Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Demise of Cyclocross - Part II: Entitlement

It's no secret that we all want everything that we can get, be that out of life, from our jobs or from supporters and sponsors of our avocation, racing bicycles. However wanting something versus feeling entitled to it are two very different things. The latter is the topic of this installment on my ongoing exploration of the sport of amateur cycling in general and cyclocross racing in specific. In this issue we will look at the trend in bicycle racing by which many racers seem, at least to me, to have a skewed perception of not only their ability but of the value and demand their special racing skills garner in the open market. They feel that as racers they are entitled to sponsorship. I think that this is simply a societal carryover but for the sake of argument and scope of this story, we will focus on cycling.

Let me first say that I'm no different than anyone else who is really into cycling and is not extravagantly wealthy. I tend to spend a lot of money but try to get the most possible for that money. As a New England Yankee, I also scoff at the idea of paying full retail. This means that I shop around for bargains and hammer Jeff/Anthony, Chris, Brian, BigAl and Dave at the shops I deal with for the best deals that I can possibly get. Each shop has treated me well, giving me some excellent cost+ or even at wholesale deals in the past, for which I am grateful and try to represent them appropriately within the cycling scene. I'm fortunate that I have an eye for bargains, I do all of my own bike work and I work with folks that treat me very well. That said, between Cathy and I we still spend more money on cycling yearly than some folks right here in the US make in a year. Cycling is an expensive sport, especially if you have expensive tastes.

When it comes to racing bicycles, many people seem to feel that their weekend efforts on the race course are worthy and deserving of sponsorship. It wasn't long ago that people just wanted to be part of a club and hit the races as a team. It wasn't realistic to think that lucrative deals were available to down-right mediocre racers or racers participating in lower level categories or races. Lets be honest, what kind of real marketing value does a mid-pack B racer really command? Take into account that the sport of cycling is on the radar of roughly 2% of the American population, about a quarter the draw of bass-fishing or pumpkin-chunkin, and that the pockets can't and rightly shouldn't be very deep to start with. I think that if we were to look at the top professional cyclocross, domestic road and mountain-bike racers in the US, it would become evident that the big money is not there. I'm willing to bet that as a professional software engineer, I probably make more than about 99% of the domestic professional bike racers in this country. So, in getting back to out mid-pack Cat3 racer, why would they expect celebrity status?

The answer is simple, their self perception and self worth is skewed. In short, they think too highly of themselves, a modern concept that has become entirely commonplace. However, in reality, unless you can provide some tangible benefit to someone you can not expect anything 'in return'. Do 'the fans' go out and buy some product or support some business or cause because you're using, promoting or are affiliated with it? The key idea there is 'in return', meaning you are providing value. As a member of a cycling club, I have seen first hand the skewed self perceptions of club racers that are part of teams funded by the hard work of volunteers within the club. The expectation of the team members is that the hundreds of dollars in goods and reimbursements that they receive from the club is in return for their representation of the club by showing up to some small number of races in the team kit. In essence, their racing cult of personality is all they had to offer, given that these teams were not results based. Effectively, they are self-labeled 'Pros' which I assume increases status among other 'Pro' racers.

I'm not immune to this misconception that I am better than I think that I am. In reality we all walk this line, the premise of self-confidence. I too have tried to obtain 'stuff' based on my marketable bicycle racing ability in the past. I was even a member of a mountain bike team a couple of years ago and received a team kit and discounts in return for race 'appearances' and service back to the club in the form of clinics and club development. Do I feel that this was appropriate and fair? Yes, I honestly feel that what I gave back in terms of volunteering was appropriate for what I was given. That said, I have not been a part of any sponsorship since that point, though I do still perform the same volunteer capacities within the club which do entitle me to a pretty excellent race-reimbursement program which does translate to real money back in my pocket at the end of the season.

