In this day and age sports tend to have some kind of pathway from grass roots to global superstardom. In an ideal world that pathway looks like a smoothly paved superhighway, purpose built to get the talent from where it is to where it needs to go. When it comes to cycling, here in the uk at least, our pathway resembles more one of those rickety rope bridges found in scooby doo. Many of the steps are missing, some fragile, some broken. It hangs together as a whole but it could collapse at any time.
Anyway, enough of the analogies.
British cycling (note the lower case c folks) is having a bit of a moment currently (in terms of mens road racing at least) with a number of familiar teams from recent years disappearing. There’s plenty of opinion right now about how to go about raising the money to rescue the sport.
It’s time to stop doing that.
The sport keeps repeating a cycle of growth and collapse, it’s been going on since forever, more likely because the model is wrong than because no-one has asked the right people to sign a cheque yet.
If there was underpriced attention available by sponsoring cycling in the UK, sponsors would be swarming over the sport, but there isn’t, and they’re not. Think about that – cycling is expensive and it isn’t delivering returns in line with what it costs.
So rather than add to the pile of ideas about how to make the pig fly. Here’s an idea, how about we build a different model for the sport.
Here’s my idea:
Professional Cycling Clubs
Yep, clubs not teams.
A set number of clubs (call em franchises if you want to be posh), each with a defined regional area (like a British Cycling Region perhaps?) and a responsibility to run a set number of days of racing per year. Each club has a team that participates in the (men’s and women’s) races they organise.
Professional Cycling Clubs could sit above traditional amateur clubs, span greater geographical areas and operate with a clear remit – to provide a tier of teams and events that are the basis of the domestic sport for men and women.
By representing and harnessing the collective interest of a greater area, professional clubs could attract a larger membership who would also be the fanbase of the professional team. Each club has a database of members that’s big enough to matter to a sponsor and the scale to employ people to run events, teams and raise sponsorship. Being a club would encourage it to retain resources from year to year rather than spending everything it has in the knowledge it has a finite lifespan.
By linking the teams and the events, the fortunes of one becomes intrinsically linked to the other. If lots of sponsors want teams, they’re bound into the delivery of the calendar they’re going to race.