Avoiding the late season scramble

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

UCI golden age

The UCI might declare the sport to be in a “golden age” but I see otherwise. Sponsors are staying away from the sport and teams are increasingly reliant on wealthy benefactors for funding. There’s nothing wrong with the sugar-daddy approach but it substitutes corporate sponsorship; many companies might find their audience demographic of cycling is ideal for them but right now they are watching instead of investing.

The shortage of sponsors means there’s still plenty of uncertainty for the 2012 season. Things might fall into place in time for the Tour Down Under but don’t forget a team costs millions to run. For me it seems quite off-putting that several squads don’t know for sure what they’ll be doing next year. If you want to spend millions on a team you need transparency and long term visibility.

Take the Radioshack-Nissan-Trek team that is the result of the Radioshack and Leopard merger. Presumably there are plans for next year but each day a rider seems to get linked to Astana and hawked around for a role on another team. Today Skil announced it’s leaving the sport and although I think there is good news behind this, riders can be forgiven for worrying.

These are only two examples. Take the Highroad team, it only made a final announcement about its future in August. Once again getting a sponsor to commit millions within a few months to be ready for 2012 is a huge ask, companies rarely work that way. For sure Europcar came on board at the 11th hour but that was the exception. Or see the defunct Pegasus team, it should not have been allowed to keep promising sponsors for so long.

The solution?
I can’t help thinking the date for teams to register for the following season needs to be brought forward. If the UCI insisted on, say, July as the period to issue ProTeam status for the following year then it would force teams to commit well in advance instead of the last minute rushes we keep seeing. This means decisions on teams are taken mid-season, allowing everyone time to prepare for the following year. It also means teams unsure about continuing for another year have to inform their riders earlier. And it gives riders hunting a contract more time to show what they can do.

Right now the timetable means that all this gets decided in October, meaning teams can go through autumn in uncertainty as they try to get budgets sign riders and more. If the sport needs more stability, maybe a small contribution to this could be stopping the last minute scramble and to insist anyone with plans for the following year has to commit a few months earlier.

Obviously this doesn’t fix everything but we’re almost 100 days away from the start of the 2012 season and several teams have question marks over them. This uncertainty is not good for anyone and sponsors willing to commit millions might even welcome the chance to secure their spot well in advance of the new season.

Rooie September 28, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I understand your wish for an early deadline, but then what?

We can’t blame teams looking for sponsors untill the end of the season when they haven’t found a sponsor yet. It would not be proper management if they don’t try to find a way to continue and to keep jobs for the supporting staff and the riders that haven’t found a new team yet.

And the pressure would be really high on the UCI to grant a team access to the ProTour if they have riders with al lot of RidersValue Points and a spot is still open because there aren’t enough teams at all that fullfill the ProTour-criteria. Even when they have found a sponsor at the last minute

Ankush September 28, 2011 at 8:16 pm

I can’t help but think of any other alternative than leasing the license for a fixed period of time, let’s say 3 years. This will provide the marketing department of any interested sponsor an assurance of substantial ROI over the period. Split the rider points between team/rider (let’s say 30/70%, when the rider chooses to leave the team or 0/100% if the team is folding), renew the licenses based on the average of last three years points of the team. Provide bonus points to teams for implementing strict anti-doping procedures, deduct points of teams of riders who are found outright guilty of doping (e.g. Kolobnev at Katusha). I know that all these points have been discussed at one time or another but until UCI gets serious about sustainable development, the sports future will be in limbo. Currently, all I can see is short-term profit-making instead of long-term growth.

HW September 28, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I don’t think I am as pessimistic as you seem to be. Indeed, sponsors are watching each other before moving, but these are economically turbulent times. Sponsors are even hesitant nowadays to invest in football teams. As for cycling, each year enough sponsors, be them sugar daddies or not, are showing up to bring a 200-strong peloton on the road in all the big races (again, a lot of big football team rely on sugar daddies). In the 80s (another Golden Era) there were generally less riders in the peloton. And now the investments needed are even higher for a pro team. What’s more: Rabobank will be sponsoring a woman’s team as of 2012, hopefully giving some alibi for other sponsors to continue or broaden their sponsorship.
Also, riders come from more countries than ever, and major races take place on more continents than ever. True, some of these races aren’t taken too seriously, but nevertheless, the tour of Oman is there, and pro teams do show up and give their best.
Finally, more fans than ever show up alongside the roads. And the surge in participants in European ‘cyclos’ and other touristic rides has not seen an end yet. Cycling as a sport to watch and exercise is still getting increasingly popular. So, I can understand why McQuaid talks of a Golden Era. Hopefully the world economy will recover from the current ‘black era’, and sponsors will be coming back to cycling too.

