USA Triathlon Annual Membership Report — 2015 Update

USA Triathlon continued to establish itself as a leading National Governing Body in 2015, both in the United States and abroad. 

In January, USA Triathlon elite and age-group triathletes enhanced international relations as competitors at the first sporting event held in Cuba following President Obama’s opening of the borders. Later in the year, USA Triathlon’s international affairs grew through an agreement with the African Triathlon Union, a relationship formed with a mission of growing and supporting triathlon in developing countries throughout the world. 

USA Triathlon hosted the world at the 2015 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final and World Championships in September, welcoming 6,000 multisport athletes from around the globe. World titles were awarded to elite triathletes, paratriathletes, juniors and under-23 athletes, as well as age-group athletes who competed in championship events for aquathlon and sprint- and Olympic-distance triathlon. USA Triathlon’s amateur Team USA was comprised of nearly 1,200 Americans — the largest world championships contingent in the organization’s history.

With a focus of establishing a stronger foundation as an NCAA Emerging Sport for Women, USA Triathlon awarded nearly $1 million to Division I, II and III institutions in the first year of the Women’s Triathlon Emerging Sport Grant. The grant program, an unprecedented amount of support for a National Governing Body within the Emerging Sport for Women landscape, led to greater participation in the second Women’s Collegiate Triathlon season. In November at the Women’s Collegiate Triathlon National Championship, an at-capacity field of 80 women toed the line to compete for national titles.

To inspire growth of triathlon in communities around the country, USA Triathlon launched the Tri it Forward program to motivate and encourage new athletes by way of existing members of the USA Triathlon community. Based on the “pay it forward” concept, members were asked to invite friends, family members and co-workers to sign up for their first triathlon. The program was conceptualized to increase multisport participation and promote healthy lifestyles across the United States.

Additionally, the USA Triathlon Foundation awarded $52,000 as part of the first year of its grant program to grow programming for children, paratriathletes and Olympic hopefuls. Grant award winners established opportunities for non-triathletes to gain exposure to the sport and help break down barriers that may have otherwise hindered participation. 

USA Triathlon has maintained consistent participation of annual members throughout the organization’s history. The annual adult membership total as of Dec. 31, 2015 was 116,110, a .26 percent decrease from 2014 (approximately 297 members). Overall annual membership (adult + youth) totaled 161,298, a decrease of just over 5 percent. Youth membership continues to be an area of focus for USA Triathlon, especially as key youth events in the United States are discontinued. The former youth events provided a path to membership for members under the age of 17, and USA Triathlon is exploring new youth programming that will allow more young triathletes participation options in their neighborhoods. Total membership, encompassing both annual and one-day members, was 432,447 at the end of 2015.

Other areas of note:
  • USA Triathlon again sanctioned more than 4,300 events in 2015. 258 of those events were held in Florida.
  • With 462 new Level I Certified Coaches, more individuals earned a Level I designation than any other year in the organization’s history. USA Triathlon also certified 20 new Level II coaches for the first time since 2012 and had its first new Level III Certified Coach since 2011.
  • The number of female annual members grew slightly in 2015, with women comprising 37.64 percent of USA Triathlon’s annual membership. This is the second-highest percentage since 2011 (38.7 percent), and a .5 percent bump over 2014.
  • Members ages 40-49 comprise the largest sector of USA Triathlon’s annual membership at more than 30 percent of the overall membership base.
  • Texas has the most members, with 15,274. California members total 14,361 and Florida has the third-largest membership base with 12,946. 
  • The Mid-Atlantic Region (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington D.C. and West Virginia)remains the largest of USA Triathlon’s 10 Regions, representing more than 16 percent (21,864 individuals) of the total membership.

Triathlon Growth Trends

At the end of 1999, membership (annual and one-day) stood at 127,824. Those numbers had more than doubled to 262,703 by 2005, and USA Triathlon continued to experience double-digit annual growth through 2007 when it reached 336,356 members.

After hitting 441,060 members in 2009, USA Triathlon consistently experienced 4 percent growth in 2010 and 2011 before a 5.64 percent increase in annual and one-day members in 2012, topping out at a record high 510,859. One-day memberships now stand at over 477,000.

