Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Some Universal "Truths"

Reading this interview with Nicola Cranmer, Team Manager Proman Cycling (and a hero of mine), I felt compelled to post this section of the interview, as it pertains to women's racing opportunities and sponsorship:

G: Riders and teams come and go, but women’s cycling seems to be getting hit fairly hard with sponsors pulling out for the 2009 season. First, what is appealing about women’s cycling relative to men’s cycling? What do you think should change in women's cycling to get people, and sponsors, more interested and excited about it?

NC: This is a question that quite honestly bewilders me. I see the massive marketing potential in women athletes but it seems to be a sentiment that is not shared. There is a fine line between exploiting women's sexuality and women’s athleticism in cycling...it seems to be defined as one or the other, I think marketing strategists are confused by this. I recently spent time at the Amgen Tour of California and I was reminded of how the cycling industry is run primarily by men who show very little interest in women's cycling. Yes, some companies dedicate a few sponsorship dollars and product to a couple of teams for PR purposes, but in large part most companies are not very interested in the true development of women’s cycling. Men's teams get far more. There are a few industry companies; however that have put thought into women’s products. I have always been incredibly grateful for all the support but this gratitude can easily turn into frustration.

I believe women are far better ambassadors for the sport and the products they represent, for example, whenever the team travels internationally we take an extra few days to visit sponsors or dealers where their products are sold or we visit local schools. Team members will make time for shop rides or rides with local clubs. We are always well received wherever we go. Team members constantly reach out to the public to promote their sport. I can honestly say this is true of most women’s teams.

Women’s racing is exciting, I know that the top women’s teams in the U.S are very conscious of the comparisons to men's racing and race aggressively and hard to keep it exciting.

There are many parallels between the cycling industry I am now immersed in, and the world of horse racing and soccer that I grew up in. The struggle for women is very apparent. I am not one for sugar coating and there is a lot of smoke and mirrors in women's cycling and I certainly don’t want to sound bitter but it’s a sport that is struggling to gain the attention and exposure it deserves. The women racers and team managers make incredible compromises and sacrifices to ensure that their teams are out there on the circuit. Demographics show that women purchase more bikes than men and support the sport financially.

So what's the problem?

I wish I knew the answer. Surely it cannot all be a focus on the Tour de France and other grand tours? I notice in certain popular online cycling magazines that the men and the women can compete in the same NRC event and the men's headline is always first and in bold and the women's underneath in a smaller font!

I do know that the bigger races in the USA should all include a women's event; it helps to be a part of a big media machine like Amgen Tour of California or Tour of Missouri as both of these races are working hard to include a women's event, it my hope to see an extension of the criterium at ATOC. A three day stage race would be a good start.

That being said, we are forging ahead with a new program model that will ensure longevity and continued growth in the sport. We have a team of very bright future stars, I used to love the expression, "sky’s the limit," but I think we can go further.

There is current discussion internationally about sponsors dropping out of women's cycling, like proverbial NT flies, which may well leave women's elite level cycling in tatters. It's shocking to think that women's cycling is in such jeopardy and very scary in terms of the sustainability of sport. Just when you think progress is being made, you get massive kicks like this, and wonder why the hell should anyone bother continuing to beat their head against brickwall of ignorance and chauvenism (yep, cos that's what it is: chauvenism. Look it up ).

Locally, there are a few more racing opportunities opening up, but in small, patronising ways. The women's support 3 day, 3 stage tour of the JHST. Fantastic that it's being offered, but a 10km TT as day 2 stage 2??? I wonder how many women will race, will spend the money, time off work etc to drive to Anglesea to race 55km, then Geelong to race 10km? This race highlights the dilemmas of hosting women's racing. It's an afterthought, with time restrictions forcing these distances upon the race format. Hopefully the local club level riders will support it (unfortunately I won't be with World Masters Track three days after this event) and we see it again next year in an expanded format.

Women competitors need to see the opportunity such an event poses, and take advantage of it. I hope they are not offended by the distances, and decide to show their offence in not entering (and effectively boycotting the race). Build it and they will come?? They need to seeing the field for what it is, and go play ball on it for the "good" of women's racing. Show the race promoters, sponsors, media types that there is a need/demand, that women can provide quality, competitive racing (that's our part of the deal girls), and that women's racing is a worthwhile investment.

We also need more Nicola Cranmers in the world to develop the level of professionalism within women's cycling, and across all levels of our sport, so that investors (promoters and organisers, sponsors etc) are confident in a return on their investment. The development of women's racing is complex, but not insurmountable, and takes a coming together of minds, funds, resources, foresight, time, energy and determination. So far in local racing, I have seen snippets of some of these elements, but not yet as a synergistic group of people all prepared to commit the 110% required to make it happen more holistically. I keep hoping, and working in my own quiet way...

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