The 2011 Cycling Broadcast Media Challenge

Aug 13 2010

Do my eyes deceive me? Is there a piece critical of Lance Armstrong up on Versus.com? If it weren’t comparing him to Mel Gibson (hard to imagine the phone calls curiously absent from Armstrong’s emails with Floyd and Dr. Kay were anywhere near that bad) or erroneously claiming that Armstrong smashed Floyd’s (or Armstrong’s own non-existant) 2006 trophy, I might actually be impressed about the fact that it’s there.

Over at Universal Sports, BikeSnobNYC has continued his blogging as well. He’s a sharp enough writer that I can almost overlook his misattribution of Sungard’s sponsorship to promises of a Contador Grand Slam; Sungard’s sponsor affiliation with Saxo dates back to the beginning of this year, and their move to title sponsor was pretty much a given long before Contador’s third Tour win, let alone the Spaniard’s (and his most trusted domestiques’) acquisition by Riis.

What it almost seems like is that Versus and US are competing to retain viewer interest at least through the Vuelta a Espana, which begins later this month. It’d be a fairly unprecedented move, especially considering that Team RadioShack (whose marketing machinery all but declared the season over in July) will not be attending. I say “almost” because it appears Versus hasn’t updated their cycling schedule since before the Tour and probably isn’t even broadcasting the race.

While Universal Sports will indeed be offering live video coverage of the event, it’s doubtful, given the criticism of both usability and level of commentary during their Giro broadcasts, that anyone will elect to pay the $15 dollars when so many easier-to-use sites are giving away better commentary for free.

At any rate, since both NBC Universal and Versus are owned by the same cable megalopoly—and have their online video services delivered by the same company—it’s hard to imagine that we, as consumers, would see any benefit from market competition between the two broadcasters.

All of this leaves me scratching my head at why Versus or Universal Sports even bother. I can’t imagine BikeSnob or whoever the heck Gerard Wright is cost much, but they must cost something. Why continue to spend money when you know better professional outlets, fan-based efforts, and a few tech-savvy pirates are going to bury you in terms of both coverage and quality during non-Tour events?

Even with an American winner defending his title at Vattenfalls, or the best-known American squad fighting to make a point at Tour l’Ain, I can’t find anything about either race on either company’s website. I can’t imagine lip-service text posts—without at least a tip of the hat to ongoing racing—are going to convince fans that the two legitimate US broadcasters are in any way serious about the sport.

I’m guessing that Joel Felicio or whoever has his job at Universal Sports would counter by saying that without them, there’d be no cycling for American audiences. But that’s just not true anymore; even Lance Armstrong, who’s made tweets I can’t find about how he never pirates music, knows where to find coverage if legitimate sources don’t make an effort to cover it.

My challenge to both Versus and US is this: take 2011 off. You say you’re tired of having fans tear you down for your hard work, so stop doing it. If it’s too hard to find advertisers, or if too few people are watching, or if no one will pay for anything online, it would make sense to stop, right?

So just don’t bid for exclusive US or online rights to any major cycling events —the only real thing limiting other video to Eastern European dudes with screencast software—for one year, and let an open and competitive market determine the future of cycling coverage.

Then, in 2012, you’ll have your change to come back and prove to everyone that you’re doing the best job possible, and that most criticism against you is levied based on spite and delusion. If you have as much confidence in your opinion as I have in mine, you should be as eager as I am to see this little experiment take place.

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12 Responses to “The 2011 Cycling Broadcast Media Challenge”

  1. Skippy 13 August 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    Hey Frankie A. needs the job to pay for the legal expenses his family will be incurring in the “Lance Saga” which he and his wife helped initiate some years back !
    Not living in USA i am unable to comment on the quality of the work that Versus broadcasts but the amount of people on site at the “Arrival Area of TDF” is quite impressive and they have P & P on tap as well i think !

    Their Catering is also fairly large although getting a cup of coffee out of them is like trying to get water out of a cactus plant !

    Philip Sudre the TDF PR chief was a guest in Bordeaux and could not find an excuse to invite me in other than he was a guest with a couple of his colleagues in tow! France TV have their own Restaurant and he is eating THERE?

    Over the years i have been fed & watered by a variety of org.s and establishments and the TV co.s are all show but give me a french family in “Fete” any day !