Who, other than 'Pros' really are 'Pro', in that their personality or actions may influence others? Yes, there really is a whole category of cycling related professionals that don't race bikes. These are the folks that own or work at bicycle shops or within the industry. They are the advocacy folks like NEMBA, IMBA, MassBike or BCOM. They are the people who promote and organize, perform countless volunteer efforts, lead rides and are generally respected within the cycling community. These are all people who are visible to other cyclists and have the ability in many cases to advise and in part, influence the purchasing decisions of others. Wouldn't it then be in the best interest of those with goods to sell to have those people with influence using their equipment with the intent that they would then be in part, a promoter of said equipment? Of course it is and that is why there are 'pro-deals'. Pro in this case refers to 'promotional' rather than 'professional', as in it's not what professional bicycle racers get. It's usually chalked up to marketing expense and equates to sub-wholesale costs to the 'promoter'. Speaking of 'pro-deals', if anyone is looking for an old fat and generally slow guy whose wife doesn't even listen to, to 'promote' their spiffy 29'er MTB for the upcoming race season, have your people talk to mine :)

Most of us have a profession, which pays legitimate money for our skills and services and for which we are thus considered a professional. Most of us are not professional bicycle racers. Why then do we insist on acting like and in cases expect to be treated like one?

What can one realistically expect as a non-professional, non-influential, middle-of-the-pack bicycle racer who doesn't expect to give anything remotely tangible back in return? Ask yourself what you would be willing to give to someone in your place to represent you at the races. If you come up with much of anything I think that you are either lying or that you should just go ahead and sponsor yourself. Bam, you're 'Pro'!

Shut up and Ride!


tmc said...

I'm in agreement with everything except you characterizing yourself as, "old, fat and generally slow guy". Other than that, great piece.

matt said...

well said, though I don't think you really laid out how the reality of the self appointed pro is contributing to the demise of cyclocross.

Colin R said...

I second Matt's statement.

Everything said here is true, but the connection between "racer entitlement" and "demise of cyclocross."

Also, if one gets sponsorship deals matching one's sense of entitlement, then was it really misplaced entitlement? I mean, I don't think that joe-bob Cat 3 deserves a bike at cost -- but if a show will give it to him, that's their decision. What's wrong with that?

mkr said...

Each of these are simply meant to be pieces of evidence for issues in cyclocross and cycling in general. Frankly, this rant had other context but I found this series to be a convenient home for it.

In terms of entitlement, my point was a bigger comment on society in general, that people seem to expect too much and have very little to offer in return. It's also a statement about volunteerism, or lack there of. I could have elaborated more on that aspect but was starved for time.

ringcycles said...

Perhaps, Mike is saving the ultimate conclusion for his next post, since this is a series. If I think ahead, I imagine the point is that if enough racers believe they should get more than they give to our very small sport, cyclocross will decline. Promoters will only do so much if most racers are unwilling to contribute. Fewer promoters = fewer races = less cyclocross. Look at mtb cross country racing in New England now compared to the past, then try tell me that can not happen to other disciplines.

Fatmarc Vanderbacon said...

we call 'em vampires down here in the DCCoD region.

People who suck off of the bike community, but never give back anything to it...

As a promoter I also notice that vampires are the first to send off a nasty letter or complain...

if you love something; bike racing- you have to give back; if you get something- pay it forward...

very good piece.


parke said...

No friggin' s#!t.
I get a ton of this even in my own team.
My head hurts from the eye rolling
Look , I know the difference... suck it up and have some damn fun and try taking some of that intensity back to your cubicle.

Also, it's a community not a spa.
How 'bout putting 15 minutes of the time you'd be spending talking to the other sycophantic dilettantes any way and walk the course repairing tape or marshaling course crossings or something.

Kirk said...

No one gets to say shit until they contribute - end of story.

Oh for the days of the club system... (never mind that most "teams" are clubs that don't really "do" anything)

Thomas A. Fine said...

I think if you want to connect this with the demise of the sport, you need to look more at the pros and less at the amateurs. Frankly, if an amateur can wrangle a free kit out of Joe's Pizza Shop, more power to 'em. And also, a "Joe's Pizza Shop" kit is probably better than any bike-related sponsorship, because it reaches out to the broader community.

And that's my own point here. Pro cycling is way too inbred. It's basically advertising by cyclists TO cyclists. There's little effort on the part of cyclists to do anything for their sponsors besides show up at the race. You never see a racer at the races, working the crowd (if there happens to be a crowd) on behalf of any sponsors.

