News from Spain where struggling race organisers and local municipalities are struggling to make ends meet.
Patxi Mutiloa, the sports boss within the Basque Government has compared cycling to other professional sports “where nobody disputes that you have to pay entry. If we want to see the best cyclists on our roads in certain areas, why shouldn’t we ask people to pay as well?”, adding that “cycling, unfortunately, is a sport that costs much and in which the spectator at the roadside does not contribute financially“. In short, the idea is to charge spectators.
It’s often a wonder to see the roadside fans who cope with road closures and parking restrictions to stake out the most strategic spots in a race. These people are happy to spend hours waiting on the verge of a country road only to see the race flash past in seconds. This is something to celebrate, not tax.
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You can charge soccer fans because they are captive in a stadium for over 90 minutes to see all the action but the cycling fan only gets the briefest glimpse. I suppose you could sell tickets… but the cost of selling them would probably exceed the revenue because few would pay big bucks to stand and watch a small race.
You could possibly charge money to stand on Alpe d’Huez, Zoncolan, Kapelmuur or the Angliru but these races have enough money already. Some post-Tour criteriums do charge. But good luck getting money from fans to watch the Tour of the Basque country on a wet Wednesday afternoon. At best this is a meagre income stream that depends on the weather, at worst it’s an idea so pointless it could be an embarassment for Mutiloa.
It’s also fraught with practical problems. A stadium is private property with gates whereas a roadside field belongs to a farmer, not race organisers or a municipality. It’s near-impossible to control.
If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.
That’s a maxim about the internet, for example if you visit a website for news and it’s free then essentially this traffic is sold to online advertisers. But it is applicable to sports crowds. Races organisers get money from publicity vehicles in the race, the so-called “caravan”. The fans are part of the “product”, the chance to reach parts of rural Europe is precisely why the likes of Liquigas, Euskatel and Cofidis back cycling teams. Discourage fans and you’ll discourage the teams.