Launched with a bold “game changer” headline and a series of co-ordinated press releases, tweets and pre-arranged interviews Velon have announced something. Quite what this means for cycling fans isn’t clear despite the extensive coverage today.
Corporate Jargon Bingo
The news release is full of corporate jargon. For a group that wants to appeal to passionate sports fans the language reads like a faceless corporation’s annual report. They’re “embarking on a project to create the ideal platform” and we get hyperbole like “game-changing” and “revolutionary”. This website has enuogh typos to know that critiquing someone else’s writing is risky ground but the point is that for all the fanfare today there’s very little to go on.
If anything this corporate tone tells us what it is: the inking of an industry insider deal. For example, and let’s make one up, Singapore Airlines does a deal with IBM to manage their bookings systems: the news excites the two parties and some people who work in airlines and IT but for everyone else it’s just, well, people doing business. Velon said from the start it wanted to earn income by selling on-bike video and now they’ve signed a deal with a sports marketing agency who are going to help make this happen. It’d be more of a story if this wasn’t happening.
For all the hype and excitement by the teams there’s little for the fan to drool over. But there is plenty to explore. What we know for sure is that Velon and Infront have a “partnership” and it’s for 10 years but what this means is not clear. Will Velon pay Infront like they’re agents, for example getting a cut of any deals that Infront arranges and sells? Or is this partnership as in a joint venture, a pooling of risk and profits.
There’s more to this than on-bike cameras. Infront will help Velon with the technology so that rider data, such as speed, power and heart rate can be beamed from a bike to you, probably via a TV production truck or maybe a smartphone app. It’s not just data telemetry there’s also the possibility of sound too so you can hear what’s in a bunch and all of this could be live as well (there could be geo-location too but with 11 teams in Velon it means half the bunch could be located and the other half is missing). If the technical issues can be resolved in time look out for a trial in the Tour de Suisse in June as the race is run by Infront-Ringier, a joint venture with Infront and Ringier, a Swiss media group.
Nice extra or game changer?
Bundle it together it makes for a package and Velon can approach race organisers and broadcasters and say “buy this from us to add to your coverage”. But for how much? More and more cyclists are using powermeters as technology and competition makes them cheaper but using it as a training tool is one thing, it’s another to watch data on TV. Spreadsheets can be useful but not many pay to see others using them. Indeed given many cyclists struggle to understand their own wattages and most don’t bother then the wider public watching is going to be confused so it’s likely this flow of data comes to your phone or tablet while you watch the race on TV.
If there was an app to see how many watts a rider was producing how much would you pay for it? It could be fun but when Tom Boonen storms up the Taaienberg I’m interested in knowing who is on his wheel and who is being dropped rather than the precise speed or power output. It’s a cute fact to know how many watts you’d need to match Tommeke but watching cycling on TV is all about the relative, not the absolute: it’s about the fight, not the speed. Velon could use the onboard cameras so we can see who is being dropped but at the moment the images are low-fi.
If it cost 10 Euros a year then the Velon teams would need to find a million paying fans to collect €1 million per team gross. Nice but not game changing for teams dependent on naming rights sponsorship. Maybe they don’t charge and just use it as a marketing tool for tech sponsors but that’s not a big ticket deal.
Infront will bring negotiating skills and marketing flair for other Velon initiatives such as supplying star riders to races who are willing to pay, for example the deal with RCS and the Abu Dhabi Tour. This brings us to the conflict between teams and riders and who owns the rights; something the “Velon addendum” seems to have tried to address.
Infront is a Swiss sports marketing agency. is run by Philippe Blatter, who is Sepp Blatter’s nephew and many seem delighted to point this out, as if there’s a “corruption gene”. Foruntately nobody’s discovered this and whether FIFA took steps to review the conflict of interest in awarding a TV rights contract to the Chairman’s nephew matters to football but there’s no chance of nepotism in today’s news. In the sports world Infront instead don’t have a reputation as crooks, they’re a strong sports marketing agency. Rather than trousering brown envelopes the fear is that they’ll sell to the highest bidder. In this sense it’s a bit like Manchester United cheering the sale of Premiership TV rights to Sky, a great deal for many but costly for viewers.
What if the real story was not one of low-fi on bike cameras but the ongoing battle for control in the sport? The UCI and ASO’s differences are unresolved, largely because ASO feels the UCI has been captured by Velon. Infront is due to be rebranded as Wanda Sports after it was acquired last November by Wanda, the Chinese real estate company owned by Wang Jianlin that’s now branching out into sports. As well as allying with growing sports agency, Velon is now linked to Wanda. This brings us to the wider point where the Velon teams haven’t just signed a deal with a marketing agency to help them develop and market telemetry, they’ve also got China’s wealthiest man onside. Infront’s Stephan Herth says “cycling is a key sport in Infront’s long-term strategy and also an important pillar of the wider Wanda Sports Holding business”. In the past the teams have been caught between the UCI and ASO but with the UCI looking weak Velon can move into the space, indeed part of ASO’s contention is that the UCI has been too pro-Velon already. But in an interview with cyclingnews.com Velon CEO says they’re still in talks with ASO.
We’re closer to having on-bike cameras, data and sound in more races. Velon has appointed Infront to help make it happen with a long 10 year partnership deal. But that’s it for now. After the carefully co-ordinated media release this is just news of a deal to start doing something together: a marriage rather than a birth. No deal with a race or broadcaster has been done yet, nobody’s opening a pipeline of cash to teams. We’d be dancing in the streets – and opening wallets – if they’d launched an app that livestreamed every race that mattered but Velon and Infront seem to be offering an additional service and not a replacement and besides it’s 11 teams, not all. Live data could be interesting, especially if it’s second screen but how much is it worth?
Very much like the creation of Velon itself this is a story worth watching as teams group together in order to lobby with a shared agenda and find new ways to earn income, all with a measure of political intrigue. So far it’s been a slow story with a small deals. They say it’s “game-changing” and maybe it is but we’ll have to wait and see what comes next for the proof.