Joe Laverick and five other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental this season. Based in France for 2020 and supported by the Rayner Foundation, 19-year-old Joe rides for Chambéry CF, AG2R La Mondiale’s development team. This is Joe’s fifth journal entry…
The cycling business model needs to change. The COVID-19 disruption could be the catalyst for that change
Cycling’s business model is broken.
That’s hardly a groundbreaking statement. We all love this bizarre sport but it’s hard to disagree with the fact that the sole reliance on sponsors makes it unstable. In this article, I set out my thoughts on what could potentially work to make the sport more sustainable. Remember guys, they’re the opinions of a 19-year-old cyclist who doesn’t know too much about the ‘real-world’, so don’t be mean in the comments…
If we look across the sporting spectrum, cycling’s an anomaly for numerous reasons. It’s a team sport where individuals take the glory. There are no stadiums. Look a bit deeper, and you’ll realise there aren’t really any brands either. Let me explain. If you look at football, Manchester United isn’t just a club, they’re a brand. They have fans across the world who have an affinity to the club and who adore players past and present. Fans love the badge, the team logo. Sponsors come and go in football, but the team badge always stays the same. It brings identity.
The everchanging cycling sponsorship model means that fans, arguably, never have a chance to truly have an affinity with a team. Granted, team-structures may stay the same over numerous years, but team names will switch. If we look at Alec Briggs’ team, Tekkerz.cc, they’re doing it differently. Tekkerz.cc isn’t a sponsor name, it’s a team name, a brand. One would hope that the Tekkerz.cc name always stays the same, sponsors come and go, but Tekkerz.cc is a constant.
While I don’t know the individual situation (don’t hate on me Tipper et al!) it would be pretty cool if Team Huub-Wattbike had called themselves ‘Derbados’ and worked their business model around this name. Admittedly, this is an idealistic attitude and shaking up the sport like this is much easier said than done.
‘Merch’ is often the subject of memes across the internet, but it is something which offers a viable business model for sporting teams around the globe, just not massively in cycling. I believe this goes back to my previous point and is to do with the lack of brands in cycling. It seems futile to buy a Team Ineos supporter t-shirt when they might not be around next year. In addition, cycling team merch looks like you’re just a walking talking billboard, which nobody wants.
Going back to the football example, you may buy a 2018 team shirt with sponsor X on. That sponsor may change the year after, but the team colours stay the same and the team badge will always be there. Can you imagine Liverpool getting a new shirt sponsor and changing their whole kit from red to blue to match the sponsor? I didn’t think so. The cycling ‘merch’ market is so small because there’s a lack of team identity. Other sports offer everything from packed lunch boxes to team-embroidered ties.
eRacing is cool. Kind of. I’m a fan of eRacing as an athlete but as a spectator it’s pretty boring just watching avatars move on a screen. In my humble opinion, adding live streams from riders’ garages make the coverage ten times more interesting. A further way of monetising the sport would be to offer ticketed eRacing events. Not in a stadium format with riders’ turbos set up in a boxing-style ring, but at a ‘meet the team’ party-esque evening. The races at the Zwift Clubhouses at the World Championships were a perfect example of this.
Cycling fans love pain faces. Cycling fans also love alcohol. By offering an event which had a party-like atmosphere with the added bonus of a few guys Zwift racing, you’ve got a pretty decent night. You could charge an entry fee which brings money in, your sponsors could all have mini booths to display their products (and sell the aforementioned merch!) and fans would get a chance to meet their heroes. You’ve got a relaxed, party atmosphere which fans love, and teams make money from. This is something which could be made bigger, a ‘Comic Con’ of the cycling world.
Make racing more interesting
Admittedly, I haven’t really got a clue how. If we look at cricket, they managed to take a relatively monotonous (to anyone but cricket fans) sport and turned it into a spectator-friendly event with Twenty20. They still have 5-day test matches and we’d still have three-week Grand Tours. They’ve just modernised and opened the sport up to a new set of fans. Let’s face it, who watches all 298km of Milan-San Remo? [Ed: we do!] While Milan-San Remo is an essential race, why not bring in shorter criteriums which are spectator and TV friendly?
The Tour Series is a decent example of this and it regularly attracts decent crowds due to its town centre location. (Although I believe its team-format is too confusing for the casual fan. Hell, I’m a rider and it confuses me). The other benefit of short circuit racing is that you could ticket the event. While this is (again) easier said than done due to local businesses on the circuit, etc., it is a possibility. Charge entry at a relatively reasonable £5 for a one hour crit. I feel the Red Hook crits did a real good job of making cycling interesting for the average person, but they’ve been on hiatus since 2019 so it’s clearly not as simple as I say!
Finishing a race in the middle of a village where there’s more sheep than spectators is a bit pointless and won’t attract sponsors
A side note to this (mainly for the British scene): stop putting finish lines of races in the middle of a village which has a population of 15. The best races last year were those which had a town-centre finish: Lincoln, the Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic, the Bourne CiCLE Classic and the Nationals. Finishing a race in the middle of a village where there’s more sheep than spectators is a bit pointless and won’t attract sponsors!
‘Content is King’ declared Bill Gates in 1996. The same holds true in the 21st Century. Telling a story is a great way of promoting a product. I’ve said it numerous times on my own social media, but I’ll say it again: EF Gone Racing is an incredible series. Their alternative calendar is great viewing. Their Dirty Kanza video has over 375,000 views. I’d be willing to bet a team sponsor would rather some content with 375k views than a random race win in a Belgium semi-classic. A controversial statement, but possibly true. Mitchelton-Scott have also done this to great effect with their Backstage Pass videos.
The age-old ‘getting in the break for TV time’ is all well and good but there’s not a distinguishable return
Having good content requires another staff member and someone else that needs paying, but the payback could be tenfold. Content also gives metrics which are fact. The age-old ‘getting in the break for TV time’ is all well and good but there’s not a distinguishable return. With a YouTube video, teams can take a whole load of data back to sponsors to show them just why they should continue to pump money in.
So, there is it, my list of how we could (maybe) improve cycling. I’m sure there are many holes in each idea and changing a culture isn’t easy. The cycling business model needs to change. The COVID-19 disruption could be the catalyst for that change.
Featured photo: David Hares
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