A Shortage of Teams for the World Tour?

Monday, 12 August 2013

The World Calendar features men’s pro cycling’s best races plus the Tour of Beijing. It comes with 18 UCI Pro Teams or at least that is the plan. But it is becoming apparent that there could be just 17 teams in the top flight for 2014 despite efforts by the UCI to encourage candidates for promotion.

This shortage is unexpected and even if a team decides to make a bid for promotion highlights a problem with the team licensing process and the gap between the top level of the sport and the rest.

The UCI rules include plenty to determine how teams meet the qualification criteria for World Tour, whether earning a licence for the first time or what is needed in order to retain a licence. In summary once a team meets the administrative, financial and ethical criteria then it is ranked according to sporting value and only the top-18 squads make the cut. However the rules don’t say what happens when there are less than 18 teams interested in a licence.

There are currently 19 teams because of the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling to give Katusha a place. But the likely departure of Vacansoleil-DCM and Euskaltel-Euskadi on the cards it means 19 goes to 17. It seems the UCI is trying to encourage a candidate to fill the 18th spot.

But the system has a flaw with the wildcard invitations. Why should a team seek promotion to the top-18 if it can get invited to the best races anyway thanks to the wildcard system?

World Tour Costs vs Benefits
Being one of the top teams in the sport comes with one prime benefit: automatic entry to the Tour de France. This is the golden ticket for teams because the Tour de France generates such a disproportionate amount of publicity compared to every other event on the calendar. With this a team can be sure of retaining its top riders – see Joaquim Rodriguez who was close to quitting Katusha when it temporarily lost its licence – but crucially offers the certainty for sponsors who know they can pay €X million in return for the airtime every July.

Another big advantage is guaranteed entry into a large calendar of races. A team like FDJ is guaranteed to be invited to the Tour de France but it wants Pro Team status so it can have entries into the Giro and Vuelta too. Normally a French team would not be a priority pick for the race organisers and nor does the French lotto have any commercial interests in Spain or Italy. So why ride? Well it means the team can ensure most riders on the squad get to ride at least one grand tour per year, vital for experience and condition. In other words in order to have a good Tour de France, the likes of FDJ need to trial their riders in another tour.

But there are other certainties which are less welcome. First is the cost, the licence fee and funding the anti-doping effort is a large claim on cash for a team. Above all there is the wage bill, a team that has to ride three grand tours a year plus ride the classics and all the races that go in between needs to have a large roster of riders, none of whom come cheap.

Go wild
Presumably this means more wildcards for 2014. Instead of 18 + 4 invitations it means 17 + 5 invitations. It creates a kind of poker or game theory scenario where a team has a reduced incentive to apply for the World Tour because it is likely to get invited. But if the UCI can convince just one team to take the bait and pay up for a World Tour licence then it breaks ahead of the pack of contenders and secures an invitation.

Cofidis could change its licence but would it be competitive?

Free Riders
Wildcards have their merit as means to invite local teams because a race needs to retain a local touch. But there’s another flaw in the system if some teams know they can get all the benefits like invitations to the big races but without fronting up the costs. Ironically if structures behind Euskaltel-Euskadi or Vacansoleil-DCM could find a sponsor or two then they’ve a chance to stay in the top flight when normally the entry ticket would be much higher although time is running out.

Second division
But the competition for wildcard invitations is not going to be huge. In the second tier, known as Pro Continental, there are 20 teams but the differences in ability are huge. Put simply a share of these teams don’t have what it takes to ride a grand tour and in fairness they know it, preferring other objectives instead. For example Australian team Drapac wants to move up from the third-level Continental to Pro Continental so it can gain a wildcard to to the Tour Down Under and beyond but not with the ambition of riding the Tour de France for now. So those teams who might think about getting into the World Tour know they’re not competing against 15 other teams for a wild card spot.

