Wednesday, October 4, 2023

What's wrong with pro cycling?

 What's wrong with pro cycling?

What are we discussing? Zio notes the frenzied speculation going on (which of course by the time you read this could be nothing) about the merger of two top pro cycling teams - Jumbo-Visma and Soudal-Quickstep.

How does this make any sense? Zio guesses it started with talk of the Jumbo supermarket chain ending their sponsorship of what's kind of like the New York Yankees of cycling. While some financial chicanery regarding the Jumbo company has been in the news, it mostly seemed an advertising/sponsorship deal had simply run its course.

Rumors started about the Saudi's throwing up to 100 million into the team, joining neighbors UAE and Bahrain in what many see as a sportwashing enterprise. Zio wonders why they don't just buy the entire sport as they seem to be doing with golf, but just as quickly talk of Saudi involvement ended.

No new sponsor appeared on the scene, leading to speculation on the merger scheme. THIS is what's wrong with pro cycling! In what other sport would a team that won all three grand tours, finished 1-2-3 in more than a few stages and so far in 2023 has 62 race wins...end up flailing around to find a replacement sponsor or worse, merging with another team?

Many will scream about "pro cycling's broken business model" while calling for a North American style franchise team system. The group known as Velon whines about this constantly, but they seem concerned only with the capitalist side of the idea - they say nothing about the socialist ideas of salary-caps and a draft system to more fairly distribute new talent.

That's not Zio's argument. What he doesn't understand is why few are interested in having their company name on the jersey of the "New York Yankees of cycling"? Pro cycling sponsorship can take many forms, whether it's a bicycle company, supermarket chain or just a company owned by a cycling fan who figures he's gotta put his advertising money somewhere so why not into something he enjoys watching?

Back-in-the-day, pro cycling was on broadcast TV so a company who liked cycling could advertise their mattresses, TV sets, face cream or whatever and find an audience in the housewives who had the TV going during the day. Think of all those consumer products that used to sponsor cycling teams (since Fiorenzo Magni started it all in 1953) vs today. Where are they now?

The most recent Grand Tours were rather dull, so how many tuned-in on broadcast TV or streamed the video each day? Supermarket chain LIDL has recently taken a bigger role in the sport but don't forget they used to sponsor one of the teams rumored to be merging.

Zio wonders if pro cycling has become uninteresting to the general public? Racing more and more controlled via radio earpiece using exotic bicycles that cost as much as a cheap automobile and get replaced multiple times during a daily stage might be turning the public off. Same for dominating performances like we saw in La Vuelta 2023. Is there a scent that some might not be following the rules?

Meanwhile, last Sunday almost 10 thousand people coughed up some real money to ride old-time steel bicycles around the roads (paved and unpaved) of Tuscany at L'Eroica. And believe it or not, the event was broadcast on Italian national TV for hours. Could all the modern technology and radio-controlled racing be turning people away from pro cycling? Or has the ever-increasing cost to bankroll a competitive, top-tier team (thanks in large part to the silly Pro/World Tour concept) simply priced too many potential sponsors out of the sport? 

Zio's guess is it's some of both but one has to admit something's very, very wrong when it seems the "New York Yankees" of cycling might have to merge with another team simply to survive.

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