Tuesday, March 11, 2008

UCI vs ASO - Negotiating For Dummies

Okay folks, fasten your seatbelts because we may run into some turbulence as I attempt to get some things off my mind. The MAN is exerting ever-increasing pressure in the Professional Real World and I have officially lost all patience for the recent tantrums and nonsense of the Professional Cycling World. It pains me to say it, but even though the sport is centuries old, it's finally time for pro cycling to grow up.
Just to recap some of the recent foolishness for those who actually follow REAL politics and global news:

- The UCI (Union Cycliste International) and ASO (Amaury Sports Organization) don't like each other.

- The UCI is the international governing body of Professional cycling, comprised of national federations, elected officials and mutually agreed upon rules and regulations. The UCI provides the only unified structure for Professional cycling competition on a global scale.

- The ASO is one component of a French media conglomerate called EPA which is owned by Phillip Amaury and Hachette Filipacchi Medias, the largest magazine publisher in the world. ASO organizes French races such as Paris-Nice, Dauphine Libere and the Tour de France. And golf tournaments, car races and other fringe sporting events.

- ASO (A BUSINE$$) does not want to play by UCI rules (which may admittedly be in need of revision) and pulled Paris-Nice from the UCI calendar of events for a number of independently motivated reasons.

- By effectively siding with the ASO by riding Paris-Nice without the consent of the UCI (or more accurately, against their will), the riders and teams have left themselves at the mercy of the ASO's financial and political (BUSINESS) interests without the support of their governing body. Additionally, they have undermined the authority of the UCI and damaged the organization’s ability to fight for rider and team rights.

- The entire sport of professional cycling is now being aggressively manipulated by an independent French race organizer, whose sole purpose is to make money off of its flagship product - the Tour de France. Despite the other races, including Paris-Nice, virtually all of the ASO’s power comes from its control of the Tour de France. Again, this is an organization that places the Event on a higher pedestal than the Riders themselves and has absolutely no responsibility to sponsors who do not benefit its singular agenda. SEE: Unibet 2007.
- Does anyone in Professional Cycling understand the concept of "market share?" I am certain that someone in the ASO ranks does. And they are maximizing theirs as we speak.
- A critical stage of psychological development is the willful denial of short-term satisfaction in an effort to achieve long-term gains. One would think that professional cyclists as a whole would have a keen understanding of this dynamic. After all, few sports require greater sacrifice for future rewards than cycling. However, it seems that those dictating the recent political course of action taken by the riders and teams may have missed the importance of this growth stage.

Now, I fully understand that the riders "just want to race" and the team managers "have a responsibility to the sponsors" but at what point do they have to get together and do what is best for the future of THE SPORT OF PROFESSIONAL CYCLING? This isn't a rhetorical question. I really would like to know.

You can say what you want about the respective qualities of the UCI and ASO, but it is difficult to understand how any "Pro Tour" team starting Paris-Nice could be considered good for the overall health of the sport. Perhaps it satisfies some immediate desires to capitalize on early season form and get some publicity for the CURRENT sponsors but the long-term result is that the riders and teams have lost virtually all leverage for future negotiations by starting this event.
What they have also failed to acknowledge is the fact that even the most basic negotiation requires a firm understanding of what you are willing to concede. And since the current crop of rider and team representatives are apparently not willing to concede a single race - even though this will almost certainly force additional concessions in the future – they have little shot at leveraging any power over the race organizers. They could have gotten off of their bikes and put their collective foot down. Instead they "chose" to enter one of many available races and lost a very rare opportunity to take a unified stand for the future of their sport.

To be fair, there is still some debate as to the unanimity of the AIGCP decision to ride. Regardless, they missed their chance.

With all due respect (to those whom it is due), it is becoming increasingly easy to take issue with the rider and team representatives. I have always claimed that I believe cyclists to be among the most intelligent of professional athletes but I have recently questioned that notion. At least when it comes to Europe.

I take virtually no issue with current riders (their jobs are hard enough), but the ex-racers who now occupy many of the top spots in the sport are in danger of ruining it completely. Come to think of it…aren’t many of these guys the ones who dragged the sport through the mud over the last few decades as well?

Enough of this “Woe is me, we just want to race” junk. Sorry, but that sounds like a cop out from people who are unwilling or unable to demand professional respect. It is time for an educated ex-rider or someone with some kind of business and legal expertise to take the reins of this sport and make those demands. Someone without past doping and political baggage – who wants to see this beautiful sport regain some semblance of respectability.

