The first Tour de France, held in 1903, was considered an absolute success. It changed the fortunes of the newspaper that sponsored the event, l’Auto, and united France in following what was arguably the greatest sporting spectacle of the age. The following years didn’t go as smoothly. While there was a huge readership for the paper, cheating became such a problem that the Tour’s founder, Henri Desgrange, nearly abandoned the event.
But instead of giving up, Desgrange got the officiating—and cheating—under control. But that didn’t mean that running the world’s greatest annual sporting event became simple. Desgrange monkeyed with national teams vs. trade teams as well as how best to drive revenue—selling newspapers was great, but not enough.
Desgrange’s successor, Félix Lévitan, tied sponsorships to every facet of the race. Rather than go with a few sponsorships for big bucks, Lévitan sold tons of sponsorships for tiny amounts of money. The meager sponsorship dollars necessitated ever more sponsors.
Today, the Amaury Sport Organization, the owner of the Tour, faces a new pain of growth. There’s a growing chorus of voices calling for ASO to share revenue from the TV rights it sells. It’s a reasonable request as without the riders, there would be no Tour to sell. Should not the stars of the show make some cash off their performances?
No matter what happens, the Tour rocks.
I offer that prelude as a prologue to something of an admission. RKP has been experiencing some growing pains. I don’t mean to suggest that RKP is in any way comparable to the Tour de France (that’d be like suggesting there was a significant similarity between a firecracker and a nuclear bomb). the Tour is, for me, something of a north star, a demonstration that an entity can evolve and change without losing its central essence or its core mission.
In the last year I’ve added a host of new contributors, at least one of whom—John Wilcockson—is significantly more experienced than I. There are a few new items in the store, though we still don’t have a full complement of kit. And then there’s travel and communication; I’ve been on the road a good deal more than in previous years and I’ve lagged on email responses to readers, including the gentleman who took the time to outline his frustration with how Live Update Guy is viewed and contrasted it with the superior way Cyclingnews offers its live updates. That anyone would even compare us with Cyclingnews is staggering. They’ve got more full-time employees than we do part-time contributors. They aren’t so much Goliath to our David as they are Goliath to our squirrel.
Where were we? Ah, yes. Growing pains. If I’m honest, we’re experiencing some bumpiness in our editorial. The issue isn’t one of quality, but one of regulation. I’m not a great planner and product review runs on a schedule that is utterly irregular. We need to smooth that out, but more important it needs to be broader. Some companies—notably Specialized—have really embraced us, while I’ve done an abysmal job of cultivating a relationship with Trek, though it’s not for lack of trying. My concern is that uneven coverage comes off as favoritism, instead reflecting the truer nature of the access we’re afforded. The issue here, as I see it, is the challenge of being both a start-up and independent.
The other area we’ve failed to achieve anything like our potential is with Live Update Guy. Charles brought that to RKP this spring with the understanding that we would sell the advertising for it (I even brought on industry veteran Nick Ramey to handle those sales) and all Charles would have to do is type and get paid.
He has typed a lot. He hasn’t been paid a thing.
As it turns out, trying to sell advertising for a new venture in April or May isn’t just foolhardy, its ridiculous. Things may turn around in July, but we have our work cut out for us.
If you’ve been following the Giro thanks to Charles’ coverage, I hope you’ll do him a solid and drop by his site and jingle his tip jar.
When I started RKP, I had a single, guiding principle. I wanted to post great writing characterized by solid analysis and possessing real insight. I never dreamt that we’d be publishing the work of Charles Pelkey and John Wilcockson, but then I never dreamt Wall Street would experience a catastrophic meltdown and middle America would be blamed for it. Seeing Pelkey and Wilcockson’s work alongside mine and our other contributors’ is a good deal happier ending.
Thanks for reading.