The Riis Move
If there’s a chance of 17 teams for 2014, someone who thinks there could well be 18 or more licence applications is Bjarne Riis. The insecurity ahead surely explains why he’s going to the Court of Arbitration of Sport in a bid to make Alberto Contador’s ranking points count to the Danish team’s “sporting value.” But even if MTN-Qhubeka and IAM opted for promotion, they’d need to sign more riders with points to help their chances.

Conclusion
There’s a problem with the system here where we could have just 17 teams chasing the 18 places available. There’s no right or wrong, instead it speaks to the weakness of the system when a World Tour licence is not seen as the golden ticket it should be because some teams can exploit their status and ability to win wildcards. It’s like sitting down on a plane to discover the passenger in the seat next to you paid half what you did.

Worse the weakness is comprehensive, it’s not about one missing team at the margin. Instead we see the whole second layer of teams appear content to operate on their current level. Also it’s a new bout of uncertainty, the rules and scenarios to be ride the World Tour seem to change every year. This time it’s not the UCI changing things but regardless, the game keeps changing.

All this changes if the UCI can sell the idea of a licence to one team but in a way whether this happens or not a flaw in the team licence system is exposed. It’s not new, after all teams like Europcar have made a model of qualifying for the Tour via wildcard but the shortage of teams this year shows an asymmetric position where the UCI has rules when there’s an excess of teams competing for a place but there are no provisions when there’s a shortage of candidates.

Larry T. August 12, 2013 at 7:08 pm

There IS a right or wrong here and it’s been proven now – Verbruggen’s “globalization” project has been a failure. What has it done besides bring registration fees into the accounts of the UCI? On the downside, it’s jacked up the budget required to field a top-level team immensely and given us races with teams having no real interest in those races (Euskadi at Paris-Roubaix) taking spots that teams not in the top-tier would kill for. If they insist on having this idea, they need to a) cut it down to an even dozen squads, leaving more room for race promoter’s wild cards b) come up with some real benefits for joining. Automatic entry into Le Beeg Shew is simply not enough. The World Tour (or whatever name they want to call it) was the classic answer to an unasked question. Perhaps if Heinies’ puppet is replaced by Cookson, the entire thing can be revisited?

Steven August 12, 2013 at 7:30 pm

“The World Calendar features men’s pro cycling’s best races plus the Tour of Beijing”- Love it!

Simon August 13, 2013 at 12:00 am

That was a great line. Near pissed myself laughing

channel_zero August 14, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Haha.

Expect to see the Le Tour of Langkawi as a World Tour event real soon!

The only question is, which promoter who isn’t ASO/RCS/Unipublic gets their event demoted.

otherSteve August 12, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Thanks for the wonderful expose.

I know most of us don’t want more regulations, but perhaps a rule that mandates that one or more Pro-Conti teams in the grand tours has to come from another geographical location ( not Europe) i.e. ( S. America, N. America, Africa, Asia/Australia) that may provide the extra push for the Euro-local slacker French, Italian, Spanish pro-conti teams to step up and pay to play. As they may not get that invitation. Additionally this would provide a stage for lesser teams/emerging riders to show their metal at the big shows in Europe.

Cilmeri August 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm

But the principle behind wildcards surely is to keep a “local feel” to races? I’m sure there are stuff that could be done such as limit the number of wildcard per year, but not sure if getting teams from the other side of the world is the answer.

One Man Grupetto August 13, 2013 at 4:10 pm

+1 with Cilmeri.

I’d also dispute that the local teams are slackers, we’ve seen plenty of attacking riding from the wildcards this year and I’m not sure how much extra any other less local Pro-Conti teams would have brought to the party. MTN with Ciolek maybe, if Haussler had been fit then he could have done something for IAM. But would there really much of an upgrade across the whole squad in comparison with the teams who did take part?

AnnaJ August 13, 2013 at 11:43 pm

I understood OtherSteve to be implying the euro teams are slackers regarding promotion ratger than in the race itself: it is not so much about what the other teams bring to the race but a means of making the top euro teams’ places in their local GTs less guaranteed so as to provide an incentive to seek promotion. You are right though that this would detract somewhat from the original purpose of the wildcard invites.

