06 Nov Interview With Rick Mayer, WCL’s First Major Investor
Rick Mayer’s career spans over three decades as a business executive, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. His diverse background includes working in finance at Morgan Guarantee Trust; running scrap steel, shipping and oil refining businesses in Barbados, Turks & Caicos, Belize and Costa Rica. He also managed international trade and investment development programs in Yemen, Egypt, Guatemala and Panama as a NGO consultant to USAID.
Throughout his career he has been an advisor and private equity investor in a variety of businesses including bio fuels, high tech irrigation systems, internet media, entertainment and sports. He is president of the MFUNd, a family philanthropic foundation dedicated to encouraging sustainable agriculture.
Rick is a founder and Chief Financial Officer of World Cycling League and the driving force behind Cycle Haven, WCL’s indoor velodrome and event center project in New Haven. Mayer is graduate of Yale University, married to his grade school sweetheart, a father of five, and lives in Guilford Connecticut; a beautiful place to cycle.
Judging from his fully stocked shop of over 37 bicycles of all vintages and types, Mayer’s lifelong passion for cycling drives him well beyond casual interest. Here are excerpts from a recent interview he did for the TeamTrak Newsletter from his Connecticut home.
Q: Clearly cycling is a huge part of your life. How did that interest develop?
I started cycling to school in Denver in 1975 to keep in shape for downhill and Nordic ski racing which were my primary sports at that time. This was the same year that the Red Zinger race started in Colorado, so cycling was gaining in popularity and my passion was ignited.
I chose a prep school in CT specifically due to the fact it had a bicycle road racing team and a great coach. I became captain of the team and we’d travel from the NW corner of CT to race in Central Park and ride as many USCF races as we could find.
Along with my coach and two of my teammates, I spent the summer of 1977 racing in Europe starting in Hyde Park London and making our way to Ghent, Belgium where we stayed for over a month racing the kermesses. Trial by cobbles!
Returning to the US with strong legs, I qualified for the 1978 Jr. Nationals in Milwaukee, but so did Jeff Bradley, Greg LeMond, Chris Carmichael, Greg Demgen and Ron Kiefel….so I finished well back in the pack.
My coach suggested that we prepare for the Nationals doing long rides in Wisconsin and honing my bike handling skills by learning to ride the track. Racing Madisons under the lights and slinging each other around the Northbrook and Kenosha velodromes was one of the greatest thrills of my life. Right then and there, because of the excitement and subline pureness of a fixed gear bike on a banked track, I knew that someday I’d build more velodromes.
Q: Your early passion for cycling took a back seat to a variety of business ventures. How did you end up becoming the first seven figure investor in World Cycling League?
I had a blast racing bikes in college at Yale, but since my father didn’t have much faith in my future economic success as a bicycle racer, I shifted my focus to international business.
My family’s background was oil and gas contract drilling and I had worked on the drilling rigs and in seismic exploration. The energy business was familiar and attractive to me so, when I graduated from college, I moved to Costa Rica to explore investment opportunities in oil recycling. From there I spent some two decades involved in running some crazy businesses throughout the Caribbean and South America.
Throughout my business career I always bicycled and explored by bike. I even kept a track bike on a tugboat when I was running scrap metals from Costa Rica and Barbados to a foundry in Trinidad and Tobago. Those trips allowed me to ride the velodromes in Barbados and Trinidad and see first-hand the positive impact velodromes have on communities.
I was also investing with my family and our Colorado based family office and became experienced at identifying and structuring private equity investments in many sectors. Several of my ventures included: for Texas, a satellite driven irrigation system; along the New England coast, offshore kelp farms; in Denver, an internet media/video company; and in New Haven, a bio diesel production company that is now one of the leading bio diesel suppliers in New England. I was, however, always on the lookout for an opportunity to monetize my passion for cycling and help the sport grow in the U.S.
In 2005 my brother and I divided our family’s foundation in two so that we could each focus on our philanthropic interests. My wife and I created the MFUNd with the intent of providing creative funding to support programs that improve access to organic farming and to strengthen the local sustainable food system.
As I became more dedicated to philanthropy, I joined several not for profit boards. I took a leadership role at the CT Bicycle Coalition which immersed me in many of the issues surrounding cycling in CT; transportation, history, urban planning. While researching Pierre Lallement, the inventor of the bicycle for a commemorative plaque to be placed on the New Haven Green, I came across multiple references to old velodromes located in New Haven.