  2. Phil 13 August 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    Whoa, Cosmo, just a second before you unilaterally decide what coverage racing fans in the US get. if you care about the commentary more than the picture quality, fine. Not everyone does. Both this year’s Giro and TdF coverage from US and Versus provided me with (generally )HD picture quality that I could comfortably watch on my 50″ plasma. I’ve never been able to watch anything via Steephill or the other sources even full screen on my 24″ iMac because PQ was so poor.

    Yes, the commentary is execrable. But you know, given the generally excellent graphics on the Euro feeds, a start list in hand and my own knowledge of the racers, I find when I can actually see what’s going on the commentary is largely irrelevant. (Besides, that’s what I’ve got “How the race was won” for, right? ;-))

    I bought the Vuelta coverage at the $9.99 sale price right after the tour and look forward to it. I’m rather excited that we can get all three GTs this way and I can enjoy them from a nice, comfy recliner than all scrunched up at the desk in my office trying to make out the fuzzy images.

  3. Tom 13 August 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    Part of me would really LOVE for these guys and ESPN to just pack it up and quit pretending to give a damn. They piss me off when they act like the entire world of professional cycling revolves around Lance, the Tour and doping.

    Another small, fairly quiet part of me thinks, “I guess we have to start somewhere.”

    Maybe we have to put up with shit sandwiches before we can move on to something more palatable.

    I wish it wasn’t so, but the Wish Fairy has never paid much attention to me.

  4. Jen 13 August 2010 at 9:29 pm #

    FWIW, Versus is apparently showing some coverage of the two Canadian PT races, at least according to a press release from the races (via Canadian Cyclist, Pedal, etc) – “And our neighbours south of the border can watch two special programs on Versus, the official channel of the Tour de France in the U.S., on the weekends of September 11-12 and September 18-19.”

  5. Tom 13 August 2010 at 11:18 pm #

    Eurosport english commentary is utter garbage. Especially when Sean Yates is on, I’d rather listen to vuvuzelas, than his banal droning. What’s wrong with Gogulski anyway? He knows what he’s taking about, he commentated at a race in Burlingame I raced this year, live, and did a great job when my teammate Rand Miller and Scott Zwizanski were burying themselves off the front only to get caught. The other guy on Universal is passable, and actually into the race. Nothing better than when he flipped out when Menchov crashed in the 2009.

    Hell what’s with the complaining I remember staying up ’til 11pm in Hawaii to watch 1/2 hour [pre-empted by cheerleading, BTW] snippets of the Tour de France back in the mid 90’s.

  6. Touriste-Routier 14 August 2010 at 8:13 am #

    Sorry, but I think Cosmo got it right again. The coverage from our domestic suppliers in the USA sucks.

    VS seems to have more commercials than actions, and they tend to tell you about attacks rather than show them. They have dumbed down their coverage to accommodate the casual viewer, leaving knowledgeable fans banging their heads against a wall. Then there are all the touch feely side stories, leaving me yelling, “just show the f’in race!”

    US’s commentators (and I know GoGo fairly well), miss so many things; missing moves, getting riders names wrong, spending too much time blabbing back and forth and not paying attention to the event, etc. It isn’t an easy job, but I find that the British commentators do a much better job.

  7. Phil 14 August 2010 at 11:35 am #

    “VS seems to have more commercials than actions, and they tend to tell you about attacks rather than show them. They have dumbed down their coverage to accommodate the casual viewer, leaving knowledgeable fans banging their heads against a wall. Then there are all the touch feely side stories, leaving me yelling, “just show the f’in race!””

    The Internet feed has no commercials and no touchy-feely, up-close-and-personal crap. The TdF package was discounted to $27.95 during May. Yes, you still have Phil, who’s past his sell-by date, and Paul, who clearly wishes he could have Lance’s baby, but it was worth a little over $1/day to be rid of the endless commercial breaks.

    As far as not showing the attacks, they can only show what the Euro feeds show, They have no control over the cameras. I can remember when all we saw of the Tour was a 5-minute wrap-up at the end of Wide World of Sports on Sunday afternoon. With all it’s flaws, this is still way better.

  8. Touriste-Routier 14 August 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    “they can only show what the Euro feeds show, They have no control over the cameras”.

    Not entirely accurate. While they do not have control over the cameras, there are multiple cameras to follow, and there are multiple ways to produce a show. This is evidenced by the different Euro feeds having varied camera angles and action choices.

