Last week I found that although there are more UCI-ranked day races on the calendar for 2011 than there were in 2006, there has been a significant overall drop in stage races and in UCI-ranked racing days – especially since the high point of 2008 (In 2008, there were 139 racing days in just the UCI-ranked stage races - this year, there will be 126 racing days in UCI-ranked stage AND day races put together)
Finding out that we’ve lost stage races wasn’t a surprise – for the last few years, races have been disappearing, leaving big holes in the women’s cycling calendar, especially in May, where we really missed the Tour de l’Aude, and only recently this year’s Route de France was cancelled, leaving only seven UCI-ranked racing days for the women in the whole of August.
However, it doesn’t seem in the ethos of women’s cycling to focus on negatives, and I’ve been thinking about different ways stakeholders in women’s cycling could get involved and reverse the trend. This article looks at television and publicity, and part 3 looks at other suggestions – especially with ways we can get involved.
These are presented as possibilities, from a fan perspective (I’m certainly no expert!) – and as a starting point for discussion. If you have any other ideas, or disagree with these, please do add to the comments – the more, the merrier.
Whenever I’ve had the chance, I’ve asked riders what the key thing that would make a difference would be, and there’s one common answer…
Races being shown on tv helps everyone – races and teams get more sponsors, sponsors and riders have visibility, fans get to see racing! At the moment almost all races are filmed – and there are some great examples of tv coverage. Every year, RAI show each Giro Donne stage immediately after their Tour de France programme, without geo-restrictions – and this year, the brand-new Energiewacht Tour was not only televised by local channel RTL.nl, but the programmes are still up online.
I’ve always imagined that producing race footage was the expensive part – so surely other tv stations could buy the footage in existence, and add commentary themselves? I asked AA Drink-Leontien.nl rider Marijn de Vries about this, as in her other life, she’s a tv editor. Sadly, it seems this solution isn’t as easy as it could seem. According to De Vries, there’s a big problem in the way:
This footage cost a fortune, most of the times. I spoke to a journalist from national Dutch tv and he said: last year we wanted to show Marianne Vos winning a stage of a race in another country, but we had to pay 1000 euro to the tv channel for just 1 minute of footage. I can imagine that they decide not to do that. Same problem for other races: broadcasters ask loads of money for the footage. It's stupid, but that's the way it is.
This is frustrating – after all, most of the time tv companies aren’t doing much with the footage. Of course it costs them money to film races, but if they’ve already spent it and if other countries aren’t buying it at the price they’re asking, they can’t recoup the outlay anyway.
One solution could be that races do deals with tv companies that help promote women’s cycling, especially where there are men’s races too – eg Fleche Wallonne & Qatar (both run by the ASO), Ronde van Vlaanderen, GP de Plouay. In order to get the rights for the men’s race (which bring in money, for Classics, at least), the filming company could have to do more to promote the women’s race, making better deals on the footage etc – and definitely show the finish lines live. It would really be win-win for the filming company – by selling footage cheaply at first, they could build up a market, meaning in the future they could charge that €1,000/minute.
There are signs that things are changing in termsof tv. The UCI puts short clips of World Cup races up on their youtube site, and at the end of the last season, David Harmon produced a half-hour programme on the 2010 World Cup that was shown on British Eurosport and on UCI youtube. This year, that has been expanded – 15-minute coverage for each of the first four rounds, in two programmes so far.
These 2011 programmes have been shown on British Eurosport, and thanks to a partnership between Cervélo and Cycling.tv, they are also hosted free-to-view on Cevélo’s website. One thing cycling fans can do is just watch them, showing there is an audience – others include publicising them in our own ways, and sending emails saying how much we like seeing them (or if you’re in a non-British Eurosport zone, emailing and asking to see them on tv!)
Eurosport is the tv station I know best, but there are other signs of change too. De Vries says Sporza has increased it’s coverage of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Omloop het Nieuwsblad, and cites Sporza’s Karl Vannieuwkerke as a champion of women’s cycling. Vannieuwkerke wrote a piece in Het Nieuwsblad in April, about the lack of coverage of women’s cycling (read it on his blog in Dutch, or via google translate).
And it’s not just this that is encouraging De Vries:
Fortunately I see some change, in Belgium and even in the Netherlands: the journalists start to appreciate more and more what we do. It takes loads of time but I think we should focus on the positive: last week it was even in the news that Kirsten Wild and Marianne Vos went to Denmark to explore the world championship route. That's really something new, things like that never used to be 'news'.
So a task for stakeholders could be to try to encourage television coverage. It would be a challenge, but thinking across the range of resources there are so many possibilities – especially in this internet era, where races can be shown online.
Could the UCI and National Federations help races make better deals with tv companies, even if it’s just to archive their existing coverage? Maybe sponsors have contacts within the media who could help? And fans can do our bit too. This will take time, but already we’re seeing signs of change.
