Take My Money, Please.

After moving to the US, it seemed infinitely harder to get some decent coverage of cycling events than what I was used to. All the major events were available to me on the free public broadcasting channel on TV, of course with simultaneous livestream on their site. Besides the Dutch national channel, I was usually able to get coverage from Eurosport and everyone’s favorite, the Belgian public broadcaster. Here in the US though, not so much. If you need a list this complicated, you’re never going to get people to tune in regularly.

If I was near a TV back home, I would always tune in to the Belgians, as their commentators are generally the best around. More often than not though, I wasn’t near a TV (that was connected) so I had to resort to streaming. This is fine, except that the streams generally are geo-restricted which left me with only the Dutch public broadcaster as an option. I might have used a vpn connection once or twice to get coverage I wasn’t supposed to have.

While I understand that in sports it is really common to sell the TV rights to multiple partners in order to maximize profits, it is a pain in the butt for the fans. In American sports for instance, selling the rights to the major leagues here in fragmented regions makes a ton of sense, as there is so many going on, and people are, generally, mostly interested in their home-teams and the finals. In cycling though it’s different. I am not fan of a team based on a city or region. Even if I was, my favorite riders go all over the “world” and compete against each other. I want, no, need to see it all to understand the next races and to follow my favorite teams and riders.

In a sport where money is so tight for most organizers, the teams, and even the union, seem to have a simple solution; a paid subscription service for live or on demand streaming of all the races where the revenue is distributed amongst these parties. I am willing to pay good money for this service, and as more and more people cut the cord, this is the future of live sports in general, not just cycling.

Now I know that for legal streaming coverage the US and Canada have cycling.tv, a service that offers some races in this format, but not nearly every race is available as can be seen in the list linked to above. I’m not interested in a fragmented service; I want to see all the World Tour races and also all the races in the categories right below (the 1.1 and 2.1 races as well as the HCs). While we’re at it, please add the Women's World Tour to this offering too, as it is mostly impossible to see some coverage of those events.

The unavailability of legal options for fans to conveniently watch races lead them to other services, like cyclinghub.tv for livestreams or torrents. The success of these options is very simple to explain, they offer a service that fans want: coverage of every event, and on demand options. We’ve seen this struggle before with conventional torrenting of movies and series or people putting up entire shows on Youtube. Legal alternatives such as Netflix that offer a reasonably priced, ad free and, most of all, convenient service to watch legally have changed that landscape too. It’s just a matter of time.

Cycling is not the only sport dealing with this issue. This weekend, the Formula 1 season started again. Formula 1 has been in the hands of one man for years, Bernie Ecclestone, who adamantly refuses to adapt to a changing world – which makes sense as that earned him his billions. Formula 1 view counts however have been declining for years now and the viewers become older and older as young people do not get exposure to the sport anymore. As a result, sponsorship deals are becoming rarer, and most drivers even have to pay to get their seat in a car. Something we only see at Androni Giocattoli–Sidermec in Cycling.

Now I’m sure we don’t want to get to a situation where it becomes even harder for teams to find sponsorship deals and an extra revenue stream for the sport isn’t a bad idea at all. Unfortunately, we are dealing with a sport where there have been wars in the recent years between the parties that have to agree on all this, the UCI and the ASO. As the ASO sells their TV rights (most notably for the Tour de France) they have the most to lose in this reform. The UCI is not known for their ability to control the ASO, nor their progressive policies. Because of all of this I foresee a long process ahead of us before fans finally are allowed to watch the sport legally, so please, take my money!