Eight leading teams reportedly sign up to World Series Cycling 'breakaway league'

Move reflects teams' desire for greater say and more TV money, but faces opposition from UCI and race organisers

by Simon_MacMichael   March 9, 2012  

Tirreno-Adriatico 2012 (picture: RCS Sport/Daniele Badolato/LaPresse)

RadioShack Nissan is reported to be among eight leading cycling teams planning to launch a ten-race series that would in effect constitute a breakaway league from the UCI WorldTour. According to Bloomberg, the proposed competition, World Series Cycling which is planned for launch in 2014, would not clash with major races including the three Grand Tours or eight other major races including six unspecified one-day classics.

According to Bloomberg’s anonymous sources, sports marketing company Gifted Group, which is behind the proposals, has approached world cycling’s governing body, the UCI, to seek approval for the planned competition.

Whether that will be granted, given UCI President Pat McQuaid's opposition to the idea, seems doubtful unless there is a change in hierarchy in Aigle, something the body that represents the sport's biggest teams has demanded.

“This is potentially a real change in the balance of power in cycling,” Simon Chadwick, professor of sports business strategy at Coventry University, told Bloomberg. “The teams are being driven by the marketplace instead of history.”

Two key issues underpin the idea of the breakaway competition, namely that teams should have a greater say in the way the sport is run, and more importantly that they should benefit from the revenue generated by races.

Last year, it was reported that merchant bank Rothschild had put together a presentation outlining details of the proposed World Series of Cycling, which envisaged the participation of 14 teams, to potential investors.

Bloomberg says that eight teams are currently signed up. Other than RadioShack-Nissan, the identities of those teams has not been revealed, although it's a safe bet that Garmin-Barracuda is among them. One that definitely isn't included, reports Bloomberg, is French outfit FDJ-BigMat.

The document set forth proposals for ten four-day races, each comprising a time trial, mountain stage, flat stage and a rolling stage. As well as competing for individual races, teams and riders would also accrue results towards a season long competition.

The 14 teams involved would each have a stahe of just over 4.5 per cent in World Series Cycling, equating to 64 per cent of the entity. Gifted Group, which is said to have met its initial investment target of €20 million, would retain 10 per cent, with the remaining 26 per cent going to outside investors.

Reacting to initial news of the proposal in November, McQuaid described it as “unworkable,” adding, "the whole project was unrealistic.”

He has also said that the proposal would encounter difficulties due to cycling not being as easy to package for television as sports such as football, as well as the costs of producing coverage, and that it would struggle without access to the UCI’s anti-doping programme.

While the UCI is committed to expanding the sport into new global markets, including staging its own events – last month it announced a second Chinese week-long race to follow the Tour of Beijing which made its debut last year – Chadwick believes that World Series Cycling’s organisers face a “difficult sell” in some territories outside Europe. 

“Cycling has no history, no established market and no big stars in new and emerging markets,” he explained. “The acid test is how good they are at packaging this and selling it.”

According to Bloomberg, the parties involved in World Series Cycling last month approached McQuaid’s predecessor, Hein Verbruggen, to try and bring about a rapprochement with the governing body. UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani confirmed that there had been contact, but gave no further details.

Last month, the UCI said that men’s pro cycling was booming, citing increases in team budgets and average salaries paid to riders, although Jonathan Vaughters, CEO of Slipstream Sports and Directeur Sportif of Garmin-Barracuda was among those to point out that the influx of money into the sport was largely due to investment made by wealthy private individuals.

There hasn’t been an accompanying flood of corporate sponsorship into the sport, and last year two teams folded after sponsors withdrew funding – HTC Highroad, and Geox-TMC. Several leading teams this season, among them BMC Racing and GreenEdge, likewise lack a main sponsor from outside the sport.

At the same time, many races are struggling financially. The Tour of the Basque Country and Clasica San Sebastian were saved at the last minute, for this year and 2013 at least, after the Sabadell Guipuzcoano bank agreed to sponsor the races for two years. Should the World Series Cycling proposals go ahead, it's likely it would lead to the demise of some existing races. 

Vaughters is also chairman of the AIGCP (Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels) which is believed to represent most, if not all, top-tier ProTeams; the organisation does not have a website and information on it is minimal.

Last week, following its spring meeting in Paris, the AIGCP said that its members had no confidence in the present leadership of the UCI, but expressed its wish to continue to work with the governing body to improve the sport in the interests of all stakeholders.

Major race organisers too are seen as benefiting financially from races without sharing the proceeds with the teams that participate in them.

During last year’s Tour de France, Bloomberg reported that Vaughters had denied France Televisions access to team vehicles during the race because of organiser ASO’s refusal to discuss any kind of revenue-sharing.

Bloomberg said that ASO was thought to gain income of $200 million from Tour de France TV rights alone, which make up 60 per cent of the race’s income, the remainder derived from sponsorship and payments from towns and cities hosting stage starts and finishes.

Vaughters told Bloomberg at the time: “The athletes and equipment are our property – why should we give access?”

Commenting on that situation last year, Chadwick said: “It’s very, very unusual that the Tour de France doesn’t share its revenue with the constituent parts of its brand. They’re adhering to a model that was first introduced about a century ago.”