From a business perspective, it seems fairly obvious that Eric Boyer, Francesco Moser and the current crop of influential representatives of professional cycling may not be the best candidates for these positions. How about someone with actual business and legal expertise? All doping and transfusion jokes aside, isn’t it time for the sport to get some NEW BLOOD?

It can be argued that the Major League Baseball Players Association would never have made the strides it did for athlete rights without Marvin Miller (from the United Steelworkers of America, no less) as the executive director. So why does Professional Cycling have to entrust these critical positions to people who have spent most of their lives racing bikes? Professional cycling is a business, right? I’m just saying…I doubt ASO has a bunch of former professional cyclists making their decisions for them.

I keep hearing people mention that the sport of cycling is going through some kind of “cultural change” with regard to doping but quite frankly, I fear that a failure to establish a proper balance of power between the UCI, Race Organizers and Riders is a far greater threat. Doping is largely individual but with the sport in its current hierarchy, we are headed down the path of institutionalized inequality.

The ASO has no concern for the global sport of cycling and (as a BUSINESS with no obligation to riders or sponsors) operates only with its own best interests in mind. It’s frustrating enough that so many people believe that the Tour de France is the only important bike race in the world. But unless the riders and teams stand up to the ASO, this may be the case.


Baublehead said...

Well put. I now understand it better than I ever have.

The only consolation to all of this is it seems the worse the politics and doping is in Europe, the better the cycling is in the States.

Can't wait til the biggest race in the world is the Tour of CA.

sebastian said...

Baublehead: way to illustrate placing your own interests above the interests of the sport (i.e. "I want all of the established races to go down in flames because it will make stateside races bigger")!

Matt said...

"Professional cycling is a business, right? I’m just saying…I doubt ASO has a bunch of former professional cyclists making their decisions for them."

Great post, woke up some people in my office laughing to that line.

Baublehead said...

Yeah, I know that was pretty selfish, but I was trying to find something, anything that might be good out of it.

In the end there is no way a new race could ever replace a race(s) with such great history and tradition.

We need cycling in Europe and this political battle is not doing anyone any good.

Sebastian said...

I think I was sympathetic to ASO until this last move they made. Cycling (like tennis) is not about a season-structure but about individual events that have organically acquired prestige because of their history. I was fine with the ProTour as a rubric for presenting cycling to audiences outside of Europe, but not when it threatened to marginalize storied races like the Criterium International in favor of second-tier or made-up ones. Now, however, ASO are doing more damage to their events than the ProTour ever could have. Oh for the old days of Super Prestige Pernod.

CaliRado Cyclist said...

All sides of this argument have good points. That's the problem.

The funny/sad thing is, one could argue that the Tour de France (despite being run by an independently motivated organization) promotes the sport of cycling far more than anything else the UCI sanctions. Including the World Championships and the Olympics.

There were no Tour of California clips on ESPN from what I could tell. At least not yet.

America lost its chance at a continuing a legendary race when the Red Zinger/Coors Classic died in 1989. I'll write more about this topic some time.

It pains me to say it, but for many people, the Tour IS cycling. And for those outside of Europe who are fortunate enough to explore the sport in more detail, they will have more than likely been exposed to bike racing via the Tour de France.

It truly is the most amazing race in the world. But it can never be bigger than the riders.

The thing that has made the Tour "The Tour" is that it has always had the best racers. France is nice but without the best riders, the Tour would not have become the global phenomenon that it currently is.

Now that the Tour de France has compromised the quality of its field, it has subsequently compromised the quality of the event itself.

For the most publicized race in the world to not feature the best in the sport is a shame. And a misrepresentation of what the race has historically signified.

The history of cycling may always reside primarily in Europe but the future of the sport may very well find itself on this side of the pond.

I'm cool with that.

Sebastian said...

yeah, write about coors. the great thing about that race was that, not being held in february, it could actually go up some big passes in the rockies and the sierra nevada.

one of the reasons the coors was able to draw so many top guys in its late editions (besides it being good training for the co. worlds in '86) was that there was no competition in late summer. if the race had lasted into the 90s, i wonder whether it would have been damaged by the vuelta's coopting its "time slot."

i guess my point is that if the T of C wants to become really top-tier, it needs better mountains, and for better mountains it needs warmer weather. right now the early-season date, the modest climbs, and the race's identity as a training event are all of a piece. that in itself may be a formula for continued success, but success of a vuelta-a-pais-vasco type.