Here's an idea to fire the imagination of any cycling fan – a big time professional cycling team owned and managed by a world wide community of cycling fans. Fantasy could be about to become a reality if CrowdRiders, the brainchild of a group of Dutch bike fans, takes off. Their goal is to have a fan owned team competing in major races by 2010.
To do that they need to find 40,000 cycling fans each paying a subscription, and each having a single share to fund and manage the team. All the big decisions on who to hire and who to fire will be taken by the members.
Initially CrowdRiders are looking to set the subscription fee at €55, but you can go to their website now and vote on whether you think that is too high. If they hit their target CrowdRiders would be able to fund a team to the tune of €4m, including kit and equipment sponsorship fees estimated at €1.8m. This would be enough to run a Pro Continental team of the size of Barloworld or Agritubel and that is the level at which they are looking to launch, with a team lining up for the 2010 season.
At the moment the idea and team are very much in the early stages: the first step is to sign up enough members to fund a proper start up budget. CrowdRiders are already talking to potential sponsors who might be open to the idea of being involved with a team owned and run by its fans. This would be one way of securing the necessary funding to make signings and power the search for further members.
Of course any decisions on sponsorship, equipment and even the design of the kit will be in the hands of the fans as Marc Frencken of CrowdRiders told us: “ Yes, members will get to pick the team kit and bikes. These are decisions that will be directly voted for by the Crowd. People can even suggest their own designs with regard to the kit.
“For the bikes it will also depend on which brands are interested in becoming material sponsor for CrowdRiders. But among those offers, CrowdRiders will have the ultimate brand choice.”
To prevent companies buying into the team memberships will be strictly limited to one share per member. The idea is inspired by Myfootballclub.co.uk which gathered together 30,000 football fans to buy Ebbsfleet town football club in the UK. Like Myfootballclub the fans would have the say in all the big strategic decisions regarding the team, though they wouldn't get to pick the squads for individual races or fire people straight after a race on the basis of one bad result – all successful teams need a measure of stability and contracts would have to be honoured. At the end of the season members would get to vote on which riders are in and which are out. The same would apply to the team management structure.
Fan power in football hit something of a set back recently when many fewer fans than anticipated renewed their memberships causing some concern about the club's budgets. However, CrowdRider's spokesman Marc Frenken told road.cc there are significant diffferences between their approach and that of Myfootballclub.
“CrowdRiders goal is to find 40,000 members. When CrowdRiders gets more than 40,000 members we could put aside this extra membership fee income for the next season.
“CrowdRiders is going to be a global venture with German, French, Spanish, Italian and even Chinese websites soon to be released. This approach means that we aim for a much broader cycling fan population than myfootballclub.co.uk ever did for their football team (only English language available). Therefore getting more than 40.000 membership sign ups seems possible.
“If CrowdRiders manages to start riding in the 2010 season then due to the nature of cycling competitions, CrowdRiders will be riding in Italy, France, Spain etc. automatically promoting the team and its unique ownership structure. This should, during the season, attract many new members guaranteeing its existence on a similar budget the year after.
"myfootballclub.co.uk has the disadvantage of being a small team that does not appeal too much to a big geographical area. CrowdRiders on the other hand will ride all over the world making it more attractive for cycling fans everywhere.
“With 4 million Euros a cycling team will definitely be riding some of the biggest races in the world. It would be the same as myfootballclub [Ebbsfleet United] participating in the Champions league, which would definitely attract many new members for them.
Pro cycling has the advantage of smaller budgets needed to start a world-class team, addding to the appeal and therefore a more likely candidate for a long term successful member ownership venture.”
Frencken also went on to point out that because almost half of CrowdRiders budget will be based on sponsorship deals – they will be able to build in an extra layer of protection for future funding by signing multi-year deals.
Other initiatives for inspiring membership loyalty would include putting members names on team jerseys, cars and buses.
Fan ownership may be proving more difficult than expected lower down the football pyramid, but right at the top of the game there are two examples of flourishing fan-powered football clubs: Real Madrid and Barcelona are both owned by their fans and nobody could say they they lack for either success, money, or potential membersl.
CrowdRiders may just be an idea whose time has come. To find out or to join the Crowd check out their website: www.crowdriders.com
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.