How can you turn spectators into fans?
Cycling has a money problem; but with a huge fanbase to draw from, can the sport create a platform that can effectively engage and monetize global viewership?
On the face of it, cycling should be easy to monetize. With more than a billion bicycles in the world, it’s an activity as ubiquitous as watching TV or going on the internet – a fundamental part of modern living.
Yet, despite growing media attention and an expanding fanbase, the sport of cycling has been stubbornly resistant to effective monetization. Velon, a consortium dedicated to resolving this issue, came to EY teams for help.
Velon brings together 11 teams that compete in professional cycling around the world. They came together to answer one critical question: how do we improve the economics of the sport?
Pretty much everybody we explained the idea to said, "Forget it. You're crazy.
“I’ve worked in sports for 20 years, and pro road cycling has by far the most dysfunctional economic model,” says Graham Bartlett, CEO, Velon. “It really doesn’t work. The reaction to that was to form and create Velon.”
Why has professional cycling been so dysfunctional? Global commercial cycling revenues are only $600 million – compared to $8.2 billion in the NFL, and $16.8 billion between just the five biggest European soccer leagues.
The difference is these sports benefit from being able to host large, ticketed events in one place. Cycling, where races cover thousands of miles of open road, does not have this luxury. Without equivalent infrastructure, cycling struggles to achieve the commercial heights of other sports.
Ironically, with pro cycling it's the most dedicated fans – those waiting by the roadside – that can miss out the most. More casual viewers, watching on TV or listening on the radio, can get a more holistic coverage of the race: fans by the roadside can only catch a glimpse of the cyclists as they go past.
But cycling does have its own assets: professional cyclists generate huge amounts of data, from heart rate, to bike speed to information about the terrain on which they are riding. Properly captured, this data presents a huge opportunity for cycling superfans to develop closer, and more intimate engagements with the sport and their favourite teams and riders.
Velon has close access to these opportunities – the teams they represent generate terabytes of raw data every year. Velon’s goal was to capture, transform, and deliver this data to a global cycling audience of 565 million people.
“We came up with this fascinating problem, which is how do you transmit thousands of data points per second out of a live sporting event while it moves from Bologna to Rome, all across the Alps and everywhere else,” remembers Bartlett. “Pretty much everybody we explained it to except the guys at EY said, ‘Forget it. You're crazy. You can do that at a stadium – and even then it's difficult – but to do it in a bike race that moves 200 miles down the road every day? No chance.’ EY teams looked at it and said, "This is a fantastic IoT challenge.’"
And if this crazy challenge could be overcome, EY and Velon would have the opportunity to give fans worldwide a first-class platform through which to directly engage with cycling – and create the foundations for a truly effective commercial cycling economy.