This is going to be part of an ongoing series, looking at the media about the Women’s Road Cycling World Tour. I’ll talk about the actual racing in other posts, and especially in the weekly women’s cycling podcasts, but I want to spend some time looking at how the series lives up to the promises the UCI have made about it. And now the dust has settled on the first round of the series, the Strade Bianche, I want to look at how the World Tour compares to the Road World Cup.
Let’s start with what was promised. The World Tour is a brand new initiative for 2016, an evolution of the women’s Road World Cup, going from 10 day races in 2015, to 17 races with 35 racing days this year. It’s been much hyped this year, for example, in last week’s press release about the series, we had quotes from UCI President Brian Cookson: “It will provide the perfect platform not just to grow women’s cycling around the world, but also to boost the profile of women’s cycling“, and Vice-President Tracey Gaudry: “Teams, riders and event organisers are all on-board, and fans will now be able to see the best female cyclists all around the world.” It promises:
“All 17 events of the 2016 UCI Women’s WorldTour will benefit from TV coverage, either from live broadcast, live streaming or same day highlights packages.
In addition, the UCI will partner exclusively with IMG to ensure extra-exposure for the UCI Women’s WorldTour through the InCycle magazine show, which has generated a global audience of 18.68 million from 1,358 hours of broadcast coverage in 2015. Throughout the season, 12 shows of 26 minutes will each feature a sequence dedicated to the UCI Women’s WorldTour. This exclusive content will be accessible via http://www.incycle.tv and http://tv.uci.ch (without geo restrictions) and through the +35 broadcasters the magazine is distributed to on all continents.”
The trouble is, what we’ve seen from the first round, and what seems to be coming up for future races doesn’t match these promises.
Less coverage from the World Tour than for the World Cups
One of the things that’s been promised from the start has been that the World Tour will give us more media and more opportunities to watch races, which is good for fans and sponsors alike. You can see this in the guidelines for races that wanted to become World Tour races – they had to commit to:
“produce their event for either: live TV, live streaming (Internet) or at minimum a same day highlights magazine. A news clip of approximately five minutes should be produced in all cases”
and provide the UCI with approximately 60 minutes footage of the races, that:
“to ensure the continuity and harmonisation of footage distributed, the UCI will seek to centralise the post-production of highlights magazines and provide the graphics and English Commentary. Costs to be offset by each event”.
This was really exciting for all kinds of stakeholders, and everything the UCI has said has implied we’d be able to see more coverage of women’s races than ever.
This needs to be set in the context of what was being provided for the Road World Cup. I’m using the Ronde van Drenthe as an example, as it was the first World Cup of the season, but for all the races bar ChongMing Island, we had:
- Live tweeting during the race on the UCI Women’s cycling twitter (started and mostly done by José Been)
- Same day race report on the UCI website, in English, and a photo gallery from the race
- 7 minute highlights video from the race, uploaded onto the UCI YouTube within 24 hours of the race, commentated in English (commentary by Ben Atkins in some years, José Been in others)
- 27 minute highlights, in English, uploaded onto the UCI YouTube within 5 days of the race (commentary by Rochelle Gilmore and Anthony McCrossan)
If you want to see the rest of the UCI output, check out their Women’s Cycling playlist on their YouTube.
So this is the background, and why it was very frustrating for a lot of fans, when Strade Bianche took place on Saturday, and despite the excellent racing, the coverage felt like a step back. I really enjoyed the pre-race World Tour Chronicle on the UCI website, but on the day we only had 5 tweets from the UCI Women’s Cycling account, and very few tweets from the official Strade Bianche account, so were back to relying on tweets from race mechanics (I adore Richard Steege‘s work, he’s often the only way to follow a race, but we shouldn’t need him), teams (especially Jessi Braverman, tweeting for Boels-Dolmans account, whose live-tweeting is always excellent) and media that happened to be in team cars, and people using the #UCIWWT hashtag and the #StradeBianche hashtag that was the same for the women’s and men’s races, so a bit confusing.