VELODROMES! – New Haven! – 5 Universities – Located at the intersection of I-95 & I-91 equidistant between New York and Boston – Trains & Amtrak – Arts & cultural center – Renowned Hospital & Health Care providers – Robust cycling community – PERFECT!
Relatively quickly, I spearheaded the creation of the Cycle Haven Foundation, and with the help of local philanthropists and several committed board members we began to research and plan building a velodrome in New Haven. It wasn’t long before we identified and contracted with Dave Chauner and his partner John Nelson as experienced and knowledgeable velodrome consultants who had recently formed the World Cycling League. They were committed to design and build economically viable indoor velodromes to host WCL events.
Dave is a big believer that track cycling, presented right, will appeal to the American public and offers an untapped sports business opportunity if presented as entertainment. He and his former partner, Jack Simes had proven that years earlier when they made Trexlertown a huge success. I remember hearing about this great track in rural Pennsylvania that regularly drew 3,000 or more fans to summer Friday night races! Plus Dave had produced amazing UCI road races in Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York and other big cities so he really understood the challenges and opportunities facing the sport.
I was all-in! The World Cycling League amalgamated my future career path, and I asked if I could become an investor/partner with them.
Q: You’ve been at it now for several years. What’s been your biggest challenge?
RM: Where do I begin? What we are doing and the way we’re doing it is really unprecedented. Velodrome or league first? Chicken or egg? We’ve come to realize that the best chance for success is with both developing together. It’s a tall order!
But before we got further into the velodrome building business, we knew we had to test our TeamTrak concept…a fast moving format with coed teams that would appeal to modern sports fans. I was personally and financially fully committed to creating a pilot test event at the VELO Sports Center in LA, the only indoor velodrome in the U.S. So we contracted 42 elite track riders from around the world, created six venue-based teams and ran a three event weekend “tournament” that got rave reviews from the riders, fans and the key people we invited. Plus the meet’s livestream attracted 37,000 viewers and delivered a ton of quality digital content we needed for a marketing campaign. We also learned that we needed an optimally sized track (200 meters, not 250) within a fully equipped facility that was built for exciting entertainment…great sound, lighting, video scoreboards, box seats and full fan and participant amenities.
So we designed the perfect multi-use indoor velodrome anchored by WCL’s innovative TeamTrak format, youth development programs and many other special events… not just cycling.
Q: So where do you stand now and what do you see as the future for WCL, TeamTrak and developing a network of multi-use indoor velodromes?
We’ve been hard at work finding ideal velodrome sites in both the Philly area and around New Haven. With no precedent, it’s a challenging prospect, although we’re closer now than ever!
Fortunately our newest partnerships, first with Philadelphia based Entercom Communications and their expansive network of radio stations, and secondly with SFA/SFM (Sports Facility Advisory/Sports Facility Management) corroborates my belief in the immense possibilities for the World Cycling League. These relationships reinforce our capability to promote and effectively deliver multi-use velodrome entertainment centers to many communities that like the concept but don’t have a clue as to how to create and run such a facility.
That’s where SFA/SMA comes in. They have the experience and expertise in developing sports facilities from initial concept to ongoing operations. Although they haven’t yet worked on an indoor velodrome, the business model, marketing plans and financing options for a multi-use sports arena are nearly the same. They bring the types of contacts needed to get it done right.
So I think the future is bright. From the experience of our inaugural event and the increasing world-wide interest in “non-traditional” sports like, say, professional bull riding, surfing and many action sports, I believe that a league of professional cyclists racing TeamTrak’s format in specially designed multi-use indoor velodromes will become uniquely popular. Plus more active velodromes are needed as development centers for young talent and we have to breed a new class of exciting racers and scrappy teams to watch and follow!
As I said earlier, it’s a tall order! But our mission is to bring the best elements of successful modern sports and business to cycling for the first time. That finally presents an investment grade opportunity for cycling’s future, particularly as we add leading edge components like insider content, new wave technologies and a clearly defined league structure to the mix.
Right now our focus is on creating the first “proof of concept” model. As soon as we have that, I believe the expansion potential is huge and the ROI will be significant!