Craig September 28, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I agree to a point, but putting stricter deadlines doesn’t really solve the problem. The problem is that sponsors don’t commit. The solution, make the sport more appealing. How do you do that? I have no idea. Maybe take a look at what makes the sport so nice, like the fact that the riders are so accessible. Well, make them more accessible and make the fans pay to ride with the pros the day before an event or whatever. Just ideas. I bet if you added a zero onto every one’s contract, where we should be in the sporting world, that we’d be happy to play along.

mdfrank September 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Because of the image of cycling most sponsors will not want to commit very early for the next season. If a company commits 10 million in June or July what recourse do they have when the next doping headline appears? Isn’t safer to avoid the sport altogether? It would be nice if there was a way to usher the doping positives to the sidelines without there being such a public spectacle.

I’d like the sport to organize and then manage its self better. If there were a single entity that oversaw and dealt with the doping violations and sentences in a timely fashion then maybe the press and the blogosphere wouldn’t have 6, 8, 15 months to rage on about a single doping positive before the case is decided, that’s all negative press, and it’s biting the hand that is feeding you too.

Think about how many people who are fans of cycling are constantly inflamed by doping issues in cycling and they will happily sit in front of the TV watching almost any other sport oblivious to the fact that just about every athlete they are seeing is a doper by cycling’s standards. And when there is a doping issue, that situation is managed so that the sponsors images are protected, in cycling it requires the sponsor to be far more diligent about the intricacies because there is no set of standards for the management of a cycling team. Should they have to constantly monitor the inner workings of the team?

I could probably rant for quite a while on this subject, it’s one more good reason for the riders to be organized and for the teams to be organized and for the UCI to lead, follow or get out of the way. How much money should sponsors give to people who aren’t organized?

Ken September 28, 2011 at 9:58 pm

What exactly is the problem? Major races almost all start off with full fields of top-quality riders. The sport still attracts young up-and-coming stars. Unencumbered by large stadiums, cycling always will have changing venues.

So what if team owners who can’t land sponsor deals have to close up shop? Are we running out of teams? The survival-of-the-fittest situation of cycling is far better than having entrenched owners stressing a whole league with their questionable decisions.

The UCI , however, should do more to see riders’ interests are upheld as teams change. For example, a team should not be able to slip out of a multi-year obligation just by closing shop and opening/merging under another name.

The Inner Ring September 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Thanks for the ideas. I wanted to explore the idea as the uncertainty over which teams will be racing next year doesn’t seem right. But it’s a complicated for sure.

regsf September 29, 2011 at 12:09 am

Team financing aside, McQuaid and the UCI are delusional. By the way, where’s that Landis lawsuit?

Robert Merkel September 29, 2011 at 8:07 am

Why couldn’t top-tier teams work on the F1 or American pro sporting model, where licenses are tradeable property?

daniel alpin September 29, 2011 at 4:05 pm

what is the ‘good news’ behind skil leaving?

Larry T. September 30, 2011 at 3:46 pm

I think they need to reduce the size of these race fields. Is 200 guys out there really better than 150 like the old days? If they cut the ProTour (or whatever the actual name is these days) team licenses down to a dozen, each one would be worth far more and could likely get more publicity for the owners. The race organizers could still add 4 wild card teams with national interests. Sixteen teams with 9 or 10 riders would seem to be plenty, especially now when economics and doping scandals are keeping some sponsors out of the game. What makes this cycling’s “golden age” is beyond me too, maybe “Hot Air” McQuaid means HE’S gettin’ more gold these days?

Franco October 2, 2011 at 1:17 am

McQuaid and his UCI do not understand or appreciate the challenge of acquiring and retaining a pyramid of team sponsors. The current financial structure is not sustainable.

Darren October 4, 2011 at 11:31 pm

The whole situation with HTC struggling to find sponsors, after getting so many wins during the past 3 yrs, does make me concerned, seeing as cycling seems to be growing more and more each yr! For example, here in Belgium the sporting body that represents cycling has seen a 10-15% boost in members (on top of an already healthy membership), with women cycling growing by +/-30% over the past 2 yrs! Football, on the other hand is seeing a steady decline! Surely that should mean something to potential sponsors! But, as MDFrank and others have said, the handling of doping cases by McWait-And-See has damaged the image of the sport, and I think that will be enough to scare many sponsors away! Maybe they are also irked by the ‘ball-handling’ skills of the UCI in terms of how the doping cases are handled in the media! Ultimately, the trained and experienced manager in me sees too much old-school in McQuaid and the UCI! I know retro is in fashion, but…

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