Cycling media is changing and Velon is hoping to be right at the heart of it.
In February, the joint venture between 11 WorldTour teams signed a 10-year agreement with Infront Sport & Media, titillating fans with the promise of improved viewing experience and the implementation of innovative technology to bike races.
Sixteen months since its inception, Velon’s greatest hit has been the introduction of on-bike cameras to racing. A deal with GoPro has seen up-close footage from the heart of some the sport’s biggest races fed to the fans’ social media feeds and even into live television broadcasts towards the end of the year.
It was a hard act to follow, without just doing the exact same thing again in 2016. The on-bike videos have dried up at the start of this season, but Velon has been working hard to achieve a cornerstone of its original mission statement – getting more people excited about watching cycling and ensuring the sport becomes a long-term, viable business.
Cycling Weekly sat down with Velon CEO Graham Bartlett to discuss how the organisation is planning to tackle this challenging proposition.
“What we want to do is both excite the aficionados, like your readers, who are very smart, pretty clever and very passionate about the sport and excite them with what we can show,” he said.
“But we want to bring in audiences of people on the periphery of the sport who can watch it and participate in it but don’t get so closely involved with the elite racers. Those are the people that we want to excite as well.”
On-board footage from stage one of the Critérium du Dauphiné
But how is Velon going to make cycling more exciting for the fans? The aficionados are likely to want to see information that the broadcasters simply can’t publish – wattage and heart-rate data, for example.
While it would provide great insight for the viewer it could be used by rival teams to gain an advantage in the race or future races.
“I think there’s always a balance and we’re very conscious of the fact that we would never do anything that would upset the integrity of the race or be wrong in respect of the privacy of the riders, so you’ve got to filter what you do,” Bartlett continued
“There are lessons from lots of other sports in these areas that we can build upon and we’re delighted that we’ve got someone like [digital technology company] Omnigon, who produced the data around the NASCAR series and that has the same sort of race integrity factor.
“You can’t show on the screen a graphic of when one of the car’s engines is going to fall off because you’d have a problem with the race.
“But at the same time there are still lots of things you can do to excite and interest the fans in the way that you show the information and how you deliver it – there are far smarter people than me who are addressing all of those issues to make sure that we still deliver a very exciting product to the fans.”
Velon collaborated with Tour de France organisers ASO ahead of the 2015 event to explore ways to bring more race data to the fans watching at home – a project eventually run by ASO’s partners Dimension Data.
While the Dimension Data project didn’t necessarily provide cycling fans with the detailed information they were perhaps hoping to see during the Tour – with a tracking system of all the riders foiled when they changed bikes or when the sensor stopped working – Bartlett said the innovations have to be applauded.
“I think people should be complimentary to ASO and Dimension Data for what they did, because they tried something,” he continued.
“Fair play to them, they tried something, they invested in it and they worked very hard at it and they’re trying to bring something new and exciting to the fans and you can only applaud that.
“I think it’s up to people to judge whether they liked it or not, but from my perspective I think you’ve got to say chapeau, it’s good to try and move things forward. It’s a huge amount of work and I think people don’t realise how difficult and complicated it is.”
And now Velon and Infront face the daunting prospect of rolling out their offering in time for June’s Tour de Suisse. The riders will be using the race as a warm-up for the Tour de France, but Velon will probably see it the same way.