11k on travel is that I currently have Gold Status with Star Alliance. What does that mean? Well it typically means more luggage, lounge access and priority check in / service. In 2017 I am attempting to solely fly on Star Alliance so that I can hopefully earn enough miles to be eligible for upgrades moving forward. That is where the real advantage is, plus staying loyal to one alliance seems to be the way to go in terms of perks. And as silly as it seems, it really makes a difference in my opinion.
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 as airline employees are well trained to know what bike cases look like. I have been choosing airlines a bit more wisely in 2017, hopefully flying United less ($200 bike fee), and with the Gold status it should help cut down on the bike fees, which totaled $1,139 in 2016.
Equipment / Nutrition:
Briefly covered above in the revenue section, but all major expenses were last year which cut down on this years expenses on equipment. It was really just a lot of odds and ends, with the misfortune of a cut Di2 cable at Dubai 70.3 costing me ~$250 to replace as I had to purchase both bar end shifters.
I am fortunate to have a hydration sponsor in Precision Hydration, which saves me quite a bit of money. However, I do not have a “food” sponsor when it comes to training/race fuel. This isn’t actually a bad thing as it gives me the ability to use whatever I want, but that comes at a cost. Close to $700 in 2016 on “food” for training / racing. I primarily use GU Chomps, Picky Bars and have moved away from using Hammer Perpetuem this year, in a move to use more “solids” the chomps and bars.
This was a big improvement from 2015, two of the three hotels that I stayed at were when we were traveling in Australia and New Zealand between races. They should almost be classified as “leisure” but they are on the sheet. The two places where I had to actually use a hotel/AirBnB this year were IMNZ & Weymouth 70.3. Other than that, the races either provided hotels (which is something new for me) or I had a homestay, which I don’t mind one bit as it is always good to connect with local athletes and members of the community that the race is in.
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.
The laptop I had wasn’t quite cutting it, so the big expense this year on the Coaching side of things was for a new laptop. I also wanted to start to do more video and photo editing, so I went a bit overboard and got something quite powerful. Come to find out the video stuff is no joke and is quite time consuming, so I am trying to find time to dive into that a bit more, hopefully sooner than later.
Race Entry / Membership:
WTC/IRONMAN has a pro membership that cost $848, however 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 2016 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.
2016 was a massive step in the right direction. Showing a profit of $33k (~$7k if you take coaching/part time work out of it), is something that I am happy with. Was able to max out the Roth IRA, travel the world and wake up every day (well most days) doing what I love. It may not be the most “luxurious” lifestyle, and as a few critiqued last year, “You could be making more money at a real job!” In my opinion, money is not everything, and money surely does not equal happiness. So continuing on this journey is the plan for now.
For 2017, it was a rough end of 2016 and start to 2017 trying to secure new sponsors within the industry. I have still been working on things and trying to continue to build relationships within the industry. It seems that a lot of companies are shifting their marketing strategies to the Age Group “Teams” in the sport, which I don’t blame them for, however I still think there are a decent amount of Pros out there that provide a great ROI. So, onwards and upwards I will go on the business side of things, and I am sure everything will fall into place and sort itself out moving forward.
$1,140 spent on airline bike fees, a LOT of international flights
$573 spent on hotels (lucky enough to have a few homestays + free rewards nights)
$11,020 + 170,000 award miles on airfare
141,000 miles flown & 59 flight legs
How Do I Track All of This?
I figured there may be some interest on how I manage all of this "data". Below is how I currently do it, if you have any suggestions open to hearing how to make my life easier!
- Expense/Revenue Tracker- I just use Excel to track everything, pretty simple and straight forward.
- Paper Receipts- Previously I was just keeping them in an envelope and transcribing them into the "master" excel tracker. For 2017 I have started using an app called Foreceipt, pretty nifty app which links into your Google Drive and can transfers the receipts via photo/image & creates nice reports.
- Online Purchases- I use the "Snipping Tool" to screenshot the receipt and just save them in a folder by year and they are titled by date and company.
- Flight Data- I have previously used, and will continue to use Mile Calc. For 2017 I have also started using AppInTheAir which has some nice features for historical flight data, plus current and upcoming flight info.
- Taxes- Our tax situation is a bit complicated with us living overseas, having a foreign bank account, and multiple income sources. Due to all of that we use TaxesForExpats.