While World Series Cycling is firmly based on a 21st century business model, the likelihood is that there will be some old-fashioned power struggles along the way before it becomes reality.

11 user comments

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Do they *have* to give it a name that makes it sound like Baseball?

I may be wrong, but if this goes through, it would appear that the UCI and ASO have only themselves to blame.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3464 posts]
9th March 2012 - 15:23

7 Likes

I seem to recall that when the Toronto Blue Jays won the "World" Series in 1992 and 1993 it seemed to provoke much wailing and gnashing of teeth south of the border that a team from outside the US could have won "their" sport.

Apparently Chipping Norton, where I live, was once a hotbed of baseball in the UK - seriously - although obviously they never reached such lofty heights Wink

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8487 posts]
9th March 2012 - 15:58

6 Likes

I think the Baseball "World Series" is actually named after a newspaper sponsor...

But anyway... I wonder what the implications are for TV rights? must be a big factor in the breakaway teams' thoughts about future revenues.

To my mind that has benefits and drawbacks - we could all end up having to pay a fortune for sky subscription, but it's probably a good bet that quality of coverage will improve.

Although surely you'd need ASO on board, given they own the Tour, The Vuelta and half the classics? and as they own L'Equipe and Velo Magazine, I fancy the French teams & sponsors and would be keen to keep cosy with them

posted by chris75018 [100 posts]
9th March 2012 - 16:22

7 Likes

Without ASO this horse ain't worth flogging...and as a media company, they ain't going to give an inch to an upstart cycling series.

Make mine an Italian with Campagnolo on the side

posted by monty dog [382 posts]
9th March 2012 - 17:24

7 Likes

monty dog wrote:
Without ASO this horse ain't worth flogging...and as a media company, they ain't going to give an inch to an upstart cycling series.

I dont know, if the likes of Sky and BMC agreed to it your looking at probably two of the richest teams with a lot of star names in their ranks which most big media firms would love to say they have on their books.

Bit like the A list in Hollywood.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2841 posts]
9th March 2012 - 19:46

6 Likes

its like the ever dwindling threat of f1 teams starting their own series. its all talk i suppose but its a nice idea

posted by russyparkin [578 posts]
9th March 2012 - 20:48

7 Likes

Mmmm. Useless governing body mired in complacency ultimately benefits from unrestricted commercialisation of a sport ripe for TV exploitation into a super league corrupted by money. Sound familiar?

The only good news is that they can't stick us in a stadium and sell corporate box space.

Maybe the numbers won't add up for Sky. I hope not.

Can't agree with Chris75018. I like the Dan Maskell qualities of Phil Liggert versus the Tony Blackburn style of Carlton Kirby. God forbid we end up with a cycling MOTD with Sir Chris as Shearer on £15k an episode: 'It was a race of two halves and the plucky lad was misplaced for the lead out there...' Zzzzzzzzzz.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1093 posts]
9th March 2012 - 22:22

6 Likes

The four day format intrigues me, and I wonder whether they might also move away from time-based rankings in determining stage and overall winners.

They could introduce a points system with - to pluck some figures from thin air - 35 points for 1st, 30 for second, then 25, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, all the way down to 1 point for 20th place.

It would make scoring the Fantasy Cycling game a breeze Wink

Seriously, though, why not points? It might favour the all rounders who can TT, but likewise a sprinter who can get over the bumpy stuff would have a decent chance too...

(ps And yeah, I know that in all likelihood there would be a points compo too, but I'm talking about determining the overall. Though actually you could also have season-long competitions based solely on stage type, so one for TT, one for KOM etc. Okay I'm thinking too much now...)

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8487 posts]
9th March 2012 - 22:58

6 Likes

See your point, but not sure if the consistency of the four-day format might get a bit old.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3464 posts]
9th March 2012 - 23:45

5 Likes

I like watching a bit of cycling now and again, but I'm not *that* obsessed with it that I need to see it all, I look forward to the early season classics, Paris - Nice, Milan-SanRemo, Paris-Roubaix, then the Giro and the Tour De France, after the tour I'm a bit burnt out, I don't care so much about the Vuelta, then it's the Giro Di Lombardia, I don't even care for the tour of Britain, as a tv spectacle and a race it's a poor show and that is probably down to money and numerous other restrictions, although it's great to see pro teams riding up the same roads that I've been grinding along, I wonder if the UK will ever see cycle race that's as gloriously disruptive as the tour de France!

What keeps me looking at a cycle race through dull stages is great countryside views, the tour de France wouldn't be so great if it was a series of city criteriums.

the_mikey's picture

posted by the_mikey [148 posts]
10th March 2012 - 7:51

2 Likes

fair point MercuryOne - I'm a big fan of Mr Liggett.

I hadn't really thought of the commentary, but it's a valid point. I was thinking more about the quality of footage / general production values etc.

This year's vuelta coverage (which I think was produced by a local broadcaster) for example had typos in half the team names, and I seem to remember quite a lot of problems with the on-bike cameras, etc. I'd hope that if broadcasters more competition / higher prices paid for rights would also encourage more spend on the technology.

posted by chris75018 [100 posts]
10th March 2012 - 11:39

3 Likes