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.
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.