In a bold and unexpected move, the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) – the organisation behind the Collins Cup – has sent an open letter to Wanda Sports Group proposing to enter into discussions to acquire its IRONMAN and related mass participation assets.
PTO also confirmed that it has appointed Sam Renouf as its Chief Executive Officer. Sam Renouf had previously been CEO of MOTIV Group and before that was part of the executive leadership team at ACTIVE Network, leading its global sports business.
The letter from PTO to Wanda Sports proposes an all-cash transaction for the purchase of Wanda Sports’ global triathlon and mass participation business.
The letter notes that… ‘Professional triathletes, age groupers and the triathlon community have for years watched the decline of our sport with dismay as the dedicated executives and passionate employees of the WTC [IRONMAN] business have been hampered by excessive debt load and pressures to deliver unrealistic short-term results to financial investors.’
PTO’s letter to Wanda adds that… ‘excessive debt levels limit needed investment and often cause exploitative customer pricing and a decline in standards… We believe the market has recognised this reality as the results of the WSG IPO have proved to be well below expectations.’
The July 2019 initial public offering (IPO) for Wanda Sports Group raised a lower than expected US$190 million. The size and price range for the IPO were reduced leading up to the stock market listing; and the IPO was less than half of its original goal of up to US$500 million.
Whether IRONMAN and its Chinese owners at Dalian Wanda Group will entertain discussions with PTO is currently unclear. It is worth noting that China’s Dalian Wanda continues to retain a majority, around 90%, of Wanda Sports’ total voting power. This is due to a dual-class share structure, of Class A and Class B shares, and the publicly traded shares in Wanda Sports accounting for less than 30% of the company’s total share capital.
Wanda Sports Group reported US$1.1 billion in revenue, and a net profit of US$54 million in 2018. Although, this figure encompasses all of its operations – from the IRONMAN Group, to sports & media rights agency Infront as well as a diverse range of sports properties, such as basketball, among others.
The letter and release from PTO indicates a clear statement of intent to free IRONMAN of debt and restructure the business. While the move may be rebuffed by Wanda Group, it represents a further public declaration from PTO that long-course racing is in need of a shake-up.
Charles Adamo, Chairman of the PTO, commented “Sam [Renouf]’s professional breadth and experience in triathlon and the mass participation industry makes him ideally suited to lead the PTO and its commercial endeavours. Sam has a great vision for the PTO’s potential and the skills and energy to realise it.”
With extensive industry experience, and as a former elite triathlete from Great Britain, Sam Renouf also served as a commentator for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Rachel Joyce, Co-President of the PTO, added that “As a former elite athlete who has transitioned into a sports executive, Sam is fully aware of the demands of our sport and his business experience will allow him to navigate triathlon’s sizable commercial potential.”
Sam Renouf commented, “It is an honour to be joining the PTO. From my first meeting with its leadership team and its bankers, North Point Advisers, it became clear to me that they are uniquely positioned to unleash the value in our sport and take it to the next level both economically and in popularity.”
He continued, “This is about the natural evolution towards athlete self-determination; and the PTO is set to follow the well-trodden path of other sports like golf and tennis, where the professionals took on the responsibility to nurture and grow their sport, alongside other stakeholders.
“The time has come to end the era where over leveraged investors exploit our community for short term gains. The PTO, working with our financial advisors and certain selected partners, will be able to operate in a manner that produces healthy investment returns, while at the same time developing our sport based on a solid, growing sustainable model.
“We have, therefore, sent a letter to the Board of Directors of Wanda Sports requesting that we begin discussions relating to the acquisition of its IRONMAN and mass participation business. We have every confidence that the PTO and its partners will succeed in this endeavour and look forward to the next chapter of the incredible sport of triathlon.”
The Professional Triathletes Organisation is a not-for-profit entity. It represents professional triathletes and seeks to ‘showcase the passion, talents, determination, struggles and achievements of the dedicated professionals who strive to realise the highest levels of the sport and inspire all those who participate in triathlon, from seasoned age groupers to newbies.’
North Point Advisors is an independent investment bank focused on providing financial advice on mergers and acquisitions and raising institutional capital to meet the growth objectives of its clients. Since its founding in 2004, North Point Advisors has advised on more than 160 transactions representing over US$25 billion of transaction value. Its industries of focus include consumer, wellness and healthcare, and it has ‘one of the largest and most experienced consumer M&A teams on Wall Street’, completing transactions with leading brands such as Starbucks, Jimmy John’s, Kosta Browne Winery, Landry’s, Golden Nugget Casinos, Massage Envy, and Peanuts by Schulz.