And you don't see enough of them out there on the interwebs. This is a huge untapped opportunity to promote both their sponsors, and the sport as a whole. Current fans are hungry for information on the cyclists and teams they follow. And the more of this there is, the more new fans would be attracted. The handful of pros that do manage to promote their sport this way very often still forget to mention their sponsors in their online content.

Pro racers will probably want to shoot me for saying this, but I don't understand why teams don't require this sort of effort from their riders. Or even focus on hiring riders that are going to be good at promotion as well as racing.

I'll even criticize race organizers here. As good as they are at putting on an event, they're almost universally bad at trying to bring the general public to their races. The only time I ever see a bike race mentioned on local massbike-related lists (for example) is when I bother to copy down the information and post it there myself. I almost never see newspaper articles or local news spots about upcoming races, or races that happened.

When I go to a cyclocross race, i'm amazed that they can't really bring in anyone except cyclists' friends and families to spectate. There's no cycling genre better suited to a big crowd of fans than cyclocross.

Granted, I've never tried to organize a race. I've barely even tried actual racing. I'm just talking out of my butt here. But my butt says that the promotional opportunities within cycling go largely unexplored. And my butt also says that it would be a lot easier to find team and event sponsors if you could show them a growing fan base.


RMM said...

I agree with almost everything said.

I have more evidence for you:

When people are marketing cyclocross bicycles, who is the intended audience? Can't guess? Mid pack B and C racers. As regular racers YOU/WE are the consumers. Thinking that you have transcended consumerhood with your 73rd placing in the B race at Gloucester is myopia pure and simple.

There are exceptions. Marketers call these folks "hubs". You can look up hub marketing theory for a full explanation, but in short, hubs are discriminator of information who have an inordinate influence on the buying decisions of others. Marketers target hubs for product placement, no matter their results or socioeconomic status.

Manville said...

"There are exceptions. Marketers call these folks "hubs". You can look up hub marketing theory for a full explanation, but in short, hubs are discriminator of information who have an inordinate influence on the buying decisions of others. Marketers target hubs for product placement, no matter their results or socioeconomic status."

Great point ! My neighbor doesn't know the difference between Sven Nys and Joey B rider. But they do know Joey B rider rides a trek and he bought it at XXX Bike shop. I think you can add most US Pro's to the list of people that have an inflated sense of self worth.

mkr said...

Good comments and thanks for reading. I've got rough outlines for the next two topics in the series as well as the conclusion in what looks like it will be a 5 part series.

Last night I posted on the topic of Pro's, as in professional cyclists here in the US. In general, I don't see them as a core problem. Seems to me that they are just folks trying to make a living doing something they love and clearly, are good at. Some are d!cks/b!tches, same as the rest of the population but I doubt that is because they are Pro's.

AA said...

Hmmm interesting perspective. As a mid pack cat 3 who gets parts discounts from my "sponsor" I'm not sure how to respond. Perhaps people have team responsibility that you are not aware of. For example I am required to create race reports. The reports allow my "sponsor" to generate more web search hits. For a web based business this is a big deal. Aside from your 1st hand experience within your club do you know that people really feel entitled to get a bro deal or are they just riding around in a spiffy team kit and you are assuming they are getting something out of it. Something to think about. Next installment I’m guessing will be the sandbagger issue.

mkr said...

AA, not sure why you, and others, feel this is about them? Do you feel that because you are a mid pack Cat3 that you ere entitled to that discount? Sounds more like you have a mutually beneficial business arrangement for which you provide a service in exchange for discounts. Same with Colin's statement. It's when your ego is out of check and you start expecting and demanding that treatment/deal that the issue arises. I can't tell you how sick I am of people who basically suck getting all into 'switching teams' for a 'better deal'. You'd think they were f-ing NBA pros the way they talk. Maybe they can go twat, or twit or whatever about it to their peeps, or homies or what the hell ever they call those damn things.

AA said...

I certainly take no offense to your posting. I couldn’t be directed towards me anyway because when people see me in the middle of the pack they always want to know what tires I'm running or what gearing I have on my bike ;).

Actually my point was that I don’t feel that there is a widespread culture of entitlement in cross but that doesn’t make for an interesting blog. Keep on ranting.