The motivation behind a 15+ year partnership with USA Triathlon
Most business partnerships begin as a calculation, as each party hopes that it receives as much out of the relationship as it gives. Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist who wrote Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, would call the partners “matchers,” where each side is willing to give as long as their partners reciprocate. When Rudy Project North America partnered with USA Triathlon 15 years ago, becoming the governing body’s official helmet and eyewear partner, the motivation was purely business-oriented: USA Triathlon needed gear and financial support, and Rudy Project needed an avenue through which to promote its products to a large and enthusiastic audience. Over time, however, as most relationships do, the partnership matured and deepened, and today both USA Triathlon and Rudy Project seek to support each other’s missions instead of simply focusing on their own self-interests. The relationship is a true partnership.
“Rudy Project has been a trusted partner for the past 15 years, continuing to innovate and consistently turning out high-performance, cutting-edge gear. Just as importantly, Rudy Project has been an invaluable partner in providing access and service to USA Triathlon members while supporting USA Triathlon’s key programs and initiatives, such as our Power Within marketing campaign to reposition the sport of triathlon,” said Victoria Brumfield, USA Triathlon Chief of Staff and Chief Sport Development Officer. “Through storytelling with Power Within, we are communicating to current and future triathletes how inspiring, empowering, and transformative triathlon can be, and partners such as Rudy Project give us the ability to deliver that message.”
The Power Within initiative, launched in 2020, aims to communicate the unifying message of the governing body, catching the attention of potential participants, young or old, and drawing them into the sport.
“Triathlon serves to inspire, empower, and transform the power within all of us,” the initiative promises, and the sport made good on that promise, as evidenced by the experience of Brad Shapiro, Principal of Rudy Project North America. “I took part in my first triathlon six years ago,” Shapiro says. “And triathlon transformed my sense of health, well-being, and personal identity, and has introduced me to an entirely new community with whom I have become friends. That personal experience is why I am so passionate about the sport and supporting USA Triathlon in its quest to grow, starting at the youth level.”
What does that support look like, fueled by a belief in USA Triathlon’s power to transform? Rudy Project, during its 15-year partnership with USA Triathlon, has delivered:
- Financial support to the governing body
- An annual product allotment of sunglasses and helmets, which USA Triathlon uses for its athlete development program, event prizes, and fundraising efforts
- USA Triathlon co-branded helmets and sunglasses (see below); a portion of those sales goes directly to USA Triathlon
- Attendance at many of USA Triathlon’s marquee events, such as the annual Toyota Age Group National Championships
- Support for USA Triathlon’s efforts to grow youth participation in the sport
That last bullet point, growing youth participation, carries significant weight for USA Triathlon and the entire triathlon industry. We know triathletes are loyal and are staying with the sport as they age – that makes it even more important and valuable to capture the attention of our youngest generation now.
While the COVID-19 pandemic adversely impacted youth participation (somewhat obviously) across all sports, we’re already seeing a swift return to the sport as more than 1,000 athletes starting at age 7 competed in the Zone3 Youth and Junior Nationals and a pair of teenagers won the overall men’s and women’s sprint distance titles at Toyota Age Group National Championships this past August. And USA Triathlon, with Rudy Project’s support, has started several initiatives in the past five years to expand interest in triathlon at the youth level, including:
- The American Development Model (ADM), which creates a framework for coaching youth athletes, focusing first on enjoyment and engagement before transitioning to dedicated training and competition
- The NCAA Women’s Varsity program, which began in 2014 and has expanded to 37 colleges and universities nationwide; the NCAA program has lifted club triathlon at colleges and universities, too: over 120 collegiate club programs exist across the United States, with more appearing each year
- The youth Splash and Dash series, which saw its third straight year of record participation in 2019, with 2,532 youth athletes competing in 50 events nationwide
Ask any kid what they’re excited about when they begin a new sport, and somewhere in the first few sentences you will probably hear something about their new uniform, or the stuff the new sport requires for participation. In helping USA Triathlon standardize the look of their youth program through co-branded helmets and sunglasses, Rudy Project cements the image of triathlon for kids, conveying the message that the sport is cool and fun, and robust and durable - a pastime they can pursue for the rest of their lives.
To some degree, one can look at any business partnership cynically: a calculated play aimed at leveraging the partner’s money, participants, marketing reach, or image for one’s own gain, but to believe that is to ignore how some relationships mature and grow over time. Are you the same person you were when you began your current job? Your best friendship? Your life partnership? Consider how the other person or entity has changed due to your influence: are they kinder, more capable, stronger, better prepared to meet the challenges they face? If so, then congratulations—you’ve found a true partnership, where both parties improve each other, acknowledging the benefits each receives, but prouder of the impacts their generosity has made possible. That is the relationship today between Rudy Project and USA Triathlon, a partnership that benefits each, certainly, but contributes something more to the sport itself: carrying that feeling of possibility, adventure, and excitement we all felt at our first races to an ever-widening audience of budding triathletes.