The future of the UK’s premier cycle race, the Tour of Britain, has been plunged into doubt over an alleged unpaid race licence fee.
Cycling Weekly has learned that British Cycling has withdrawn “with immediate effect” from a long-term deal with race promoter SweetSpot, alleging the firm owes hundreds of thousands in licence fees.
A spokesperson for British Cycling told Cycling Weekly: "We can confirm that we have terminated our agreement with Sweetspot Group Limited to deliver the Tour of Britain."
The sports governing body has always held the rights to the Tour of Britain brand but licences it out to a race organiser. SweetSpot has held the licence since the modern race’s inception in 2004.
A fresh agreement between the two parties was inked in 2019 and was due to expire in 2029.
It's understood that BC contends that by the end of the year SweetSpot will owe around £700,000.
SweetSpot declined to comment on the amount involved.
The BC Spokesperson added: "British Cycling remains fully committed to the delivery of the Tour of Britain in 2024, and will share further details in due course.”
Cycling Weekly can reveal that both parties have now instructed legal teams to resolve the matter.
In September the Tour of Britain took place without a headline sponsor as well as several other key partners. The race also lacked a sponsor for its leader’s jersey.
SweetSpot were forced to axe the 2023 Women’s Tour in March due to being unable to find the sponsorship cash to make the race financially viable.
Hugh Roberts, SweetSpot director told The Guardian that he was confident the issues with British Cycling would be resolved amicably.
"I am optimistic that the issues with British Cycling can be overcome,” Roberts said. “We have to resolve our differences."
Roberts later told Cycling Weekly that he feels the Women’s Tour will be in a position to return next year.
“The women's tour for 2024 is looking in good shape,” he said. “We're having interesting and productive discussions with numerous various stakeholders around the country.
“We are very confident that after having had to postpone it in June 2023, that we will be in a better position to put it back on the calendar again next year in 2024.”
Concerns in Manchester
Prior to announcing that the Women’s Tour would not take place, the organiser also announced that the Tour Series, Britain’s largest annual racing series, would also not be held due to financial constraints.
It's understood that the cancellation of both events - as well as the Tour of Britain taking place without a headline sponsor - has raised concerns in BC’s Manchester HQ regarding SweetSpot’s ability to successfully stage Britain’s main cycling events in the years ahead.
The move to revoke the Tour of Britain licence comes as British Cycling has seen its finances squeezed. In accounts leaked to Cycling Weekly last week, the governing body reported a loss of £1.3 million in commercial income and a decline in membership of 7%.
With its finances under pressure this summer BC made eleven redundancies after a major staffing restructure.
“As a result of a combination of lower than forecast sponsorship and rights fee income growth, declining membership and increasing cost pressure, a review of the organisational structure is taking place in 2023/24, with a number of roles being put at risk,” the report said.
At the time BC CEO Jon Dutton told Cycling Weekly that the figures covered in the document were reflective of the wider economic climate in the UK and not solely British Cycling.
He said: “I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anybody to see that the global economic climate and cost-of-living crisis have made our work to attract new members and commercial investment incredibly challenging. It is a challenge shared across sport, and one which households up and down the country will recognise just as keenly.”
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