Can Cycling Make It As An Exciting Spectator Sport?

Can Cycling Make It As An Exciting Spectator Sport?

By: David Chauner

To tackle this question, World Cycling League partners met with Park Lane, sports investment advisors and assembled a team of sports, media and entertainment experts. We formulated this mission statement: Bring the best elements of successful modern sports and business to cycling.

Then we added three core values:

Quality…of racing | Legitimacy…of sport | Engagement…with a global audience

We knew the solution had to be developed within track racing, the one cycling discipline that shares the most attributes of the world’s most successful modern sports and, interestingly, also has a deep American spectator tradition.

The first step was to identify the key elements that are common to most successful modern spectator sports. We then came up with ten Guiding Principles that we believe are needed if cycling is to build an enthusiastic, sustainable fan base and then applied them to WCL’s innovative TeamTrak® format. Here they are:

1. Exciting content: Speed, elbow-to-elbow races, dramatic moves, ever-present danger, close finishes and suspenseful outcomes are all part of fan entertainment and have to be built in. Bike racing on steeply banked velodromes has it all. It just has to be presented the right way.
2. Relatable, skilled athletes: Fans love athletes with personality: winners and losers, heroes and villains, the crafty ones and those who hang it all out. Reputation is part of it. And so is the skill it takes to do the seemingly impossible in close quarters at breathtaking speed. Track cyclists define athleticism and show no fear.
3. Simple, suspenseful format: Every race must be easy to follow with clear winners and team points that change from race to race and accumulate in real time toward a final outcome. No time trials, no boring officials’ instructions, and, at the end of night, the team with the most points wins.
4. Gender equality: The best way to promote equality in sports is to have men and women on the same team, competing in separate races for total team points and equally divided team prize money. In fact, the Most Valuable Rider is the one who scores the most team points, regardless of gender, another factor that adds spice to TeamTrak.
5. Team allegiance: Fans want a home team to cheer for, not a corporate brand that puts customers above fans and usually changes with market conditions and rebranding strategies. Plus home teams will promote regional cycling, attract local sponsors and help justify velodrome development.
6. Compelling for modern viewers: Technology is changing the face of sports. Real time results, stats and highlights must be live-streamed and available on demand to multiple devices. Indoor cycling fans will want to see how their power output, pedal cadence and heart rate compares with the pros and helmets that light up to tag top performers will make the fan experience more exciting. Plus, as sports gaming grows, TeamTrak’s series of 12 well-defined races separated by natural pauses will, in an online world, be just long enough to allow for an in-meet wager to be made without disrupting the flow.
7. Dynamic facilities: TeamTrak is spectator entertainment that caters to the fan with state-of-the-art video and scoreboards, great seating, VIP boxes and a themed bar and restaurant overlooking the awe-inspiring velodrome and infield beer garden. Great sound, lighting and top announcing must heighten the fan experience. When not being used for spectator events, the velodrome must be adaptable for training. Major challenge: the archetype indoor velodrome doesn’t yet exist and must be created. That’s why we’ve partnered with Sports Facilities Advisory to help define and analyze the best mix of sports and special events that offer compatible activity and additional revenue sources.
8. Feeder system: Young boys and girls are inspired by top level sports competition. TeamTrak is committed to youth programs and talent development camps that provide a “Little League” opportunity for local youth and student TeamTrak teams. But teams and young riders need a safe place to learn, train and race which makes proper velodrome development and usage an important goal in the mix.
9. Impresario factor: No successful new sport or start-up business ever got off the ground without four key attributes of its founders: Vison, passion, persistence and courage to break the mold.
10. Sound business structure: All of the foregoing features won’t matter if they aren’t packaged into a realistic sports business model. In fact, it’s doubtful that without those nine points, the ability to attract sustaining revenue is severely compromised, one of the major flaws of cycling as it exists today. But now, more than at any other time in recent history, the ability to build and monetize a substantial fan base for a “non-mainstream” sport is possible through non-traditional methods offered by the internet and new media distribution channels. Add to that the most important revenue producers for successful spectator sports: controlled venues, paying fans, corporate sponsorship, bundled events, brand licensing, season-long build-up and an experienced team to pull it all together.