Velonews recently republished an interview I did with them this past winter talking about the challenges domestic elite teams face in the current climate of U.S. Pro Cycling. (You can read it here.) It is pretty telling that of all the teams featured, only one (Elevate) will be returning with a national level program in 2016. Given the struggles ours and other great programs continue to face there is a more endemic issue to be solved – at both the domestic and WorldTour level.
When I initially started writing this I was going to talk about what each of the individual stakeholders should be doing to help turn the sport around, but plenty of folks have already done a good job of that. (My favorites can be found here.) Instead I am going to give a quick history lesson:
Pro cycling is not particularly unique and plenty of sports have suffered from cheating scandals and divided self-interests as they tried to mature. A fairly recent example would be Formula One. In the late 70s the sport was suffering from all of the major complaints that you hear about in cycling these days, the biggest one being the teams were struggling and wanted a share of the coveted television revenue. The FIA (motorsports version of the UCI) was often at odds with the teams and sure wasn’t helping make this happen. What it took was a used car salesman and real estate mogul, Bernie Ecclestone, to bring all the parties together and agree how to split the pie in a way that everyone would profit. This resulted in a series of “Concorde Agreements” with the main point being an obligation of the teams to participate in every F1 race on the calendar This makes the sport easier to follow and creates a consistent story arc for broadcasters to embellish In return the broadcasters invest significantly in media coverage throughout the season creating world-wide and year long activation for teams and their sponsors, and the teams are guaranteed a percentage of the sport’s commercial revenue as well. Now Mr. Ecclestone definitely isn’t a saint, and there remains plenty of controversy about how this was all accomplished, but in the end he pulled it off and the pie has grown substantially – making all parties (and especially Mr. Ecclestone) quite rich. If people are making money then you have a sustainable model!
Right now everyone in pro cycling is so panicked about the shrinking pie that all they know to do is hold on to what they have tighter (or take their toys and go home.) Until we can achieve some form of unification and resultant maturation of the sport, this trend is going to continue. The catalyst isn’t going to come from the UCI or USA Cycling, they have their own problems and too much bureaucracy and politics to be that forward thinking. It isn’t going to come from the teams or race promoters because they are to busy barely keeping their heads above water. The savior of the sport we all love is going to be an individual – with enough means to make it happen and crazy enough to actually want to. I sure hope to meet that person.