Looking at the causes for this growth, one must first turn their attention to the 2000 Olympic Games, triathlon’s first appearance at this international event. This elevated the publicity of the sport on the national level. Through the first weekend, NBC's coverage of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, which included coverage of the women's triathlon, was the most watched non-U.S. Olympic Games in history with 111 million people tuned-in to all or part of the broadcasts, according to NBC Sports research.

Before, during and after the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, USA Triathlon and its elite athletes appeared in such publications as the New York Times, the L.A. Times, Vanity Fair, Washington Post, USA Today, the Orlando Sentinel, the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News, the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press and a host of others. Olympic bronze medalist Susan Williams was interviewed on NBC, the Today Show and did numerous interviews with NBC affiliates across the country.

USA Triathlon and the U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team received similar worldwide coverage surrounding the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2012 London Olympic Games.

NBC's prime time Olympic coverage on Aug. 25, 2004, which included coverage of the women's Olympic triathlon, was the third most-watched prime time show for the week of Aug. 22, 2004. The first and second most-watched shows were also the prime time Olympic coverage. The women’s triathlon was seen in 24.3 million households, according the Nielsen Media Research.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact causes of the continued growth of the sport, but the below factors all played a part:

• Society’s interest in fitness and living a healthy lifestyle
• The growth of the number of total races across the country, making races easier to get to
• The growth in the number of the more accessible shorter sprint races, which made the sport more accessible to those with fewer hours to train each week
• Media attention on the sport
• Growth in the 30-49 age groups who are looking for varied outlets for fitness
• Peer pressure from friends who have tried the sport
• The ego reward of saying you “are a triathlete”
• Increase in clubs, which create a community concept for men and especially women who enjoy the group training and support atmosphere
• Increase in resources (websites, books, magazines) that provide assistance/education in getting started
• Growth in multisport shops and triathlon specific training and racing gear
• Marketing and communications efforts of USA Triathlon
• Growth in the number of USA Triathlon certified coaches who are able to provide training plans and individual attention for athletes who need guidance and motivation

On the event side, the number of races sanctioned through USA Triathlon continues to climb. Those numbers (which include camps and clinics) have nearly tripled over the last seven years, going from 1,541 in 2004 to 4,397 in 2014.

Looking at the distances of the races, the biggest growth continues to be at the shorter sprint distances, which have surged from 818 in 2004 to 1,507 in 2010, but growth at other distances (including Olympic, Ironman 70.3 and Ironman) has also been consistent during that time.
Additionally, a number of events are not sanctioned by USA Triathlon are put on across the United States each year. The majority of these are offered through organizations with insurance and liability programs already in place, such as universities and YMCAs.

The sport has consistently grown and continues to thrive in a number of areas. People are choosing to be more active, which leads more people to join in the sport as annual members of USA Triathlon. But the better news is that people are sticking around, doing more events and becoming lifelong members of the multisport community.

Who are Triathletes?
In the late 1990s there was a slow increase in overall membership but a sizeable shift in the participation base from 30-34 to 35-39. Since that time the greatest growth has occurred in the 35-39 and 40-44 age groups. We believe that this growth will continue as those in these age groups are looking for new outlets of participation and fitness. Fortunately growth has been good in all age categories in the past decade and so the sport as a whole should continue to increase as more events are being started in smaller triathlon markets.

Female Participation
Since 2000, USA Triathlon's female membership has grown from 27 percent of the total of the annual members to more than 37 percent at the end of 2014. Factors leading to this growth are society’s acceptance of “active” women, women feeling more comfortable living an active lifestyle, the growth of women’s-only events like the Danskin and Trek Triathlon Series, and races focusing on charity involvement and fundraising.

Youth Growth
USA Triathlon categorizes youth athletes as ages 7-17. At present, youth triathlon is still in a very organic, grassroots state. Many — if not most — races are organized by groups that already service young populations. We are seeing an increase in the number of “adult” triathlons that are adding youth events to their program in what is commonly called a “triathlon festival.” The idea is to provide a menu of events over the course of a weekend, from sprint to long course distances, to attract as many people as possible. Race directors have realized a growing demand to provide something for the young kids who may join mom and dad at the triathlon festival. In this way, triathlon is evolving into a multi-generational sporting event … all taking place on the same weekend.

Today’s youngsters also have the advantage of recognizing triathlon as a “real” sport. It is not a fringe sport to them as it was when many adults got their start in the late-80s and early-90s. The sport is televised more often — including broadcasts on NBC, Universal Sports Network and regional sports networks — and the web has made information much more accessible than it was even in 2000 when triathlon debuted in the Olympics.

