Teams left out of pocket as Women’s Tour of Scotland organiser folds with huge debts

No second edition of the race planned after organiser Zeus Sports ceases trading

Women’s Tour of Scotland 2019 (Women’s Tour of Scotland)

The organiser of the Women’s Tour of Scotland has gone out of business owing teams nearly £75,000, Cycling Weekly has learned.

As reported in Cycling Weekly magazine on January 28, Zeus Sports, which organised the race, failed to pay a slew of teams and other creditors following the event in August 2019.

A creditor’s report seen by CW states the company ceased trading on December 31, entering administration owing creditors a total of £699,753.

With only £5,651 in cash to pay them, the report said they were likely to be £694,102 out of pocket. This, combined with other debts to shareholders took the total amount of debt to £855,102.

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That figure includes £74,460 owed to teams in expenses and prize money. Leah Thomas won the general classification, her Bigla team also winning all the classifications, but Zeus’s figures reveal the team are owed £20,650.

Last autumn the team went out of business after new sponsor Paule Ka withdrew.

Alé-Cipollini’s Eugenia Bujak finished fourth overall and the team, now Alé-BTC Ljubljana, are still owed £6,500 (€7,400).

In a statement to CW the team said: “On average every year our team collects €70,000 (£60,000) from the fees of race organisers. It was a big trip in terms of travel costs and these were expenses that we incurred and were never reimbursed.

“Organisers usually pay within a couple of months after the race. The Tour of Scotland is the only race that hasn’t paid, at least in the last two years.

“The team sent several reminder emails to the organisers and always received the answer that they were in trouble, to be patient and that they would pay as soon as possible.”

International teams aren’t the only ones to lose out. Before joining the UCI Continental ranks as CAMS-Tifosi, Brother-Tifosi were the UK’s most successful domestic team, and while they are only owed £470 it still makes a difference.

“We ran a tight budget, and riders might pay for their own travel, so all the money we made from sponsorship or through winnings went to the riders,” said team boss Simon Howes.

Other creditors include Matsport timing systems, owed £9,000, and Police Scotland is down more than £104,000. The taxman is also owed £7,000.

VoxWomen provided TV highlights for the race and received part of their fee upfront. In the weeks following the race they received £1,000, but the outstanding £26,000, due seven days after the race, never materialised.

“From the moment the race finished Zeus were difficult over payment, stating that a review with EventScotland had to take place before any more funds were released,” Voxwomen owner Anthony McCrossan told us.

“Since then it’s been promise, promise, promise and nothing ever happens.”

EventScotland funded the race to the tune of £100,000 and told us: "The final payment of our award, which contributed towards the broadcast production of the event, was subject to the completion of a final report produced by Zeus.

“However this final award payment was not conditional on EventScotland signing off the quality of broadcast production.”

'It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth'

The Women’s Tour of Scotland was announced late in 2018 and took place over three days the following August. Though the opening stage was lost to flooding it was an entertaining race, attracting praise from riders.

However, one creditor told us the organisation was a “car crash,” something backed up by McCrossan. Voxwomen approached organisers when the race was originally announced, but heard nothing until eight or nine weeks before the start. Other contractors experienced similar issues.

Experienced race organiser Alan Rushton was engaged by Zeus to arrange the event and, despite signing a four-year contract, has not been paid since the race.

“Money was very hard to come by, it was paid very slowly and eventually it stopped,” Rushton said. “We put a lot of pressure on for ourselves to get paid, and I put an extreme amount of pressure on in September and October regarding the riders and the team expenses and payment of key contractors, but I ended up getting nowhere."

Significantly out of pocket, McCrossan will be more wary in future: “This sport in a growing phase needs to be mindful of doing due diligence on new ventures and new people entering the sport.

“We did some checks and things were backed by EventScotland so we felt everything was OK, but it leaves a pretty bitter taste in the mouth when you are trying to work for a sport. When you look through the figures they did not have the budget to run that race in the first place, that race is a million-pound race.

“I would like to see learning for the future that there is a checks and balances process put in place by EventScotland and British Cycling for new [international] events. Someone just looks and asks is this event fit to run or are we exposing suppliers who are supporting the event to greater risk.”

While British Cycling did not respond in time for publication, EventScotland added: "We were unaware of the of Zeus Events financial difficulties until after the Women’s Tour of Scotland had taken place. At no time prior to the event taking place did we have any reason to question Zeus’s ability to stage the event successfully.

“EventScotland always undertakes a comprehensive due diligence process as part of our assessment to support any event, including checks with Companies House and credit checks.”

Though a date was originally allocated for a 2020 edition, both Scottish Cycling and EventScotland have confirmed there are no plans for a second edition.

Zeus’s response

The company’s insolvency report, which CW has seen, states: “…to host a professional event was subject to raising enough funds via the public sector and the private sector in terms of sponsorship. Unfortunately, both of these targets were not achieved.”

The company sustained a further blow when it was refused permission to run public cycle event, the report continuing: “No resolution was found in terms of funding at the appropriate levels.”

Running events in both rugby union and recreational cycling, Zeus had been profitable, but sought extra investment to organise the Women’s Tour of Scotland, raising £150,000, including £25,000 from former England rugby captain Chris Robshaw, a company shareholder. However, with other funds unavailable it is unclear whether, in the lead into the race, there was enough money to run the event.

Zeus managing director, Darren Clayton was unable to comment for this piece, but sent a statement for our original report in January: “Our goal, in establishing the inaugural Women’s Tour of Scotland, was to provide women’s cycling with a new platform on which to flourish and, in doing so, to help close the gender gap that undoubtedly still exists within the sport of cycling.

“Despite our very best efforts - and those of our partners and stakeholders - we came across financial challenges along the way, This was deeply disappointing for everyone involved including the teams who invested their valuable time to compete, and the sponsors, suppliers and contractors who worked tirelessly to make the event possible.”

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