One Man Grupetto August 14, 2013 at 1:59 pm

AnnaJ – thanks for that, makes sense. Apologies for not grasping your point, Steve.

Interesting case in point on the promo angle would be Giro wildcard selection process. Last year (and they may well have done so this year), RCS chose teams across a range of criteria including sporting ability but which also included marketing impact and potential activities created for the event. Acqua e Sapone scored big across all the criteria except the latter and lost out to NetApp who did very well on the marketing front.

I can see why they could say that AeS were slack, their website was woefully out-of-date, use of social media pretty limited. However not inviting them led to them closing down as a team at the end of last year, criticism of the Giro failing to suport Italian cycling etc.

BC August 12, 2013 at 7:45 pm

+1 Larry T. finds the easy route to the core of the problem. There are too many teams in the WT and if the UCI have their way there will be even more – money talks. It is also true that there are many WT teams having to ride events in which their sponsors have little interest, and for which their riders are poorly suited.
Smaller pool of WT teams, smaller GT team size and more appropriate, either based on ability or event sponsor preference, wildcards.
This is yet just another illustration of the failings of the UCI.
I nearly forgot, although off topic – get rid of radio control !

Dane Cash August 12, 2013 at 7:48 pm

You had me at “The World Calendar features men’s pro cycling’s best races plus the Tour of Beijing.”

Rocket August 12, 2013 at 7:53 pm

This is just further indication of the unsustainable financial model of professional cycling. The UCI and ASO make money while team owners effectively get no equity for providing the product. It seems for almost every team that losing a sponsor for even one year can have devastating effects. A team like Euskaltel-Euskadi has provided good riders for years and has fans throughout the world, but really has almost no value.

This issue has not been addressed by either of the candidates up for the UCI presidency, and failure to do so only ensures continued unrest and upheaval. It may be in the best interest of professional cycling for the UCI to collapse and be replaced by a team franchise / global broadcast organization that will provide the long term financial stability that will make team owners want to be part of the top tier.

channel_zero August 14, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Meanwhile, the UCI’s revenues are okay. And revenues from their latest promotional country, the UK, are going great. (ex. London-Surrey)

There is no doubt Hein at least is getting paid under the table simply for being the Godfather of Pro Cycling.

Any further news on Makarov’s claim he was required to pay a third party to license the title “Tour of Russia?” for a high-ranking event he was/(is??) planning? Most of cycling would love to know the name of the licensing company.

channel_zero August 14, 2013 at 6:37 pm

The point behind that rant was, according to the UCI, things are going great.

Martijn August 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm

An idea: increase the number of World Tour teams to 20 or 22 and get rid of wild cards, but allow the World Tour teams to sell a limited amount (say 5 to 7) of their guaranteed starting rights to other teams at an auction in November of December. (I guess the problem will be that the ASO will not have its wild card taken from it.)

Chain August 12, 2013 at 8:43 pm

“The World Calendar features men’s pro cycling’s best races plus the Tour of Beijing. ” This really hurts Chinese fan’s feeling.

The Inner Ring August 12, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Sorry! Of course there are much better races in China like the excellent Tour of Qinghai Lake.

Maybe Beijing will take time to work but for now the lack of crowds, the air pollution and the way it is run to make money for the UCI’s conflict-of-interest race promotion activities make it an artificial race for now.

Cam August 12, 2013 at 9:12 pm

On the surface it’s excellent but, until Tour of Qinghai Lake installs a transparent and traceable anti-doping program, I would not assign that adjective to it.

On that note, if we assume the UCI was always going to establish GCP to chase provincial government money in China, ToQL should have been the target. What a slap in the face.

P.S. the lack of crowds and air pollution are less of an issue outside Beijing city. I saw some quite crowded streets in the countryside and “small” towns the race passed through in 2011 and 2012. Frankly though, I would rather spend similar money to travel from Europe to see Tour de Langkawi – in my opinion, the one AsiaTour race that could have WorldTour status on merit.