On the national level, USA Triathlon has been reaching out to the youth market through a variety of camps and events that cater to both recreational participants and those with aspirations of competing as a professional or on the Olympic stage. National championships are offered for both groups, and athletes with recognized skill and potential are invited to be a part of the USA Triathlon Athlete Development program, which targets youth 15 and under and juniors aged 16-19. The program serves as a feeder program to senior elite level, where athletes compete as professional on the international stage, including the Olympic Games.

Additionally, USA Triathlon launched the Splash & Dash Youth Aquathlon Series in 2012. The series was created to introduce youth aged 7-15 to multisport events and in 2013, more than 2,400 young athletes participated in 40 events around the U.S. The series expanded to 50 events for 2014.

The Mind of the Triathlete – 2009 Study

A study initiated by USA Triathlon and conducted by the TribeGroup in early 2009 revealed exciting new data on the demographics and spending habits of multisport athletes in the United States.

The Mind of the Triathlete study – which was conducted in October and November of 2008 – is the first of its kind to offer in-depth exploration of the social, emotional, demographic and lifestyle aspects of the people who participate in multisport. It provides a deep analysis and segmentation of the triathlete across new participants and long time veterans. More than 15,000 triathletes gave an average of 20 minutes describing their experiences, lifestyle, habits and backgrounds.

Download the Executive Summary of the study.

Download the full study, which includes more than 70 pages of analysis and charts, as well as additional cross tabs, in PDF format

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Key Findings
The study grouped participants into seven distinct segments according to similarities in their demographics, psychographics and involvement in the sport. On average, triathletes are from high socio-economic backgrounds with median incomes of $126,000, however, their motivators and mindset are different, creating a significant opportunity for the triathlon community to serve them better and in more targeted ways. Unlike many consumers, they are spending cautiously but on average intend to spend as much in 2009 as they did in 2008. In fact, 45 percent would rather spend discretionary income on triathlon with three of seven segments exceeding 65 percent and one nearly 80 percent.

General Participation
Older athletes do more races 95% participate for the personal challenge 87% participate to stay in shape On average, they participated in 4.2 triathlons during the previous 12 months 86% plan to do longer races in the future Sprint triathlon remains the most popular, with those events attracting participation of more than three quarters of respondents

What Distances?
78% participate in Sprint (approx. 500 meter swim, 12 mile bike, 5k run) 58% participate in Olympic (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) 39% participate in Half Ironman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) 17% participate in Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) 15% participate in Short duathlon (approx. 5k run, 30k bike, 5k run) 4% participate in Long duathlon (approx. 10k run, 70k bike, 10k run)

What Other Type of Events?
69% participate in 10K 64% participate in 5K 54% participate in marathon 31% participate in off-road triathlon 16% participate in winter triathlon

Age and Gender
Average age: 38 

59.6% Male 39.5% Female

7% are Under 25 12.8% are 25-29
15.7% are 30-34
19.9% are 35-39
17.3% are 40-44
12.1% are 45-49
7.5% are 50-54
3.5% are 55-59
1.6% are 60-64
0.6% are 65-69
0.3% are 70+

63% are married
11% are in committed relationship
21% are single
5% are widowed, divorced or separated
44% have children living at home

49% report white-collar jobs
19% report professional jobs such as doctor, lawyer or accountant
12% are students or education workers
12% are blue or gray collar workers
6% are government or military

Average income: $126,000

12.9% have incomes under $50K 14.5% have incomes $50-74,999
16% have incomes $75-$99,999
23.4% have incomes $100-$149,999
12.1% have incomes $150-$199,999
8.4% have incomes $200-$299,999
5.5% have incomes over $300K

Spending (discretionary income)
50% of dollars spent on bikes and bike equipment
17% of dollars spent on race entry fees
8% of dollars on fitness clothing
11% of dollars on athletic shoes

$2,274 spent on bikes in past 12 months $564 spent on race fees in past 12 months
$524 spent on bike equipment
$370 spent on training, running and athletic footwear
$277 spent on nutritional supplements

Race and Ethnicity
88.2% are Caucasian/White
3.2% are Hispanic
2.1% are Asian
1.5% are Multi-racial
0.5% are African-American
1.1% are other