It didn’t help that Strade is in a very hilly area where the race often passes out of mobile phone signal area (understandable) but also is unique in that there’s only 1 race radio between the women’s and men’s race (so bizarre – how are people supposed to know which race is meant when they say things like “Rider 12, 34 and 112 are in the breakaway; or “ORICA to the front of the race”/”Astana rider needs help”/”Get back, Lotto” etc?), so we got a lot less twitter coverage than usual from the actual race, even before lack of UCI tweeting, and the only visuals were the occasional photo from team cars, and a member of Canyon-SRAM staff halfway up the final climb using periscope to show us the front of the race.
It was so frustrating, especially when one of the few UCI tweets was this very tactless one in the final stages of the race, that had clearly been set up as an automatic tweet (click on the image for original)
After the race, there were 5 minutes highlights of the women shown before the men’s race coverage started, if people had access to that (or of course were using VPNs or pirate streams into geo-restricted coverage) and then later in the day, a half-hour highlights on Italian TV station RAI Sport 1, in Italian, and geo-restricted to Italy. That’s since turned up on YouTube, thanks to the Robin Hoods of the internet, and the 5 mins is currently available, restricted, on Sporza, and non-restricted, on SBS cycling central. There are a few more video clips from Wiggle High5, Felix Mattis and Voxwomen – I’ve collected all the videos in this post.
It’s now the Thursday after the race, and it’s clear that’s all we’re getting. The InCycle features aren’t going to be race highlights, and while I’m really looking forward to them, they’re no replacement for highlights packages we used to get.
It’s not all bad news
So the Strade Bianche coverage was a huge disappointment, especially when compared to the promises that were made. But it’s not going to be all bad news – the next Women’s World Tour race, Ronde van Drenthe, will have around an hour and a half livestreamed, with traditionally-amazing media from the race (my guide to watching it) – and it’s not the only race that we’ll be able to watch live – going on past history, and announcements, there should be some kind of livestreams from 9 races: Drenthe, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Tour of California, Philadelphia Classic, La Course by Le Tour de France, Prudential Ride London, the Crescent Vårgårda Road Race, GP de Plouay and Madrid Challenge, with hour-long daily highlights from three more, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, the Aviva Women’s Tour and the Giro Rosa. Which is great!
But – and this is a BIG but – a lot of this will be geo-restricted to the race’s home countries, so, if we want to see it, we’ll have to known how to use VPNs, or find pirate streams. So in the UK, I might be able to see quite a lot of that, because two of the races are in my country – but someone in Spain will have a completely different experience.
And of course, that’s 11 races out of 17, so we’ll have to rely on twitter for the others, or a change in heart for broadcasters or the UCI. And this is especially problematic for the Tour of ChongMing Island in China, which doesn’t even have a website (despite it being a UCI condition of inclusion). If it’s up to races to provide the only coverage, races, like Gent-Wevelgem, and the Flèche Wallonne, which traditionally have had very limited coverage of the women’s races, don’t look good for live information, and we don’t even have any guaranteed highlights videos we’ll be able to see after the race, let alone any in English, as while the 5 minute clips will be offered to broadcasters, we have no guarantee which, if any, will be shown. And this, of course, is something races might not even know, because why shouldn’t they believe the UCI’s own guidelines, and press releases?
It’s going to be a roller-coaster year for us, with the only consistency in Women’s World Tour coverage being the fact we’ll be seeing less than we had for the Road World Cup.
Women’s cycling fans are, in general, a very committed bunch. We joke about having a Twitter Women’s Cycling Detective Club, because in order to follow the races we do a lot of sleuthing, and one of the most popular things on this site are always my posts telling people how to watch races – but how many people will hunt down that information, and why does it come down to people like me? I completely understand why the UCI and a lot of teams feel they can’t promote things like “Add a VPN, set yourself to the UK and watch here, or look for a pirate stream here”, but it does mean their audiences miss out.
How can we grow the sport, if when there are livestreams, people have to use slightly dodgy methods to access them? People consistently tell me – including a real life friend who runs a women’s race herself – that they’d love to watch, but it’s just too complicated. Technically, the statement “All 17 events of the 2016 UCI Women’s WorldTour will benefit from TV coverage, either from live broadcast, live streaming or same day highlights packages” may be true, but they won’t necessarily be accessible.
And then there are team sponsors, who’ve been asked for money to get teams to the World Tour, and doubtless been told what a great opportunity it’ll be from people who’ve taken the UCI messages in good faith – how will they respond when the highlights they can watch consist of low-res videos on YouTube that have clearly been taken from a foreign TV station? Or who go to the UCI twitter to retweet news about their riders out in the break, and see pretty much nothing but UCI self-promotion?
