Friday Group Ride #89

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?

8 comments

  1. Barry

    long time listener, first time caller here. this is a good idea. everything about pro cycling is screwed up. riders are not organized and have no collective bargaining power. tv and ad revenues don’t go to the riders, except through prize money, and teams are begging from one season to the next it seems. I think it should follow the model of golf where there are big races and the prize money is substantial and winning pays for teams. it seems like companies don’t want to be associated with scandals (I wonder how much Menchov’s frozen bank account had to do with this) rather than sponsor teams, why not put up a big purse at a race instead? The sport gets funded, they get their marketing exposure. But the difference is that teams get paid to perform, directly, rather than having another HTC situation. If I was Geox i would have walked too. Menchov is likely about to run into big trouble, and I imagine one season of Gianetti is about enough.

  2. RPD

    What needs to happen is 1) the UCI needs to be kicked to the curb so that ridiculous restrictions and payment schemes won’t continue to scare away investors who still believe in this sport. And 2) revamping the whole points system to obtain licenses, invitations to races, etc. McQuaid gripes and moans about how he gets no support, but he offers no support to riders, teams, events, or sponsors. He sabotaged Pegasus and makes obtaining licenses prohibitively difficult. I know I’m preaching to the converted, but I’m tired of watching my sport devolve.

  3. Souleur

    One problem w/the continual issue of team ownership and a perpetual ‘brand’ within cycling is that we, cyclists, non-PRO enjoy the sport for the most part FREE.

    No other sport has to manage this.
    Football, you pay to watch or the TV networks pay for viewership
    Baseball, you pay to watch or the TV networks pay for viewership
    Soccer, you pay to watch or…and we get it

    And in such, teams glean earnings
    and sell goods, merchandise, and market

    Cycling doesn’t enjoy this luxury
    So, its a real conundrum

    Someone pays for ownership and there are real threats that something may damage the name and branding of the goods, and it may be within cycling itself from the ivory tower itself, not a doping rider necessarily.

    There must be a collective pot if you will where race owners, teams, MEDIA and riders all share in the earnings of revenues. That is progressive, because it deters from winnings and is rather communal in sharing, but for the sake of the whole it seems most feasible to me.

    maybe there is something else though

  4. Simon

    I have been pondering about this for a little while, ever since the demise of the Vuelta Columbia – which seems an odd starting point. Firstly, if it becomes incumbent upon a team to acquire an expensive licence as a pre-requisite, we less likely to see the emergence of wonderful teams from cycling’s outposts like Cafe de Columbia in the 80’s. Anyone else love the stories about the columbian teams sharing trucks at the US Pro challenge? Life’s hard enough already. I’ve had experience in a prior job (totally unrelated to cycling) in which licences that were supposed to have no financial value got one very quickly in an open market and acted as a major barrier to entry, and I don’t think they’re the way. I am more inclined towards sporting criteria as a way to go.

    I don’t know if the old uci points system is the fairest, but I don’t see too many things wrong with it. True, hardwoking domestiques might complain, but the good ones will always find a home, I think. Points to be had at events in distant countries would make those events more neccesary / attractive again – and the UCI wouldn’t even have to organise them and threaten the teams into submission, just support the organisers they already have.

    You could add to that a tv rights/media deal – top ten teams get so much, the ones beneath them a little less, and so on. Any team that wants to buy its way into the top club should mean it investing in talent, not licences – but the top team of all in the last year or two, HTC, is one that lots of folk will remember for the way it brought on young riders…

  5. CAT4Fodder

    A couple things:

    A) Unless the UCI can revoke a license, who is to say a license holder does not pay for the license rights, and then put together nothing more than a bunch of local amateurs on the cheap. I could even see this become a situation where countries purchase licenses (China for example, or some of the despots throughout Central Asia), and basically use the teams as a propaganda tool, to the detriment of fielding a competitive team on the World Tour. Of course, ole’ McQuaid may see this as a windfall for his pockets, and so who knows, this idea may get legs.

    B) The fact is, cycling is in an odd kind of way, a microcosm of what is ailing the entire world economy right now…inequality. Too many wealthy individuals (Riis, The Schleck Bros backers, Katusha) are entering the sport with nary a concern about actually breaking even on these teams, jacking up rider salaries, and putting considerable pressure on the rest of the teams to fund teams with sponsorship money. By raising the price of entry, teams funded only by sponsorship dollars end up putting together non-competitive teams, and often these teams are from countries where cycling matters (Coifis, FdJ, Euskatel, Belgium having to consolidate into 1 team, Lampre) This then leads to poor results, and poor results leas to sponsors taking their dollars elsewhere.

    For this sport to be financially viable:

    A) Salary caps need to be instituted, and at levels commensurate with what most teams can fund through sponsorship deals.
    B) What the riders do not realize, is that strict doping controls are actually in their own economic interest. I know, this is a giant “collective action” issue, so this is where significant regulation within the sport is necessary.
    C) I hear that cycling needs to start charging spectators for watching the races. Except for some of the big races, on key sections, this unfortunately will not work. I hate to say this, but cycling is different than most pro sports. When I watch my favorite football team play on Sunday, I have an emotional interest in that event. Cycling on the other hand is more of a spectacle, and in a way, for most fans, there is a lacking of emotional attachment. Sure, at the TdF we can pick certain riders to root for, but can anyone honestly tell me they had a rooting interest at the Tour of Lombardy, or Milan-San Remo?

  6. LD

    It is unbelievable to think that a sport so rooted in history, drama and spectacle that we find it in its current state. Its true that the riders need to get their act together with regards to doping and Omerta. They simply are shooting themselves in the foot and their paycheck. The UCI needs to go. Period. They run cycling like but worse than Professional Wrestling. Cycling has so many examples in which to model a new league out of….. F1, NFL, etc……
    if it keeps going the way it is there won’t be Professional Cycling in a few years.

  7. melbin_rider

    what about having cycling clubs compete or more explicitly national teams (certain percentage of the team riders needs to be from the home country). the sponsors get to come and go (as per most football codes, be it soccer/rugby league/afl) without affecting the organisational structure (albeit they would have an impact in terms of budget) and the fans actually get to have an emotional connection to teams. the excitement around green edge in australia, or sky in england i think shows that perhaps this model is already being tested in the current system. of course both of these team rely on one big backer, maybe less obviously than bmc or leopardshack, but the sport really does need more stability than you get when relying on a select few individuals to have an interest in cycling. having said that we shouldn’t point to the collapse of certain teams as a reason to change the current system. for instance, some teams ARE poorly run and in every single sport (even mainstream sports) events or clubs are created, rise and fall and even collapse. for me cycling has actually got the events part right. 5 monuments, 3 tours (though spain needs to be brought forward) and a world championships to get everyone excited, and then local events (combination of one week tours and day races). now if we can just sort the participants out …

  8. run rider

    The last time rider points seemed to matter so much was back in 1989 and the FICP Velo rider points which determined team ranking & how much a rider could earn. This in turn leads us to the EPO years and cycling being almost destroyed from the inside out.
    The UCI obviously don’t learn and are again creating a situation with teams scrambling for points to enable them to get the required Pro Tour tick and the UCI to leave riders like Sastre to finish his career without one last TDF.

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