Is Triathlon An Expensive Sport? How Does It Compare With Other Sports!


The New York Times recently ran an article in which they stated that U.S.A. Triathlon’s membership dropped by about a quarter over a five-year period’. They identified the key factor in this decline as being the high cost of the sport. (source)  

Is triathlon an expensive sport? In comparison to other sports, triathlon is considered a tier two-sport, which translates to mid-range expensive. Triathlon cost is comparable with tennis and archery, yet, it is more expensive than sports the likes of soccer and basketball, but will not be as costly as sports like golf and climbing. On average, a triathlete is expected to spend between 2,000 to 16,000 USD on the sport.

So yes, it most certainly is. Once you start looking at intermediate-level equipment, it can be easy to spend a few thousand dollars just to get started.

On a side note, do not waste your money on useless gear purchases and check out my Best Triathlon Battle-Tested Budgeting Gear

However, if you are just getting started and want to dip your toe in the water then you can do so for a lot less money. Check out this article on how you might even be able to do a triathlon for free!

How Does Triathlon Financially Compare To Other Sports?

Triathlon is three sports in one, so it is understandable that it is going to be more expensive than those stand-alone sports of swimming, cycling, and running.

However, how do the costs of triathlons compare to other sports?

For a total beginner who just wants to try it out for the first time, you can have everything you need to start out in the sport for $160. This includes the bare basics of a bike, helmet, running shoes, and goggles.

The table below shows the costs of a selection of other Olympic sports as a comparison:

SportEntry-Level Costs (USD)
Basketball16
Soccer18
Badminton40
Skateboarding55
Tennis120
Archery177
Boxing445
Climbing1,090
Golf2,592
Comparting the cost of triathlon with other sports (Data Source)

It seems that there are three tiers when it comes to the expense of different sports.

Tier one sports – These are the sports that require just one or two pieces of equipment, and can be played just about anywhere. Free access to courts means that basketball comes in as the most financially accessible Olympic sport.

Similarly, soccer, skateboarding, and badminton are other sports where the equipment needed is limited and inexpensive and this may go some way to explaining their popularity over triathlon.

Tier two sports – These are sports that require specialized equipment such as tennis, archery, and boxing. In addition to the equipment, these sports require a specific venue in which to be played. It is the combination of these two requirements that drive up the costs.

The separation of tier two and tier three sports comes from the fact that there are cheaper options available for tier two sports equipment which makes them more accessible for beginners. For example, a beginner compound bow for archery could cost as little as $150.

Tier three sportsEven the budget-level costs of tier three sports are at a much higher level than tier one, and even tier two. Climbing is an example where there is a lot of equipment needed (shoes, rope, harness, quickdraws, chalk bag, gym membership) and the quality of the equipment needs to be high. Any failure in your equipment could be the difference between life and death.

Golf is another tier three sport but for a different reason. Although you may be able to pick up a set of basic clubs for $300, the costs of joining a golf club can be prohibitively expensive for many.

Triathlon sits comfortably in the area of a tier 2 sport, comparable with tennis and archery. It is certainly more expensive than the likes of soccer and basketball, but will not be as costly as sports like golf and climbing.

Why Do Triathlons Cost So Much?

As mentioned earlier, triathlons do not need to break the bank. As an amateur competitor, you can rely on second-hand, or borrowed, equipment and you can opt for events that are close to home in order to save on travel costs.

Help yourself out and check our article on Top 22 triathlon hidden expenses you don’t know about : And how to Save 9,000 USD on them! & Top 47 Tips For A Triathlete On A Budget: How To Afford Triathlons?

As a professional career though, triathlons do cost a lot of money. In order to win, you will want to have the best equipment. Cody Beals has a sponsorship deal with Ventum Racing so gets his equipment for free, but if you wanted to ride the same bike – the Ventum One – it would cost you $8,250+.  

Outside of equipment costs are the expenses relating to travel. The 2020 ITU World Triathlon Series calendar has events showing through three continents from China, through Great Britain, and into Canada.

The costs of flights and accommodation alone in order to compete as a professional add significantly to the cost of becoming a professional triathlete.

How Much Does It Cost To Race An Ironman?

The ultimate goal of many who begin triathlons is to complete an Ironman and so it is a valid question to ask how much it costs to race an Ironman. The simplistic answer is that the registration fee for Ironman full distance Ironman (Known as 140.6) costs around 700 USD.

However, this fails to take into account the fact that to enter an Ironman is the final step in a long and costly process. The training and preparation needed to tackle the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle race and the 26.2-mile run is a mammoth task that will set you back a lot more than 700 USD.

Athletes have likely built up to this event by completing a couple of Olympic distance triathlons, and potentially 2 or 3 half Ironman events (also known as a 70.3).

While embarking on this journey it is also highly probable that athletes will have upgraded their equipment. While a second-hand $200 road bike would be adequate enough to complete the 40km bike ride of an Olympic distance triathlon, most Ironman athletes will have invested heavily on a Tri-bike of much higher quality.

Courier-Journal (source) state that the costs of equipment and registration would likely be in the following ranges:

 Low-end total plus registration = $2,190

High-end total plus registration = $16,960

How Much Does a Professional Ironman Make?

In 2019 Cody Beals, a professional Ironman made public his financials for the year of 2018, and this gives us a great insight into the reality of the potential earnings of a professional Ironman:

ItemRevenue/Cost
Prize Money$41,750
Sponsorship Earnings$49,393
Expenses (Equipment, travel, and consulting)-$17,711
Total Earning$73,432
Breakdown of how much pro-Ironman athlete makes a year ( Data source )

It should be noted that Beals was at the top of his game and won 5 events during this year. There is a heavy reliance on prize money in order to earn this kind of figure and, as in all sports, not everyone can be a winner so there are many professional Ironmen who will be earning significantly less than this figure.

According to the president of the Professional Triathlon Association, Jarrod Shoemaker the top five to ten percent of professional triathletes make $50,000 to $100,000 per year and the remaining competitors’ earnings drop down to less than $20,000 per year. (source)

How Much Do Top Triathletes Earn?

When it comes to top triathletes there is potential to make significant earnings, however, the reality is that it is only the very top athletes that can aspire to six-figure earnings. The majority of triathletes need to hold down part-time jobs in order to supplement their income.

At the top end of the sport is British triathlete Chrissie Wellington, who has a net worth of $4 million (source)

This is, however, drawing similarities to superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Roger Federer. Wellington won the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011 after which she retired. Possibly the only reason that she doesn’t have the 2010 title to her name is that she missed the event through illness.

Don’t give up. You can still earn some cash from the sport. Check out 5 Ways To Make Money From Triathlons By Average Triathletes

Final Thoughts

Triathlons do not have to be expensive for beginners; the costs of starting up are comparable to those of tennis or archery.

The issue of high costs lies in the journey that follows.

For those that want to take the sport more seriously, you should be aware that equipment costs can rapidly increase and that there are also significant costs involved in getting to, and entering, races.

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