Social media platforms have opened up avenues of connection with audiences that simply did not exist before. Sports teams and athletes are some of the biggest voices on social networks and the real-time nature of content production keeps the fans highly informed and engaged. Savvy sports brands have been quick to identify these relationships and the sponsorship of athletes utilizing these platforms to the fullest. We took a moment to catch up with Kelowna based triathletes referred to as 'Team Wurtele' to find out more about using social media as professional athletes.
Who is Team Wurtele and what do you do?
We are Heather and Trevor Wurtele - Professional triathletes focused on the long course, non-drafting triathlon, generally referred to as Ironman triathlons.
How did you get started in the sport to get to the level you are today?
We started triathlon for fun in 2004, became a bit more serious in 2006, managed to get good enough to race in the ‘Elite/Pro’ category for 2008. In 2009 we took a giant leap and quit our normal jobs, sold everything we owned, and bought a small RV so that we could focus 100% on triathlon. From there it’s been a journey of trying to get better every year. Initially scraping by with meager prize money earnings, then slowly building a great team of sponsors over the years.
Are there any plans for funny race reports from Heather? And have you thought about branding these videos and leveraging them for increased sponsorship value?
Heather is plenty funny, but for some reason, Trevor is the one with the quirky mind that works well for those silly videos. We believe those videos work well for promoting us and our sponsors even though we don’t directly promote anything in the videos. The furthest we go is putting a quick sponsor ‘thank you’ note at the end of the video. Simply seeing the products we’re using in some of the race images shown in the videos works well. It’s more of an indirect promotional avenue I guess. We don’t want to be too in your face with the product promotion as that can really turn people away. I hate when people write race reports and throw in the very deliberate sponsor plugs. For example: “I had a great swim in my Aqua Sphere Phantom wetsuit…” Blah!!! The picture is enough, people dissect pictures. We’ve often posted a photo to social media and we get questions about things in the background of the photo that have nothing to do with what we’re trying to show. That said, we do post fairly often to social media promoting specific products. It’s just we like to keep the videos fun and not bother potentially annoying people by getting too ‘salesy’.
How are you two able to push each other to the next level in the sport?
We definitely leverage the ‘Team Wurtele’ aspect of our careers. It’s a little bit different than most professional triathletes in that respect. There are other husband/wife triathletes around, but they don’t generally have the exact same sponsors or promote themselves as a team. It’s a little something different that helps us stand out. That said, it doesn’t hurt that Heather is ranked #1 in the world for Ironman 70.3 and has been on the World Championship podium in 2014 (3rd), 2015 (2nd), and just a couple weeks ago AGAIN for 2016 (3rd)! Plus, Trevor has a couple nice wins and some very consistent top results. Being popular is great for sponsors, but they still want to see top results, and you need top results in order to qualify for the world championships. There are however some athletes that have great results but just can’t seem to get it together on social media so really have a hard time nailing down a good team of sponsors.
Where does the most sponsorship value come from when you are looking at the current brands you work with?
We focus on getting good results at the races and having some fun on social media while doing that. Simply looking at the way most sponsorship contracts are set up shows that they all still value results over everything else. Yes, certain companies require a certain number of direct social media posts, but they’re not paying us based on how many favourites/likes/retweets we get. They do, however, give bonuses for good results.
What is your favourite social media platform and why?
The three major ones all have their benefit.
Facebook: Photo albums and inline comment strings make it fun to use and interact with people. Though we’ve had a hard time separating our individual accounts from our ‘Team Wurtele’ page. Our personal Facebook feeds are pretty much full of junk so we try not to spend too much time scrolling through it all.
Twitter and Instagram: On a personal level we use these the most as we can follow people who don’t have to follow us (and vice versa). With twitter you’re also guaranteed to see short and concise posts (Facebook, not so much!!).
— H & T Wurtele (@TeamWurtele) August 30, 2016
I guess I have to throw YouTube in here too, but even Trevor’s very low quality videos take hours to put together. It’s a major commitment to grow a significant following on YouTube. However, ranging from a few thousand to 25,000 views, the videos are still worth the time to put together.
How do you fit operating social media into a busy schedule and what tools do you use to learn, leverage and capitalize on the powers of social media, if any (ex. Hootsuite, buffer, socialflow, etc.)?
As I mentioned earlier our main priority is performing well at races. Which means first and foremost we have to focus on training. We do our best to make sure stopping for a photo doesn’t negatively affect our training sessions. Typically we’ll take photos on our easy days and leave the camera at home for the serious stuff.
The only tool we use is an IFTT recipe to blast out a post to the three social networks we engage with. I’m sure people see the same post on multiple outlets, which understandably is kind of annoying. We do, however, make sure to respond directly on each platform.
We don’t bother too much with tracking post-performance, aside from the built-in analytics.
Do you profess being a social media expert?
No, we wouldn’t say we’re social media experts. Though we do know how to keep from annoying people on social media, which is an area where many people and companies could improve.
What would you do or do differently if you were a new athlete trying to build an audience and develop sponsorship through the sport through their personal branding?
The main thing to realize is it’s still a sport where results in races matter. Being popular on social media is definitely becoming an important part of getting sponsors, but social media popularity in triathlon is still largely driven by how good you are at triathlon. It’s getting to the point where you need to have both results and a solid social media following to build your brand and grow your team of supporters.
Who are your biggest influences in life, sport, and the true drivers to keep you pushing forward to be the best possible triathletes in the world?
Our coach Paulo Sousa has taught us how to race like professional athletes and train like professional athletes. For all the gimmicks and scientific approaches to training there are, the one thing that the best all share is an ability to train hard all the time, even while extremely tired. For the most part, when it comes to training, the ‘more is more’ approach works quite well!
Where can we find you online?
A big thanks to Team Wurtele for indulging us with an insight into their training, competing, and social media world. Be sure to catch Team Wurtele in action at this years Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona on October 8th, 2016 where they will take on the best in the world and vow for the crown of Ironman World Champion.
Staying focused on your goals is always the top priority, but dedicating time to building your audience is a worthwhile investment. At RTOWN we like to think of our team as an extension of your team. You can focus on your priorities within your business, while we grow your audience and take care of your digital marketing.