    While I can’t comment on Phil & Paul’s performances, I would watch live coverage on-line from Euro feeds, and sometimes capture the VS show at night with friends; it was amazing how different they were in all aspects.

  9. Phil 14 August 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    The nighttime recap is quite a bit different from the live morning program. There’s no Bobke or Craig during the stage itself in the AM nor are there the same number of ‘special features”. The Internet feed is different still in that it is always on the action with no breaks and seems to make use of more camera feeds. It starts earlier than the TV coverage and the initial commentary is by Australian Matt Keenan who turns it over to P&P when the TV coverage of the actual stage begins.

    Phil still gets riders names wrong and mangles other and Paul has to correct him. Outside the obeisance to All Things Lance, Paul can be periodically informative. It’s far from perfect, of course, but I’ve watched the Tour and the Giro the last two years through the Internet feeds from VS and US on the big screen and, with start list in hand and the laptop open to the various trackers, blogs and other source of info, find the whole thing pretty satisfactory. It sure beats the Hell out of what we had before this came along.

    (BTW, if you have the Internet package, you can watch each stage on demand at any time exactly as it was presented live, so you don’t have to watch the nightly recap on VS cable.)

  10. Skippy 15 August 2010 at 3:08 am #

    Enjoying the comments here, since i actually get to see these people “At work” so to speak !
    Posted on http://www.skippyaus.blogspot.com the 2011 possible TDF route(speculation by a contributor to Steephill.com?) .

    AS you that have read my blogs know i don’t book accom. but wait until i arrive near the “Village Depart” each evening unless there is the opportunity to visit with people who have previously assisted with accom.

    There appears to be several op.s listed so if the “Disabled Relay Team Event” is not supported then i will once more enjoy French hospitality that will be the envy of Lance and the racers !

  11. ben 15 August 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    The odd thing about cycling (compared to other sports “new” to the US) is that it’s never had widespread coverage on TV in the US – and to be honest, the US has never had much of a reason to have coverage, save for that guy who won that thing 7 times in a row in July – but that’s only one 3-week long event per year.

    Cycling was tailor-made to be covered by the Internet – the fanbase is largely people who have sat on a bike and at least thought about racing, the races are long and frankly boring to the non-cyclist or the uninitiated, and it’s not as cut and dried as runs and walks and touchdowns. The interest is in the details! Coverage for it online has grown into something pretty decent (but not great) in the past few years. The LIVE chats with with Whit Yost and Bill Strickland were great during the TdF, and Twitter never fails to provide better and more detailed coverage of these races (thanks in large part to Cosmo).

    Sure, the video quality really sucks for those pirated EuroSport feeds – but you can be guaranteed that USTREAM and Justin.tv are looking into HD capabilities – not to mention services like those being integrated into your set-top-box.

    From what I understand, Versus is a pretty small crew – so while the Internet PROfessional in me would like to harangue them about their online strategy – I know they are doing what they can, but they could definitely do better – and they likely know it. Being a part of a larger organization with all these RULES about being profitable and not letting your licensed content flow freely out into the Intarwebs is a hard bite to swallow – and either they’ll fold up or get with the program about how the die-hard cycling fan keeps up with bike racing.

  12. Souleur 17 August 2010 at 9:48 am #

    Cosmo, I agree.
    Being embedded in the midwest, where we just recently got electricity and modern plumbing, I am fortunate to just be a click away from about 10 internet tv feeds of the races we all watch.

    I personally gave up on versus about 3 years ago, after complaining and seeing their coverage of the races wither away, in lieu of bullriding and catfish noodling. I realized they were baiting me like a cheap date, and I kept buying. But I stopped. The internet coverage isn’t bad at all, and at times, its nicer to just watch the race yourself, see the moves yourself, realize yourself the tactics, and not need the commentary that at times is not that useful.

    I have often wondered what it would be like to be a fly on the wall during the versus board meeting when they are talking about ‘cyclists’, the complaints, the wants of cyclists in coverage and the slaps on the leg they must give one another as they ‘broo-ha-ha’ us…as we continue to buy despite the insultingly poor coverage.

    Universal may be a bit of a different term of coverage for me, they seem at least a little more interested of a broad coverage, and I appreciate that, since versus is only interested in covering july, and that sells us short of a season of cycling.

    So, i agree, let the boys off a year or two, refresh, recommit or not. In the end, they have pretty much given up on us, we have given up on them and perhaps there really isn’t all that much of a relationship anymore.

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