I started a mini-series about the 2014-15 road transfer season, and I want to come back to it. You can read the earlier parts here – Part 1, on how the announcements have been handled and Part 2 on the implications of “Super teams” – but I’ve also been thinking about what the 2014-15 transfer window might mean for the future. If you need a reminder of what’s changing, I’ve got a transfer table over here on Podium Café.
What this means for 2016 and 2017
With so many riders signing two-year deals, to keep them safe until the Olympics, my first guess is that next year’s transfer season will be much quieter, especially when it comes to the big “names”. We might see riders who’ve signed to super-teams looking to get out of contracts, if they aren’t getting the opportunities they like, but I suspect there’ll be much less transfer activity at the end of next season.
That is an interesting concept for fans. The transfer season can be this really great shop window for the sport – in Part 1 I talked about how teams like Bigla and Wiggle Honda, as just two examples, have worked really well to get a sense of anticipation, and to build discussions and “buzz” from fans, and of course, that can only help demonstrate a Return on Investment for sponsors (or at least, I hope so). It’ll be interesting next year – but I guess we’ll have plenty of distractions – “who gets to ride the Olympics?”, for instance!
And then after 2016? Well, one of the problems women’s cycling has had in the past is that the Olympic cycle can mean the post-Olympic year is very, hard. We saw this after the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, where teams and races disappeared and sponsors disappeared (in one case, specifically wanting to only support riders in the pre- and Olympic-year, but not the other two years of the cycle, stopping and starting again – sponsorship – and cycling – can’t work like that!). 2012/13 was different, in that it really felt things were on the up – improvements in races last year, more this year, and more going forward…. but in terms of teams, we need to remember that as many are stepping back as are stepping up, and some high class riders still struggled to find homes (or took less well-paid spots). I’d love to stay optimistic, but when I look at some many teams talking about their deals lasting until 2016, I worry – what happens after the Olympics?
And then there are the races. We have a nice set of races in the USA going UCI in this year when Worlds are there, and the Olympics next year, but will they stay that way? Are the team and race sponsors talking “until 2016” because that’s just the beginning, or they’re already planning to leave? It may sound a bit paranoid, but women’s cycling still isn’t in a secure place yet.
We fans need to be pushing at sponsors and media to up their game around women from now, so the 2008 cliff doesn’t happen again. After all, if sponsors wait until the Olympics in August 2016 to decide to support racing in 2017, that will be very late – they need to be shown next year that the sport is vibrant, exciting, a great return on investment, and we fans can help show how much of an untapped market there is. We’ve got such a great opportunity, with races that were new this year (like the Friends Life Women’s Tour, BeNe Ladies Tour, Tour of Norway) expanding, and the TV/video coverage continuing to grow – and new races like the women’s crit at the Vuelta and whatever the women’s race at the Amgen Tour of California turns out to be. If we keep talking about the racing, sharing links, using the twitter hashtags, liking things on facebook, that will make a difference. They all sound like tiny actions, but together they really add up.
The other interesting thing for the future is that looking at how the 2015-16 teams are shaping up, we seem to already have an informal “pro” layer, even more-so than in previous years. For years women’s cycling stakeholders have been talking about how having only one UCI-level of teams isn’t good for the sport (I may as well link to my own words on this, from August last year and from 2012, but this is a super-common request), and recently Kristy Scrymgeour confirmed that the UCI’s Women’s Commission is actively working on a structure to introduce two, and maybe three levels in (with things like mandatory minimum wage for the pro level) – and it feels like maybe, by the time the UCI’s processes grind through, it’ll just be a case of formalising the situation on the road, which of course makes things easier. If teams know what’s coming, and can demonstrate to their sponsors why they deserve to be in that upper echelon, then they can be prepared, and it won’t be a surprise decision out of nowhere that needs an additional bag of money.
The future is interesting, that’s for sure. We’ve pretty much had all the major decisions announced now, with just a few questions left (who’s signing for Specialized-lululemon? What will they be called? Where will Alena Amialiusik ride?) – but don’t worry, there’ll be plenty more to talk about, as team camp season is nearly upon us, and we’ll start to see the mechanics of the new teams…. and in the mean time, we’ll always have track and ‘Cross!