Chain August 13, 2013 at 9:12 pm

I am a TV commentator for Tour of Beijing.
In my opinion, Tour of Beijing is better than Tour of Qinghai Lake.
Every race in China is more a political event than a sport event. In this aspect, both Tour of Beijing and Tour of Qinghai Lake are stupid. Hardly any Chinese fans care about Tour of Qinghai Lake. 1. It is in July. 2. 13 stages?All the government wants is a long race like TDF. 3. No big stars. 4. No local heroes. The government seems to prefer more foreign riders. It’s a 2.HC race which means all the Chinese Continental teams can join, but only 2 local Continental teams this year. Most of them went to the National Championship around the same time.
Tour of Beijing also has its good side. 1. It has one of best hospitality. 2. Yes, it spent lots of our tax money. But it also helped the cycling scenario here. I go to Beijing once a year for that race. The cycling scenario of 2012 was totally different than that of 2011. Tour of Qinghai Lake has been held for 12 years. It didn’t help local cycling at all.

channel_zero August 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Thanks for posting this!

It is always good to hear from other parts of the competitive cycling world where English is not the primary language.

Nick II August 13, 2013 at 5:14 pm

And yet the truth is that Tour of Beijing is clearly not of of “pro cycling’s best races.” The difference between races like Paris-Roubaix/TdF and Tour of Beijing are staggering. That’s not a comment about China any more than admitting that the Tour of Utah/Colorado/California are not in same league as WorldTour races is a comment about the US. It’s just the truth. It typically takes decades for a race to earn the status of “pro cycling’s best races.”

The Inner Ring August 13, 2013 at 8:59 pm

The Tour of Hangzhou fell through this year – a story in itself – but if this had happened there would have been more World Tour racing in China than Belgium. The calendar needs to be balanced rather than seeing the UCI fast-track its own races onto the calendar because it stands to earn revenue from these races.

Chain August 13, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Tour of Hangzhou fell because of political reason. I don’t welcome another WorldTour in China. One is enough. I prefer a 1.HC or 2.HC after Tour of Beijing. Some big teams can stay in China longer for that race and more Asian teams can be in that race.

The Inner Ring August 13, 2013 at 11:14 pm

Thanks for the insight, it’s appreciated.

MattC August 15, 2013 at 4:53 am

Chain, I thought the ToB was great ONCE it hit the surrounding mountains. Quite spectacular. Keep up the good work. Just a pity the UCI has its finger in that pie.

Shawn August 12, 2013 at 8:50 pm

I had to laugh at your caption under the pic: “Cofidis could change its licence but would it be competitive?” Are they competitive now ? More seriously, as long as grand tour organizers fail to seek out the best qualified 2nd tier teams from around the world and fill out the peloton with local teams, then there will be no great incentive for teams to spend the money to move up. The regional 2nd tier team is almost guaranteed entry so what’s the point?

I would have thought IAM would want to move up given that they didn’t get any grand tour invites this year. No money?

One Man Grupetto August 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I think IAM had a plan (not their only plan, but a plan) involving signing Cancellara, which would have brought in extra sponsors and helped support a move up at some stage. Without that, they don’t look notably stronger than any other Pro-Tour team and are rather reliant on one wealthy backer, Michel Thétaz.

I really don’t have a problem at about Pro-Conti teams being invited to their regional tours. While there are other Pro-Conti teams out there that could maybe offer more within GT’s, it seems to me that the strongest WT teams have such a strong ability to manage races that whichever Wild-Cards get invited are generally left to pick up the scraps.

Anonymous August 12, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Do away with the world tour and make qualification rankings, teams that do good in stage races qualify for important stage races, tams that do good in classics qualify for classics. if a team doesnt want to take part in a race, next-ranked team gets the chance

Graham August 12, 2013 at 9:15 pm

What about NetApp-Endura? They’ve yet to win from a WT wildcard, but have had some strong showings and would be an attractive destination for off-contract riders if they make it through.
On the other hand, what’s the betting ASO and RCS have promised the 5th/8th Wildcards to teams already on the basis they won’t have to pay for all the rest?

