NRS review: optimism is an asset
In June 2015 Cycling Australia announced that there would be a review of the NRS. Exactly what has been done is difficult to know but there is a document circulating that purports to have some solutions. In reality it’s essentially a list of problems and minimal reference to solutions…
Introduction to “the review”
Remember the National Road Series? Apparently it still exists but let’s be honest, in 2017 it’s a shadow of what it had been. And, frankly – even in its halcyon days – it never truly got significant traction.
The NRS had, for a few years, turned into something that seemed worthy of attention but almost as soon as it got to that status, it began to fade.
Teams emerged, teams disbanded. Sponsors arrived, sponsors departed. Events appeared, events disappeared. Then “a review” was promised by the sport’s administrators in Australia.
Cycling Australia hasn’t got enormous resources but there is a wealth of interested parties; we call them “stakeholders”, and these myriad groups have all strived to make road racing something alluring in Australia.
Sometimes the stakeholders work together, sometimes there’s clear direction… and sometimes there’s outright animosity.
Ultimately the frustrations fester away and the seasons roll by and little or no action is taken to remedy the situation. The NRS may be in disarray but this is not due to a lack of interest. It is a great concept but the application is left wanting on numerous levels.
That’s why “a review” was necessary. To solve problems, you need to know what the problems are. Still, considering that the review was initiated in June of 2015 – and, according to some, concluded almost a year ago – what action has been taken to turn this into a viable sporting series? Very little.
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The essence of sponsorship is exposure
In the coming weeks we can expect to see a report published by Cycling Australia. This is said to outline some of what the famous review has found out about the NRS. RIDE Media has seen some of the report and while there remains reason to be optimistic, there is little about it that suggests true solutions have been found.
Making matters worse is that one of the key stakeholders, the long-time loyal sponsor Subaru, is said to be reconsidering its investment in cycling.
The naming rights to the NRS have been part of the Subaru sponsorship for years and the fit is a good one: the vehicles are ideal for the cycling community and the promise of branding and exposure offered is significant. But not all good things can last forever.
Subaru has a commitment as sponsor for the Santos Tour Down Under into 2018 but what becomes of its relationship with Cycling Australia remains to be seen.
The administrators have certainly strived to give a good return on investment for one of its major sponsors but is it enough in this ever-changing media landscape?
Exposure is necessary for sponsorships to succeed and these days cycling isn’t getting much traction in the mainstream media.
This is all part of a larger conundrum to do with the sponsorship model that cycling is so reliant on. And although there is plenty of potential provided by new media, it remains to be seen if this is sufficient to maintain support of key stakeholders and/or investors.
Gerry Ryan’s contributions to cycling in Australia are well publicised – and they ought to be; without his support the sport would never have enjoyed the prosperity it has had to date. But the logo of Ryan’s caravan company, Jayco, was removed from Cycling Australia related communication before 2017 and although the businessman insists his relationship with the federation is strong, it’s not quite as solid as it could be.
It was recently announced that Ryan would expand his investment in cycling to include an additional spend on a women’s program and under-23 initiative. The dollar value of this is around one million dollars.
According to the release from Orica-Scott about the new arrangement for the women’s and under-23 road cycling programs, “The decision comes with an increased investment requirement from Ryan after GreenEdge Cycling, riders and staff were notified by Cycling Australia that their contribution to the two programs would no longer continue after the conclusion of this season.”
What has helped introduce many to cycle sport has been made redundant by the federation.
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The NRS is said to be developing a new strategy for 2018 but exactly how some of the recommendations are implemented remains unclear.
Lessons from selection
Cycling Australia, with its recruitment of Simon Jones as high performance director earlier this year, has committed to changing its approach to the administration of the sport. And it’s difficult to work out where the NRS fits into the scheme of things.
We keep being told that the quest of the High Performance Unit is to win Olympic gold. This is one of the reasons why the track program is such a priority. Racing on the velodrome has more medal events than the three other Olympic cycling disciplines combined.
