Podcast: Download (Duration: 40:22 — 55.5MB)
Podcast: Download (Duration: 40:22 — 55.5MB)
Episode 13: Giro d’Italia 2015, Part 2
We’re a touch over a week into the Giro—lots of things have gone as planned, and plenty more haven’t. Dane Cash (@velohuman / VeloHuman.com) and I discuss what’s already happened, examine the next six stages, revise our predictions, and check in with Dave Everett (@ShoddyCycling / YouTube) for some on-site observations.
Podcast: Download (Duration: 49:13 — 67.6MB)
I like a lot of what Vaughters says here, but the problem is that cycling can’t have a franchise system until it has actual franchises. I mean, Vaughters’ own squad—officially Slipstream Sports LLC—hasn’t ever been called by that name. Manchester United, in contrast, has remained Manchester United, whether Sharp, AIG, or Chevy is emblazoned across the chest.
This enduring team brand is a major reason why the franchise system is successful. That “I gotta see about a girl” scene in Good Will Hunting is effective because Will and Sean—a generation apart—each understand the experience of Red Sox fandom. It just wouldn’t work with US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor.
Even in Belgium, the one part of the world where teams might conceivably have inter-generational fan bases, the country’s biggest “franchise” has changed names three times since its inception—six, if you count co-sponsors. And even then, it was a spin-off of a pre-existing Italian organization (Mapei).
It’s a multi-dimensional contrast; in the US, the events and venues themselves are the here-today, gone-tomorrow advertising vector. Yes, there’s the World Series and the Super Bowl, but there are far more TaxSlayer Bowls, [your name here] Gardens and branding rights for pretty much every ancillary anything in the broadcast. Makes Amstel Gold seem almost anti-capitalist, and in many ways, reflects the current power imbalance between cycling’s teams and race organizers.
Most commentary on the business of cycling versus the business of ball sports centers around the existence of a stadium. And don’t get me wrong, it can be an incredible revenue stream. But I don’t believe it’s the stadium itself that makes the difference—I think it’s the fans’ relationship to the brand of the local squad.
After all, stadiums are profitable for teams (and often a raw deal for cities) because fans are willing to build them with public funds, shell out $85 for a seat, and dull those expenditures with nine-dollar Bud Lights. The idea that a massive physical structure should be expected to turn a profit for a franchise on as few as eight events a year is absurd—it’s the fans’ willingness to pay that makes it happen.
Cycling doesn’t need stadiums—it just needs those franchise brands to make fanbases coalesce. From the Cowboys’ star to the Yankees “NY”, licensed apparel is a massive revenue driver. While I’ll be the first to advocate rolling up to the group ride in a Mapei kit, I’d get the same feeling walking into Fenway in a $193 replica Bill Lee jersey—and in the latter case, the Red Sox would still get revenue.
Of course, a lot of this branding is tied up in regional affiliations—there’s something undeniable about the appeal of The Home Team. And cycling used to understand this, as the Tour de France was contested by national and regional squads well into the 1960s.
You could argue that teams today are too international to recreate this system, but it’s not like the guys playing for the Bears are actually from Chicago. The “homeness” of a team is largely a function of branding, to the point that gear from certain teams frequently becomes de facto gang insignia.
By setting up a permanent, open-to-the-public, service course-esq structure in a specific population center, teams could both begin to create that sense of local ownership, and (in place of a stadium) diversify their revenue through direct sales of team-branded goods, coffee, beer, service from pro mechanics, and early access to the newest gear from team sponsors.
All this isn’t to say the franchise system is a magic bullet—leagues frequently fail, and the early days of every successful pro sport were fraught with competing leagues, mergers, moving teams, and folding organizations. But once established, there’s no denying the marketability of the team brands they create, from Crystal Palace—whose namesake was destroyed some 80 years ago—to the Cleveland Browns—who were revived even after the original franchise changed names and moved to Baltimore.
But of course, all this earning potential is completely hamstrung by the existing brand name sponsorship model. It might be an easier sell in the short-term, but it makes a lasting franchise structure effectively impossible, to the point that sponsor-branded teams might be the most serious threat to the long-term financial viability of the sport—more so even than doping.
Episode 12: Giro d’Italia 2015, Part 1
The first Grand Tour of the season is fast arriving. Join Dane Cash (@velohuman / VeloHuman.com) and I as we give a basic overview of the event, cover the pre-race storylines and favorites, speak with Giacomo Nizzolo, Matteo Pelucchi, and Adam Hansen, plus offer 100% guaranteed picks for the opening nine stages—despite the fact that the latest of these is still nearly two weeks out.
Podcast: Download (Duration: 59:00 — 81.1MB)
An aggressively contested classic, pretty much from the moments the cameras came on (and off). Effective, well-executed team work, some nice individual performances, but also kind of an example of how, sometimes, you just gotta be fast. Those in Germany might need to watch on Vimeo.
Episode 11: Tour de Romandie 2015
With the classics in the rear view, Dane Cash (@velohuman / VeloHuman.com) and I press boldly into Grand Tour season with the Tour de Romandie, a very hilly six-day stage race through the French-speaking parts of Switzerland that serves both as a launch pad for Tour de France prep, and a final tune-up for contenders in next month’s Giro d’Italia.
Podcast: Download (Duration: 31:35 — 43.4MB)
Episode 10: Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2015
Dane Cash (@velohuman / VeloHuman.com) and I discuss Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which is the oldest race…anywhere. Longer climbs than most classics, a ton of potential launch points, a ridiculous array of potential favorites, layers of history, and just the tiniest bit of post-industrial gloom make this Monument (if you think that’s a thing) a fitting send-off for the spring classics season.
Podcast: Download (Duration: 35:51 — 49.3MB)
A lot of cool and varied teamwork from a variety of squads, mercifully few crashes, near-fisticuffs, and nicely tactical final k. All in all, not a bad Amstel. Watch on Vimeo if the embed above doesn’t work—it’s a better site anyway.
Episode 9: Amstel Gold & Fleche Wallonne 2015
The youngest of the Spring Classics, Amstel Gold is punctuated by 30+ climbs and incessant road furniture. Wednesday’s Fleche Wallone takes riders over the photogenically steep Mur de Huy three times. Dane Cash (@velohuman / VeloHuman.com) is back in the US to help me discuss the events, what makes them similar, what makes them different, and which riders to watch.
Podcast: Download (Duration: 40:36 — 55.8MB)
Photo by Johan Wieland.
The cobbles weren’t all that decisive this year—thanks to good weather and a steady tailwind, they were really more a steady grindstone against which the field was reduced. The real tactical action came at the very end, and involved some of Etixx-Quickstep’s best racing this spring, though in the finale, the outcome was pretty much inevitable.