The Inner Ring August 12, 2013 at 10:36 pm

I like them but remind me what races they’ve won this year? There have not been many. We’ll see how they do in the Vuelta.

sam August 13, 2013 at 11:11 am

Hate to say this but NetApp-Endura have had a disappointing season even amongst the ProConti ranks. Word is that all is not well within the team.

One Man Grupetto August 13, 2013 at 1:13 pm

I think Net-App Endura are learning the Radio-Shack Leopard Trek lesson that merging two squads generally doesn’t work.

cgb August 12, 2013 at 10:58 pm

interesting you hit the nail on the head with fdj.fr having no commercial interest in spain or italy – this is the same conundrum faced at lampre, and thus the lackluster

Gareth August 12, 2013 at 10:58 pm

The other people this will have a massive impact on will be the riders. Two full world tour teams coming onto the market at once will leave a lot of riders scrabbling for rides and could lead to ripples all the way down the jobs market.

Even riders who previously would have thought they would be ok due to a decent haul of world tour points might find themselves struggling or salaries squeezed as it looks like no one’s going shopping for points this year.

Greg August 12, 2013 at 11:16 pm

In the past I have read about how the WT points system has damaged the concept of teammates who sacrifice all in support of their team leader(s), because a rider who is not scoring points is not earning his place on the team. It also encourages larger and larger budgets for the purpose of buying talent (like BMC), but with sponsors currently unwilling to provide that much monetary support it certainly does create a conundrum. While I understand the idea of the WT, it is very much like the Concorde Agreement in F1, but that system is out of control as well. From the outside, the WT does seem to be little more than a means of increasing UCI revenue.

Promoters must pay to have their event recognized as a UCI #.# to attract the big teams and riders, and teams must pay to have a WT license to get into the ‘big’ events. Budgets are spiraling skyward and there seems to be a lack of assistance from the UCI to teams who are seeking sponsorship.

The Inner Ring August 13, 2013 at 12:28 am

This has changed, especially with the move to count only the top-10 best riders on the team meaning the majority of the squad need not have a point between them.

Patrick August 12, 2013 at 11:49 pm

its certainly an interesting turn around from last year where everyone was scrambling to get in and we ended up with an extra team (via another strange turn) to looking like being short a team. i’m not sure that it really matters if there are less than 18 teams since the wildcard invites are standard anyway so 1 more (or less as this year) wildcard team is no big deal.

the key thing is that this exposes the lack of benefit to the world tour status and the related fundamental issues with the structure of pro cycling. its a fairly unique sport in that the pro level is global rather than regional and each event has such different characteristics. the tour is the biggest strength and problem in the money it generates and the distortion it gives to the season.

i think it would be good to see the WT teams refined a bit more to the really big teams who can be competitive in every event throughout the year and have sponsors with global interests. we would then see other teams specialising more in the type of event they ride and hence we would see more competitive results for the small teams. much like what happens in the bigger non-WT races.

With the resulting larger number of invitation teams, i’d like to see some form of qualification structure for pro-conti teams to the WT races and in particular the GTs. still some local wild-cards but some reward for results and ensuring that if you do well you will get the GT ride. Perhaps based on the previous years rankings the teams get to choose which GT they want to do – most will of course be inclined towards the tour but italian/spanish teams will think otherwise. then the wildcards get selected from the teams that didn’t qualify so most of the top pro-conti teams get a GT each year

it is good in some respects though to see that the pro-conti teams are realistic and not looking to step up when they’re not ready – the likes of IAM and MTN are new teams and need to build up gradually rather than try to jump straight to the top. we’ve seen even the mega-teams like sky and bmc take some time to get themselves sorted. even now, sky are have yet to get the full season covered well with their classics squad struggling.

