We received the news this week that Geox, the Italian shoe company, elected at the very last moment to remove their financial backing of Mauro Gianetti’s Geox-TMC pro team. Joe Lindsey did a good job of breaking it all down here. Long story short, Gianetti, the man behind the Saunier-Duval collapse, has been limping his team forward year after year, by signing short-term sponsorship deals.
Some combination of his past association with doped riders, the instability of the world economy, his team’s inability to secure a ProTour license, his team’s further inability to win a significant number of races, AND the UCI’s convoluted and often unfair points system for determining team ranking, have all come together to put a long list of riders and team staff out of business at precisely the moment when most of their potential employers have finalized hiring for the season.
The losers here are Gianetti, any rider he has under contract, any staff, Geox, who look like bumbling idiots, the UCI who yet again fail to create an even playing field and/or a sound financial proposition for sponsors interested in the sport, and the fans. More or less anyone standing near the blast zone got some on them.
The question is, what needs to be done to keep Geox (or Pegasus, or HTC) from happening again?
My own proposal would be to assign a transmittable value to a ProTour license, and to a ProContinental license for that matter. Then issue a finite number of licenses, and when a team wants to enter the sport, it’s incumbent upon them to acquire the necessary license from one of the owners. This is a de facto franchise system which gives the license a life quite independent of the UCI and their wacky rules. It would guarantee entry to the biggest events, and stabilize the year-to-year roster jumping that occurs with riders anxious to get off one sinking raft in favor of another. It also gives sponsors a tangible asset to attach themselves to, and the teams a coherent and consistent face to present to fans.
One might argue that wealthy individuals and/or entities could buy and hold hostage one of a few precious licenses, but with guaranteed entry to big events, the value of the license would be too great to simply sit on.
This is, of course, a radical idea, and it would require the UCI to become something it has never been in its entire history, which is to say progressive in its thinking.
But maybe there is a better way. What do you think?