ALEX PAYNE: MEETING TRIATHLON'S TV ANCHOR

13 Jul 2022

By: Sport Industry Group

The Professional Triathlete Organisation (PTO) has secured an agreement with Warner Bros. Discovrey. The deal will see Warner Bros. Discovery broadcast live and on-demand coverage of the new PTO Tour, a series of high profile, high prize fund, global events featuring the world’s best triathletes.

We caught up with TV anchor Alex Payne, the host of the new PTO Tour, to find out more about the PTO, triathlon as a sport, and the broadcasting world…


What first attracted you to working with the PTO?

I took a call on a Sunday morning from the guru, Martin Turner (now Head of Broadcast at the PTO).  He sold me the dream of what the PTO, and he, were doing with the sport.  Having given me my break on screen in 2004, and knowing his pedigree in revolutionising darts, rugby union and F1 coverage, it sounded a really good chance to get into something with big ambitions and huge potential - a rare opportunity as a broadcaster.  He’s also not a man you can say no to!

Do you have a personal affinity to triathlon / have you competed before?

I have never done a triathlon as an adult, but used to do a bit as a kid.  Bizarrely, the lack of personal affinity was part of the appeal - the chance to learn about the extraordinary challenge the sport presents, the characters within it, the tactics, the locations, the history - you don’t often get an opportunity to dive into something with so much colour and appeal, and so many stories that deserve to be told on a much broader scale.  There is a growing part of me that wants to give it a go, but I’m 42.  But having just had my first boxing match, I’m ready for a different challenge...

How does presenting triathlon compare to other sports you've worked on?

My broadcasting background is in poker - hushed and under the lights - and rugby union - 80 minutes of very focused chaos.  Part of the appeal of covering triathlon was the layers of stories; the multiple disciplines, the locations, the very varied individuals.  The aspect that I’m most interested in as far as the athletes are concerned is the mental strength they possess.  

For someone outside the sport, the ability to put your body into places that most normal people could never achieve is fascinating.  And the fact that most of them don’t even see it makes it even more remarkable.

What have you made of the PTO broadcast/production value to date?

Superb, but with the potential to go to even higher levels.  And that is the exciting thing.  I was lucky enough to be involved in the Collins Cup in Samorin last year, and some of the tech was more impressive than anything I’ve seen before.  500m rail cameras, 30 ft in the air, ultra high motion cameras as the athletes come out of the water - it’s taking the viewer closer into the heart of the competition than ever before.  But I know Martin will be in his bunker, plotting and researching further ways to unlock these athletes and their stories.

How important is the telling of individual athletes' stories to create a compelling product?

In truth, this is the main reason I signed up.  For all the talent on display, and the remarkable achievements in the race - people will always ‘buy’ people.  Someone like Jan Frodeno deserves to be spoken about alongside some of the greats of sport today.  And yet, for all his legendary achievements and reverence within Triathlon - most outside the sport would not know a lot about him.  Lionel Sanders has one of the most inspirational stories in sport right now - and that needs to be told on a broader platform.  Women’s sport is exploding faster than ever, Lucy Charles Barkley should be one of the poster girls pulling women into the sport of Triathlon. 

It’s obviously on us as broadcasters to grow the appeal, the awareness and the engagement - but I think the athletes need to be helped in understanding just how extraordinary their achievements are, and how strong their message is, to the arm chair viewer.  And that’s the bit that excites me.

The beauty of sport is watching are those ‘wow' moments.  That’s why we buy into heroes, because they can do things we only dream of.  The challenge for all of us is to share the dreams within the PTO further and wider.

What lessons have you learned from the previous year?

Something like the Collins Cup, Triathlon’s version of the Ryder Cup, that sees Team Europe take on Team USA and Team International, is the scale and complexity of the broadcast. You have 36 athletes competing. Three teams of six men and six women to follow in 12 head-to-head contests.

The challenge is taking the viewer through the peaks and troughs of the event.  As sports fans, we need our set points, half times, pit stops, home runs, red cards, hat-tricks and slam dunks - picking those moments out and building on them is the challenge and the opportunity.

Are there any new broadcast techniques / ideas being introduced this year?

The broadcast is already very complex, as I mentioned, so part of our challenge and the skill of the broadcast production will be to build on what we started at last year’s Collins Cup. Giving viewers the right blend of informative commentary and compelling storytelling over a series of PTO Tour events during the season.

What sports / competitions does the PTO aspire to when it comes to broadcast coverage?

I think the great thing about the PTO events, which will be competed over 100km (2km swim, 78 bike and 18km run) is that broadcast production to date has been relatively unexplored.

So there’s an exciting opportunity to take what works best from a number of different sports and see how it could be integrated for Triathlon. I think something like the Tour De France or F1 coverage has been brilliant at using data on the screen, so viewers quickly know what’s happening in what can be quite long stages or races. Then you’ve got the storytelling and entertainment values of PDC Darts and UFC, where viewers don’t necessarily know which athletes will be competing, but do know they just want to watch it.

What excites you the most about the upcoming PTO Tour season?

The chance to see how a new Tour unfolds, featuring what are arguably the world’s ultimate endurance athletes. The best athletes haven’t really gone head-to-head that often before. But already at the PTO Canadian Open in Edmonton on 23rd to 24th July, we’ll have the top three PTO Ranked men – Norwegians Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden plus Canadian Lionel Sanders – face-off for the first time this season.

And in the women’s race, we’ll have 18 of the world’s top 25 PTO Ranked athletes, led by hometown hero Paul Findlay, who grew up racing in Edmonton. 

How will fans be able to watch PTO Tour events / Collins Cup?

Eurosport 1 and Eurosport 2 will broadcast exclusive live television coverage of PTO Tour events throughout the season in 50 markets across Europe.

Fans can also enjoy live and on-demand streaming of every event on the PTO Tour throughout the season on discovery+ in the UK and Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. 

And there are plans for a new OTT streaming app, which will be live before the season starts.