TheDude August 13, 2013 at 12:58 am

What about the “break away” professional cycling league movement that was getting quite a bit of lip service over the past few years? Could their be enough cracks in the Aigle club of entitled elites, to enter in a new sporting paradigm for managing cycle sport? Maybe the F1 or FIFA style global sports management graft model is not suited for bike racing? Lot’s of rhetorical questions… :-)

http://inrng.com/2011/11/breakaway-leagues/
http://www.cyclingnews.com/features/cycling-breakaway-league-a-brave-new-world
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-30/cycling-breakaway-league-said-to-plan-equity-offer-to-uci.html

The Inner Ring August 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm

The UCI is working with these people to review the calendar, for example taking away some overlapping races and… maybe shortening the Vuelta (you heard it here first) all along with other changes. Much of this is being led by the owners of the OPQS team, Zdenek Bakala and Bessel Kok.

Patterson_hood August 14, 2013 at 4:30 pm

What?!?!?! Shortening the Vuelta? That’s insane.

tour de utah August 13, 2013 at 5:03 am

The WT is nothing more than a money grab by the UCI. The short term thinking by the power brokers only results in short termed and short sighted policies based on $$$ grabs. Perhaps it’s time for the UCI to reduce the race schedule and season. To many WT and hc races for Wt teams to try and attend. Just within the last two weeks there are 10 races of .1 rating or higher. How can a team, esp a pro Conti team come up with the budget and resources to have riders at so many events ?

UCI and ASO only care about their short term profitability and their long term survivability. They care not for a healthy future of the sport as a whole. ASO and UCI would not shed a tear if only WT and ASO events were on the calendar.

GeorgeY August 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm

@Inner Ring
Very interesting article (as always). To expand on the airline analogy:

” It’s like sitting down on a plane to discover the passenger in the seat next to you paid half what you did.”

Pro Continental teams are like passengers who agree to get bumped out of their original flight so that they can get a free upgrade to first class tickets on the next flight. If this happens too often they would be fools to buy a first class tickets, when they can get them for free.

peloton.pl August 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm

And what if formula of 6-men teams tested in this year’s Tour de Pologne will be implemented?
In the sense that peloton can’t be controlled by one team it worked well, and we saw lead changing almost every stage, making the race a bit more exciting.
At the same time 132 men peloton is probably a little too small. And this would mean even more teams from ProConti getting wildcards, and no incentive at all to move from ProConti to ProTour

The Inner Ring August 13, 2013 at 1:27 pm

If that were to happen it will be in 2016 or beyond as teams are signing riders and teams of 30 on the basis of 8-9 riders per race. To change the rules of the game so much won’t happen in a hurry.

Fred B August 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Surely it is simplistic to equate the lead changing hands to an exciting race. We saw in the TdF different teams using their numbers at different times, for example Cannondale regarded as one of the less strong working on the one targeted stage to effectively secure Sagan the green jersey or OPQS and then Saxo-Tinkoff splitting the peloton. The teams make the race and often too many are making up the numbers not making the race. Wildcards are not only needed for the local publicity from local riders but the mainly doomed breakaways seem almost to constitute part of their entry requirements.

Many teams are still pseudo national with matching sponsors and have limited interest in many races and their is nothing really in it for them to take part. If FDJ use other tours to test riders whilst individuals may have some incentive to perform it is hardly an expression of intent. Does the World Tour need more emphasis on the points tally for the season with a good prize fund?

Ronan August 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Another issue that should be considered is the effect on anti-doping that one fewer WT team will have. As I understand it the WT teams contribute hugely the the UCI pot for carrying out tests. Having less money will lead to fewer testsm, while at the same time having more wildcards will lead to having a larger pool of riders that need to be tested. That’s not a great equation.

sam August 14, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Was thinking about this earlier – excellent point.

Craig W August 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Why is it that only WT teams contribute to a UCI anti-doping? (or is it just that the WT teams contibute more). Maintaining a strong anti-doping capability is to the benefit of all in cycling.. surely Pro-Conto teams should be chipping in the same as WT?

