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David L. Stanley

The Future of Pro Cycling: It’s Economics, Stupid

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David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes.

His latest book is Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle. If you have spent time outdoors, you should read it. Really!

Oleg Tinkoff is not a fool. You do not become a billionaire without a healthy ego and keen business acumen. It’s already known that despite his personal love of cycling, he will shutter his eponymous World Tour team at season’s end.

Oleg Tinkoff

Oleg Tinkoff at this year's Tirreno-Adriatico

When he said to an interviewer on Denmark’s TV2, “Let me be more accurate. I believe not only BMC and Katusha, but also Orica, Dimension Data and perhaps Lampre are in the risk if cycling financial model won't be changed,” cycling fans had to take notice. He went on to say that cycling will end up with a two-tiered system. One tier will consist of government funded teams, e.g., Astana and FDJ, and an ever-shrinking pool of bike industry teams.

Of course, compared to other sports, cycling operates at a major disadvantage. No ticket sales. How has that played out in recent times?

Those within the pro cycling community have known for many years that the struggle is real. Take Mapei. Since 1993, we’ve seen:

Quick Step

Quickstep team in 2011

Six different iterations in 11 years for what could be considered the top team of the era. What was the most successful team in the English Premier League during that span? Manchester United. While accessory sponsors have come and gone, Man Utd. has been Man U since 1902.

The best team in the NBA during that time? Da Chicago Bulls. Duh.

The Green Bay Packers are unique in the NFL, as they are a publicly traded company. A pair of season tickets cost $2,400 for 8 games. With a stadium capacity of 80,000 people, the Packers have US$96,000,000 on hand before they even think about profits from $8 cups of beer and $12 grilled brats. Rumor has it that the Packers have sold out every game since 1960, the waiting list for season tickets has 115,000 names on it, and it takes 30 years to work to the top of the list.         

It’s clear that cycling needs sponsors. But what cycling teams need more than ever is stability in ownership and management. How do we create that equanimity? Money, lots of money. And from where does that money flow like oil out the ground in Jed Clampett’s backyard? Television. And who gets the TV money now? The folks who run the races like ASO and RCS.

It is less money than you might think. According to a thoughtful piece written by Daniel Benson of the excellent “The Inner Ring,” TV revenue sharing would enrich each team by about EU$2 million per season. Given that the average World Tour team budget is around EU$12 million per season, you can see that cycling has a major problem.

That major problem is that cycling has wildly undervalued themselves to the TV market. Man UTD earned nearly EU$90 million in 2014 TV money. That same year in the US, the Green Bay Packers earned US$225 million in TV money. Even the NHL, long the weakest on-air performer of the major US professional sports, kicks in around $12-15 million per year of TV cash to each team.

Cycling has a unique story. In most populous regions of the world, it is the second most popular sport. It is the only sport that takes place on the public roads. It visits locations rarely seen even by natives of the country. Thanks to TV, the pain and suffering and drama is made real for fans around the world. Cycling brings it—speed and danger, joy and tragedy, and the sheer glee of riding a damn bike.

As ABC Wide World of Sports once promised, bicycle racing spans the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport... the thrill of victory... and the agony of defeat... the human drama of athletic competition.

If ASO and RCS can’t sell cycling to advertisers for TV, “then something really wrong is goin' on here!”

I’m available for free-lance writing, folks. I’ll ask for the money. Contact me through Bill McGann here at Bikeraceinfo.com to reach me.

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