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PTO backs Michael Epstein’s Zuma Foundation bid for Malibu Triathlon

Last fall the triathlon world was rocked when Michael Epstein, the founder and former owner of the Malibu Triathlon, managed to win back the permits to put on a triathlon in the city, shutting Super League Triathlon out of the event it had purchased a few years earlier.

Michael Epstein wins back Malibu Triathlon permit over Super League Triathlon

Here’s the short version of what went down around the Malibu race: Epstein sold the Malibu Triathlon to Motiv sports, which then sold the event to Super League Triathlon. In early 2023 the city of Malibu created a “Road Race Ad Hoc Committee” to decide which organizations should get the two permits the city gives out for a running race and a triathlon every year. Suddenly Super League Triathlon was competing for the rights to put on a race it had purchased three years before. That committee decided to give the Zuma Foundation (run by Epstein) the triathlon permit.

Through a request for documents from the City of Malibu, we have the Zuma Foundation’s “response” for the request for proposals (RFP) that the City of Malibu put out last year. In that proposal is a letter signed by the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) CEO Sam Renouf, committing US$300,000 in “financial support towards its event budget, as well as providing operational, marketing and commercial support from our team of experienced personnel.”

PTO backs Michael Epstein’s Zuma Foundation bid for Malibu Triathlon

PTO Tour

Before becoming the CEO of the PTO, Renouf was the CEO of Motiv and lists among his accomplishments there the acquisition of the Malibu Triathlon, so he and Epstein have worked together before. One would assume that, since the PTO is forking over money and support for the event, that the Malibu race will be part of the PTO Tour this year (which has yet to be announced), but a 100 km professional race is not listed in the Zuma Foundation’s proposal.

Malibu would be a perfect spot for a PTO Tour event – it is close to a major media centre (Los Angeles) and is a long-standing event on the triathlon race scene. The date – Sept. 14/15 – is two weeks ahead of the PTO European Open in Ibiza.

At the city council meeting held last week at which the contract between the city and the Zuma Beach Foundation for the race was approved, councillor Paul Grisanti said they he had been in favour of Epstein’s proposal because “he had done a good job in the past … I liked the idea that he had changed the plan – which was to have the whole thing be a non-profit.” Other councillors appeared to be swayed by the “locally based” nature of Epstein’s bid and that Epstein, in addition to confirming the event would continue to offer fundraising for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (Epstein is a board member of the Hospital), but also committed $100,000 to youth-based non-profit entities in Malibu.

“The Zuma Foundation is a nonprofit organization formed by Malibu residents to focus on a variety of youth wellness initiatives,” Epstein wrote in an email when we asked for further comment on the Zuma Foundation winning the bid. “The board is thankful for the opportunity to serve Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as well as our local community.”

A similar debate was held around the permit for the running race, with two competing groups bidding on the process – ironically, one associated with Motiv.

Councilman Bruce Silverstein did admit that the entire process was “very weird” as he tried to work through the dynamics of which companies were for-profit entities and which companies were truly local.

Epstein’s 34-year leadership

“The current iteration (of the Malibu Triathlon), managed by a Multi Continent Sports League has lost attendance and sponsorship, while paying over 1 million dollars in prize money to professional athletes,” Epstein’s proposal states. “Items like left over trash, unpaid bills and the recent permit debacle, simply didn’t happen under Michael’s 34-year leadership.”

According to the proposal, Epstein will “supervise and manage” the production of the event, while execution of the race will be done by the McCourt Foundation, which produces the Los Angeles Marathon. Marketing services are also to be provided by McCourt.

Where the PTO marketing and support falls into the mix isn’t clear in the proposal. During the council meeting there was no mention of the PTO’s involvement with the event, either in terms of financial or operational support.

During the meeting, the City of Malibu council members were all quick to note that they weren’t experienced in the world of triathlon or running racing, so even if they had seen the letters of support, it’s unlikely they would have been aware that the bid was potentially replacing one international triathlon organization with another.

Super League questions “clarity” of RFP process

After it lost the event Super League said “There has been a disappointing lack of clarity around the decision-making criteria during the RFP process. We have asked the City Council many times for a meeting to discuss the criteria used in this process as we have been ready to satisfy any and all requirements, but have not received a response.”

If Super League submitted a proposal for the RFP, it was not provided to us in our request for documents. We’ve reached out to both Super League and the City of Malibu to clarify whether a proposal was submitted.

We’ve also reached out to the PTO and Michael Epstein for comment and will update this story if we hear back.