The Inner Ring August 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm

The other teams do contribute, it’s just the WT teams pay the greatest contribution. But there are ways to make the lesser teams fund more if they ride more races.

sam August 14, 2013 at 12:47 pm

I could be wrong – INRNG, you’re bound to be able to confirm or verify – but I think I read a while ago that the ProConti teams had pushed for their contributions to be lowered even further. Maybe there was a reference to it in something coming out from the UCI.

Trotsky August 13, 2013 at 2:01 pm

You could tear the whole system up and base it on the American sports franchise system. Ironically enough it’s based on socialist principles of sharing the wealth between all the owners, ideally meaning that no one team becomes too dominant. Thus you would likely have team owners guaranteeing funding for 5 years to their team. All merchandising and advertising revenue are shared equally between teams, there is a salary cap, the weakest teams at the end of the year gets the first chance to sign new talent etc.

Of course this means all the power is dissolved to the team owners. Unlikely to be adopted by the UCI. I think Jonathan Vaughters has been promoting something like this for a while.

Nick Evans August 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Tricky to implement in Europe, as European courts don’t give sport the same opt-out from competition law that US courts historically have. Anybody on the outside of such an arrangement, or even somebody on the inside unhappy with their share, would be able to challenge the system as anti-competitive.

The Inner Ring August 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Is there not some sporting exemption in European law? But as you say, closed leagues are still hard to establish.

Nick Evans August 14, 2013 at 12:52 pm

There are some pretty minor exemptions but generally speaking, any sports which have a significant economic dimension in the EEA have to comply with the EU’s laws on competition law, state aid, and the internal market, among other things. Where a sporting rule has a legitimate objective and is necessary for the structure and integrity of a sport, EU institutions will usually allow it even if it limits economic freedoms, provided that the limits are justified and proportionate.

So you can have exemptions such as the qualification rules for national representative teams, limited transfer windows, compensation for training youth players, limits to the size of competitions, and compulsory drug testing. But, even here, the European Courts will be careful that the rule doesn’t go too far. So, for instance, while doping bans are, in principle, anti-competitive restrictions on an athlete’s ability to make a living, they are justified by the legitimate objective on ensuring fair competition, but only if any ban is not excessive. If a ban goes beyond what is necessary to ensure the proper conduct of competitive sport, the ECJ would be quite willing to hold in unlawful.

So EU law wouldn’t necessarily stop the establishment of a league owned by, and exclusive to, its members. But if they or the UCI acted in an anti-competitive way – for instance, by instituting a rule which meant that only members of this league could participate in the Tour de France, or by dividing up the TV revenues in a particular way – then the ECJ would be likely to hold that this was unlawful.

Patterson_hood August 14, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Rugby League has moved to the franchise system in England and it’s so far been very successful. The licences are not hugely long term, 5 years maximum I think, something similar could be done with cycling. It isn’t anti-competitive, other teams can apply each year when a licence is available.

It’s akin to offering a contract to do some work for you for a period. One company wins, does the work, then next time everyone is free to bid again.

Nick Evans August 15, 2013 at 10:52 am

Rugby league’s system is similar to what cycling has at the moment. There’s nothing like the revenue sharing suggested above.

Adrian Miles August 14, 2013 at 3:28 am

Broken system, isn’t it? If you go top level you *have* to send teams to Australia, Beijing, Canada, and I think now the Emirates. So unless you’re a global brand, why bother. And if you’re a global brand, cycling is a hard sell (in Australia it is rapidly feeling like a white collar new golf Rapha sort of gig, not the same market as say, Italy or Belgium). But apart from the Tour de France there seems little specific incentive. Is this because unlike every other sport I can think of, there is no real revenue sharing model so that being in the top tier always translates to a lot more direct income to the team? So yes, why bother with the enormous additional expense and logistics? At the moment the model seems to simply be an expensive entry fee for le Tour, and that’s about it.

