Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Break Away Cycling League?

I read on Bloomberg today about the break away league that is being created to compete with the UCI. It is being reported that a group of investors and leading managers in cycling have come together to put on a series that would split profits with the teams. They are working for this so that cycling teams are not so dependent on major sponsorship. Just this year the best team in the world HTC Highroad was disbanded because HTC, the maker of mobile phones, decided they wanted to go in another direction with their advertising budget.

The new league hopes to emulate the formula of american sports like the NBA, or NFL, maybe even the Euro soccer leagues. The president of the UCI, Pat McQuaid said last year that the group would fail in trying to fit cycling into this "box". There are no stadiums for screaming fans, and filming cycling races can be hard. The action is very hard to predict, and you can go through hours of coverage without anything really happening.

I think that if this group of people hadn't thought of that already and had an idea of how to overcome that obstacle then yes it is doomed to fail. I don't necessarily think that this is a home run sure thing. But I can't see why it would be bad to try.

Why is this happening? There are a lot of reasons really, and I think that I am still too new to the sport to know all of them. But the final straw might have been the ban of race radios that the UCI has enacted, in an effort to make racing more exciting for the fans. There are many people out there that are on both sides of this issue, the riders and teams say it is a safety issue. The riders claim that they need the radios to know when there are dangerous roads, a rider down, or anything else that could make their dangerous jobs safer. The UCI claims that the riders have just become robots and pawns moved around the "board" by a mastermind team director. They no longer think for themselves, and there might be something to that when you watch last year's Liege Bastogne Liege and watch Frank and Andy Schleck do absolutely nothing to beat Philip Gilbert. They claimed he was too strong, but they didn't really even seem to try. Did they not try because they were too tired, or because they didn't know what to do? I think the later. The UCI create arbitrary rules without the census of the riders, teams, companies, or anyone else under their rule. They quash anything that might seem too different, Graham Obree being the first that comes to mind.The race radio debate, and Graham Obree are a side track to what I am talking about though.

I think that the UCI is very afraid of this league. Why wouldn't they be.....? They are a huge juggernaut of an organization. At the top are men with a great deal of power, but have in my opinion, lost site of those they govern. Their stubbornness for the status quo, and inability to change could create havoc for the UCI. And for men who have worked long and hard to amass such power it can be a scary thing to think about losing it. It will take a Grand Tour like the Tour de France to plunge the dagger deep into the UCI's heart, but so far that has not happend. That might be the UCI's saving grace, and another complaint of the team's. The large races share none of their profits with the teams, and in the new league they would have to. This will show who really needs who however.

So how would a new league make anything better? Competition. Competition requires you to improve or die. If it is found that this new league is somehow better than the UCI they will, in the end, win. But if the UCI sees where their weakness' are and fix them before too many teams jump ship they may be able to hold on. In both cases things could get better for the riders. Competition doesn't always make things better, sometimes it can squeeze out the little guy.

It seems that this is how governing bodies are created though. The UCI is not the first group that has been in charge of cycling, it is just the latest. Just like in the USA, we have gone though a few different governing bodies before we landed on the USAC. Each time it is the riders that have had to make the hard choice of choosing who to support. Generally you have had to choose just one, any contact with the other organization would cause you to be banned from any competition hosted by the other. For a country like the USA that outlaws monopolies this seems like a strange thing. At first this new league will probably be a great change for the riders, teams, and owners. Then if the money starts coming in they will turn into the new UCI. Making sure all the money flows to certain groups. The riders might create their own unions to argue on their behalf, and we in the USA have all seen how that goes this last year with the NFL and the lockout.

I believe that this is a step that has to be taken. Not only because of the radios, I really don't care too much about that. Really I can't even tell what races they wear them in and the ones they don't anyways. But change is good. When people get too stuck in their ways things tend to start going bad. It always takes someone to come along and stir shit up to get things back on track. I don't know if this league will be the silver bullet that will save profesional cycling and bring it into the same league as US football, soccer, baseball, Formula 1, and other major international sports. But it is worth a try....why not?

The UCI gets it's power from the IOC who controls the Olympics. You control the Olympics you control athletics.

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