So in the first post of this series we set about getting the lay of the funding landscape and exploring some of the bigger problems that teams face in trying to secure money and the stability that money allegedly provides them and (by extension) their riders and staff.
The reason I started there, with an overview that most people didn’t need, is because I wanted to highlight some serious but not-directly-financial issues that are impacting on the financial realities for teams (and to acknowledge that they exist for men and women, although the consequences and circumstances are more severe for women). This is important because we’re now going to stroll through some of the cultural, social and psychological issues that I think are at play and what we need to do in order to change them for the positive.
First of all I think there’s a real disconnect in the way that we mentally consider teams, particularly at the top level (World Tour) of the sport. Teams don’t exist as charities or non-profit organisations (although they may not turn an actual profit). Ostensibly we’re talking about professional sport here and as such, it’s expected that certain standards and conditions will be applied to riders, staff and the team structure in order to be deemed professional.
So it’s far less of a demand to add a condition for a minimum salary to a team than (for example) the UCI spokesperson mentioned previously may want you to believe.
First up I should probably confess that the title of this post will wind up being more of a question than an answer, sometimes that’s how things go. For well over a year I’ve observed with interest the collective headscratching and uncertainty surrounding how to sustainably build a professional cycling team. It’s a complex and involved set of issues, rather than just something that can be considered as a standalone problem. This is because cycling exists as a fragile ecosystem and changes to any one part of it have effects (sometimes unforeseen) on the rest of it. So the question of sustainable cycling models is by necessity going to be a tough nut to crack. Something I think the sport itself is really only starting to come to terms with.
In particular Jonathan Vaughters has been vocal on the issue and has at different times had varied ideas and suggestions on how a more sustainable structure may be put into place. Along the way Mr Vaughters has done a good job of explaining why this matters and why the current system is not really viable or in the best interests of cycling.
Let’s start at the start – the dependency of cycling teams on sponsorship deals leaves them in a peculiar and vulnerable position compared to most other professional sports. Most sports derive their primary income from broadcast rights. That is, tv networks pay them large sums of money in order to broadcast the sport. Cycling Oddity the first; broadcast rights are held by race organisers not by any sort of league or association (as is the case with other, larger sports). This means that teams have limited bargaining power in terms of money and in offering exposure to potential sponsors. Problematic to say the least.