TheDude August 14, 2013 at 7:01 am

MAMILS infesting Australia, eh? :-)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-10965608

Alex August 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

I personally think its hilarious that the UCI does not have a SINGLE race in the USA as part of the World Tour calendar. Apparently the tour of California, the tour of Utah, and the tour of Colorado do not meet the level of competition seen in Poland or Beijing.

The Inner Ring August 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm

The UCI has encouraged US races to aim for the World Tour but they’ve said no for now. The problem is higher costs and the obligation to take the 17/18/19 teams and therefore exclude a lot of local US teams. Being 2.HC/2.1 allows California, Utah, Colorado and others to invite many US teams and the TV and publicity on offer is why these teams have sponsors.

In other words a move to the World Tour could spell trouble for the US pro cycling circuit.

channel_zero August 14, 2013 at 6:30 pm

What U.S. Pro cycling circuit?

“Pros” earning less than a barista at an American Starbucks is the norm. USA Cycling’s annual rankings have no purse. Meanwhile the percentage of the money spent by promoters and sent to USAC/UCI keep going up.

Graham Martin August 14, 2013 at 1:05 pm

One of the bigger problems here seems to be the way teams build a fan base for the sport. Take Team Sky – they basically have a fan base who want to watch the Tour de France, whereas OmegaPharma Quickstep have fans who want watch racing all year round. Part of the problem money-wise is that many teams rely on appealing to a fan base for whom a year of cycling isn’t interesting – its all about the 3 weeks in July.

On this basis, I don’t get the whole “brands not having an interest in foreign races” thing – if the race is televised back home, its worth taking part in. The reason its not interesting is when ‘home’ TV stations aren’t showing the races. So of course it makes sense for OPQS to ride all over the world – Sporza show everything.

Until the Googles, Amazons, Starbucks etc of this world take an interest in sponsoring teams, we’re probably pretty stuck with the situation we’ve got.

Fred B August 14, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I hadn’t thought much about teams building a fan base for the sport as such. I guess there are two aspects: support for their team in particular and an interest in the sport as a whole. Apart from not wanting to see unrepentant dopers do well I am not overly bothered who wins, it is more the spectacle and evolving drama of races. Are there significant numbers just rooting for their team?

Surely promotion of the sport itself lies with the UCI and race organisers with the onus on teams to get their sponsors names seen, heard and written about. Clearly if race organisers can secure TV coverage it should help them get sponsorship of the race and get better teams and riders to attend but that does not rule out more local/national sponsorship of events where TV is nice but will not necessarily reach that many more potential customers for you. There is also the great unknown of the visibility for tourism card which is something rather more specific to cycling.

noel August 14, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Don’t agree at all on this.
I think the majority of fans root for their favourite riders on a national basis. Sky have lots of ‘supporters’ because they are fundamentally a British team, but those same fans still love Cav regardless of who he rides for. And they still root for Sky in the Giro, Daupine or anywhere else not just the tour. This isn’t soccer – there is still quite a lot of resistance amongst club cyclists to wearing team jerseys for example.
Secondly sponsors are looking for exposure not ‘fans’. They care about the TdF because that gets a disproportionate amount of that exposure. I’d wager that most interest in July centres around the spectacle, the competition, and a jingoistic interest in individuals (not necessarily an unhealthy one)not around how a particular team is doing.
Now all you Belgians can put me in my place by saying how much you love Lotto, hate OPQS etc etc!

Patterson_hood August 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I have to say, while I like certain riders, I don’t feel I actually support anyone. I like to see good racing and the best guy winning, be that the strongest, the cleverest or the guy with the best team. For me it really is about the spectacle. I will admit I prefer the classics to the Grand Tours though.

Runty Wilson August 14, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I wonder what “ethical criteria” the teams have to adhere to and how stringent the tests are.

dimspace August 24, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Will be very interesting to see if Lampre are able to pass the Ethical criteria with the Mantova case about to reveal its results. ;)

And then there were 16..

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: