How British racing needs to change so teams can survive in difficult times

The boss of M2 Sports marketing agency has set out the problems facing domestic racing

British racing has been split in half this season.

At the highest tier, cycling in the UK has entered the history books as three different British riders won each of the Grand Tours in 2018.

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But lower down the food chain, a struggling domestic scene has resulted in the closure of two big teams.

The problem

First it was One Pro Cycling, who announced they would be disbanding their men’s continental level team altogether, abandoning hopes of one day reaching the WorldTour.

Then came JLT-Condor, Britain’s longest surviving UCI team, which will cease to exist at the end of the season.

>>>One Pro Cycling scrap plans to start women’s team next season due to ‘lack of sponsorship’

These polar opposites have not gone unnoticed in the cycling world, with some looking for change to protect the domestic scene, and ensure that recent WorldTour success is not just a phase.

One of those with ideas about the future of British racing is Steve Fry, co-founder and director of sports marketing agency M2 Sports.

‘It’s a tough sell’

Mr Fry has set out the three ways he believes the sport can be made sustainable in this country.

He told Cycling Weekly: “[JLT closing] is a huge disappointment for the domestic scene, especially off the back of One Pro announcing they’re going to stop their continental team.

“It’s where the domestic scene is at the moment. Team owners are struggling in terms of being able to find the investment and the sponsorship that makes them viable.

“It’s a tough sell. The sponsorship model is very tough at the moment.

“My view is there are things we can do to help the teams become more viable.”

The money

Mr Fry believe the problem boils down to how money is shared within the sport – an issue affecting teams at every level.

The most successful professional sports pull in money from multiple avenues – ticket sales, prize money, sponsorship and merchandise.

But cycling has developed in a different way, with no ticket sales, money from television broadcasts cornered by race organisers, and prize money being spread amongst riders and staff.

Merchandising is also a struggle, because teams change so regularly it is hard for outfits to build a strong identity fans can engage with.

The sole source of cash for cycling teams is sponsorship.

Not just the domestic scene

Along with the closure of One Pro and JLT, professional continental level team Aqua Blue Sport recently announced it would cease immediately, in part blaming a lack of support from race organisers.

And at WorldTour level, BMC Racing will be taken over by Polish company CCC after the death of financial backer Andy Rihs earlier this year.

The loss of British teams has resulted in some branding the scene “the worst it’s ever been.”

The changes

Mr Fry sees a threefold solution to Britain’s racing woes – a budget cap for continental teams, establishing a coherent race calendar, and teams doing more to prove their worth to sponsors.

He said: “We’ve got to have a more coherent national series really.

“At continental level teams we need to get some heads together with regards to race organisers and British Cycling and create something that is meaningful to the public.”

“It could be as simple as having a British championship.”

This could be a model like British Superbike, Mr Fry said, with distinct rounds of racing, best rider and team categories, and a regular time slot on TV.

The budget cap is also an idea that has been suggested for WorldTour teams, to stop dominant performances by one outfit.

But at the continental level, Mr Fry said the cap would prevent the inflation of rider wages to an unsustainable level for sponsors.

He said: “I know of one rider who was on a six figure salary in a continental team.”

The final suggestion for ensuring the future of teams is ‘sponsor management resource’ – in short, teams need to show sponsors that they are worth investing in.

This basically involves activities or campaigns that make the most of a sponsorship – riders appearing in adverts, for example.

Mr Fry accepts that these changes are not easy, and require collaboration between teams, race organisers and cycling organisations.

But the future of British racing may lie in some big changes for the scene.