And in the absence of actual tv companies showing races, there are some really creative solutions. The 2010 Open de Suède Vårgårda Road Race had webcams attached around key points in the course, & streamed the footage on their website, with radio coverage in between. CJ Farquharson, who publishes race reports and photos on her WomensCycling.net has this year added video to her repertoire, and has been mini-films from the biggest races this season, with lots of rider interviews (click on a few and watch them, they're great!) - and the Motomedia team send bike-mounted cameras to Belgian races and produce really professional videos.
In the meantime, there are other ways of increasing publicity for races that could make sponsoring a race more attractive – and again, there are things that could be done at every level, even by us!
It has to be said, not all races are as easy to follow as we’d like. I could point to half a dozen races where it’s hardly a surprise they’re struggling. When I interviewed Lotto cyclist Vicki Whitelaw last year, she told me how a group of riders, frustrated with the lack of internet presence for a stage race, had offered to take over the race website and publicity. This was not an easy race, and the idea of riders finishing a stage and then running the website is crazy, but would have been fun to see (sadly the race declined their offer).
I do have sympathy with race organisers – especially if their committee is made up of people without internet skills, or who are struggling just to keep the race going – but this is something where fans can help. If we’re not living near a race, we can’t get involved with physical support, like race marshalling, but we certainly could help with the online side of things. A struggling race could put out a request for volunteers to run the website or twitter stream, send out press releases, promote the race online, and people could help from anywhere in the world.
And of course, there are some races that have excellent publicity. The RaboSter Zeeuwsche Eilanden has a lovely website, where they run a live ticker for each stage – and Omloop van Borsele also have live tickers, and post finish-line video on their website and youtube. Possibly the best race website belongs to Thüringen Rundfahrt, linking to all kinds of information, including videos. And just this weekend, the GP Ciudad de Valladolid had a ticker and also put the information (& links to photos etc) on their race Twitter, and the Liberty Classic's twitter re-tweeted all kinds of interesting pre-race tweets from riders, teams and other media.
These are races I’ll watch out for year after year, because they make it so easy. Maybe the UCI could broker help – ask races organisers to share advice, and put races that want help in touch with them?
Teams and race publicity
Where races can't or don't, some teams are publicising the races themselves using social media, especially Twitter, which is perfect for in-race updates. I am a huge fan of Diadora-Pasta Zara’s DS, Manel Lacambra, for all of his twitter race information – and Alrikkson Go:Green’s twitter stream has also been fantastic for live reports.
HTC-Highroad work hard to share results after races. In last year’s Giro Donne, they tweeted regular updates from Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, before she got her own twitter account (photos of Teute sitting in the silver throne of winningness, on her mobile phone were fab!) It really helps raise sponsor awareness – my view of the HTC phones is almost entirely coloured by the teams’ use of mobile media!
HTC are also good at updating their website with news of how riders are doing, and where they will be riding next. There are a few teams I just despair of – looking on some websites, you would hardly think they raced. I know some have policies of only telling us when their riders win, but if this results in total silence, it’s counter-productive, and can’t be encouraging for their riders.
Luckily, it’s not just HTC who have embraced publicity – they’re just one example. AA Drink-Leontien.nl have news articles about other riders winning as well as their own – and their videos are a lot of fun. Their video from Het Nieuwsblad included footage from a bike-mounted camera – the moment the rider crashed, and her bike wheel was changed, was a unique PoV. Dolman’s Landscaping is another I notice a lot – it’s worth having a look at team sites some time to compare and contrast – and reward the ones who do things well with additional page views.
Personally, I don’t believe that riders have an obligation to blog and tweet about races – it’s enough that they ride them! – but it’s always fantastic to have insights into what racing is like, and again, this adds to race publicity. Podium Café has provided some proof that riders who do choose to blog and tweet get a much higher profile and recognition factor, more than some riders with better results. It would definitely be in the interest of both races and teams to see if there are more riders who would be willing to use social networking to share information, and who could be supported to do so.
Or if not riders, why not team staff? Every team has at least 1 mechanic or support staff at races – so if no one else is already doing it, ask them to update on the team’s progress. They wouldn’t even have to write it themselves – if they phoned someone else with information, it could be updated from anywhere in the world.
The mainstream cycling media love press releases, so teams and races could put more of these together, with rider quotes and interesting snippets, and again, win-win, more publicity for the race, team and rider. International riders and staff could help translate these into other languages, and target international media. If they are really stuck for resources, again, these are things I’m sure fans would be happy to help with. Hell, there’s one big team I practically want to beg to let me do their publicity for them, free of charge (maybe one day I should send that email!)
Which brings me onto what we can do to help…. It’s simple – share and publicise information, and click through links, especially to race websites, showing we’re interested. It only takes a little bit of time – my summer resolution is to click through even when Monty or someone has already shared the information – every little bit helps.
In Part Three I’ll look at other ways that races can be supported, again by different stakeholders – and as I said at the start, if you have any thoughts on what else can be done, or if you disagree with anything I’ve written, add it to the comments!