And then there’s the question why races should pay the additional fees to be World Tour, and again, ask their sponsors for the extra money it takes to meet the extra costs (calendar fees, just from the UCI guidelines, of €2,548 per day race, or €677 per stage race day, plus €1,000 just to apply, costs for team accommodation/expenses and minimum prize pots of €5,130 for day races and €2,565 per racing day, not to mention the additional costs meeting the media and branding requirements and so on). I love how the races with best social media are already promoting each other, using the #UCIWWT hashtag and doing things like, for example, the Aviva Women’s Tour previews of Strade Bianche and Drenthe – but if they don’t get anything back, and if they’re being presented as equal to races that are pretty much invisible, will they still want to be World Tour? Races like Aviva WT and Giro Rosa, or the 5 Spring Classics races could just as easily decide to band together as their own series as go along with the UCI.
I really, really feel for the team managers, race organisers and riders who’ve put their own reputations on the line to promote the World Tour, and to sell it to sponsors, and are now going to have to answer the questions about it.
Part of the issue here is that the UCI has simultaneously been raising expectations, and hasn’t been up-front that they’ve clearly cut the budget for coverage that they used for the World Cup. Expectation management is persistent problem with the UCI (just one example, from around this time in 2014, but there are lots more), and they really need to sort out the disconnect between their Press Office and what’s actually happening. That would go a long way to defusing future situations.
And luckily, there are things the UCI can do to save the situation. We’re probably too late for TV for the Spring Classics, and that’s problematic because races like Gent-Wevelgem and Flèche are two of the ones with most prestige and name-recognition in the cycling world, along with Strade (which of course we can’t change) and Flanders – and traditionally are hardest to follow and find out about afterwards. But the UCI can pull it together with the social media.
Like I’ve been saying on twitter, I freelance race social media jobs, and have seen first-hand how good social media can turn the frustrated “I’m so angry I can’t see this race live” responses into happy “wow, this race sounds amazing! I wish we could see it live, and I can’t wait for the highlights!”, especially when there are lots of photos, re-tweeting people from the roadside, using tech like Periscope to show the finish in real time, and following the example of races like Drenthe and Binda, who put out tons of little highlights videos and photos. It’s also relatively cheap to do, and if I can do things like make bespoke twitter lists of people live-tweeting each race, commentweet races from my sofa (I’m @_pigeons_), and as with Saturday’s Drenthe, provide English-language commentary on Mixlr (here’s how to find that), as well as the usual weekly podcasts talking about how the races played out, then an organisation with as many resources as the UCI can too. Especially, and I can’t stress this enough, when all that is less than they were doing for each World Cup race.
I don’t think the Women’s World Tour coverage is irrevocably broken, I think there are some really simple quick fixes – and the UCI can easily spin this situation into a huge PR success with a few changes, and some press about “we listened to our fans and stakeholders, and as a result we are making changes”.
I’m more than happy to talk with the UCI about my ideas, and promote any changes they make in a positive, happy way, because my bottom line is I love this sport, and I want as many people as possible to fall in love with it, all over the world. And of course, if you want to talk about any of this, leave me a comment below, or get in touch on twitter.
I’ll be coming back to this subject throughout the year, with further scorecards – and of course, the Women’s World Tour is not the only women’s road racing – I’ve got a guide to races we should be able to watch live, and how to follow the other races without streams or feeds.
I also was part of a Round Table about the World Tour and Strade Bianche coverage on the Velocast podcast, with Stef Wyman, owner and manager of Matrix Fitness Procycling, and Stephen Fry, co-owner of M2 Sports Management – listen to that here. And Dan and I talked about the race from more of a racing perspective, on our latest women’s cycling podcast, which is a lot more informal!
I’m funded to do women’s cycling work by my wonderful Patreon supporters – thank you so much!
Disclaimer: I have done official live tweeting for the Aviva Women’s Tour and the Energiewacht Tour, and been unofficial livetweeter for a number of races, and was approached by the UCI to do live tweeting for the 2016 Women’s World Tour, but couldn’t take up that role because of the conditions they offered. To the best of my knowledge, I’m not biased by or bitter about any of this, but I believe in disclaimers!