Perhaps this is why there was the curious incident of the selection of five women riders for the recent world championships.
Although amended after appeal, it is a hint of what’s yet to come from the sport’s administrators in the coming years.
A team of five became a team of seven – and Katrin Garfoot topped it all off by winning the silver medal in the road race in Bergen (and bronze in the time trial).
Still, the only true sign of the mainstream media being interested in cycling in Australia in recent months – including the days before, during and after the world championships in Bergen – came from the farce around the selection rather than the results achieved by riders from the national team.
This reminds us that publicity doesn’t always come from press releases. Rather than the sporting conquests, it’s common for the focus to be on other aspects of our sport.
And this brings us back to discussion about the NRS, as what appears in documents relating to “the review” offers little more than bullet-point reminders of what needs doing – but scant suggestion of how this will be done.
Some things can be easier to manipulate than others. A race circuit can, for example, be selected based on the requirements imposed on event promoters by Cycling Australia. And while there is merit in the suggestion for diversity of disciplines in the NRS – stage races, one-day races, criteriums – there is no reference given to how these events are going to be funded.
So many of the other issues raised, however, don’t provide any tangible solutions. When it comes to increasing media coverage, the solution in the report is little more than a vacuous statement: “CA will lead an integrated marketing and communications plan for the series which will have input from teams and be reported upon throughout the season.”
Who will report on it? And why?
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A review lacking results
Considering the time that it has taken to undertake “the review”, the expectation is that solutions have been found but the concluding bullet points that fall under the headline ‘Next Steps’, don’t exactly fill us with confidence.
The ‘next steps’ in the NRS, according to Cycling Australia’s review are:
- “Development of an information pack for teams and promoters.”
- “Call for applications for teams and promoters for 2018.”
- “Development of a series marketing plan.”
Okay. Great. Start at the beginning. Seems logical. But is that process just starting now? Is it yet to begin? And who would be interested?
For a team or event promoter to lure in a sponsor, they need to know what the basis of the series is going to be. But, again, the report summarising the review offers no solutions just observations.
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Considering the report…
The document obtained by RIDE Media begins with a summary of the “Current Situation”. Apparently this has been compiled thanks to “consultation with our major stakeholders”, but exactly who these are is not explained.
The 10 points raised are:
- “No certainty of events being conducted (cancellations).”
- “Decreasing number of entries in men’s events.”
- No assurance of media coverage (particularly TV).”
- “Lack of commercial sponsors.”
- “Lack of promoter interest (no new promoters joining the series.”
- “Wide variety of differences in the delivery of the events.”
- “Wide variety of level/ability in the teams.”
- “Lack of overall strategy and direction.”
- “Variability of quality commissaires.”
- “Lack of pathway support for series (both teams and individuals).”
So these are the problems. Why has it taken since June 2015 to formalise this?
There are follow up items that offer a guideline of how the issues may be managed but even these seem to be little more than hyperbole.
One example is this statement under the sub-head ‘National Road Series Moving Forward’: “Offer a commercial return to key stakeholders, particularly race promoters and sponsors.”
Shouldn’t that be fundamental? Surely that could have been established after a glance at the NRS rather than after a deliberation of close to 30 months.
There are a few suggested solutions: limiting stage races to two to four days, using 10-15km circuits, moving the events closer to major population centres… etc. But that’s all elementary.
The report eventually suggests incentives to teams contesting the NRS – ie. working out solutions for riders from successful formations to take part in the Tour Down Under or the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race as members of the national team.
But there remains no hint of how publicity – ie. exposure – is going to be earned. There is poor communication about the progression of the NRS, demonstrated by the long silence from CA essentially since the announcement of “the review”. And even when these shortcomings are noted, nothing is done to remedy the situation.
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Time and time again, we see our sport on the verge of being prosperous only for the governing body to drop the golden egg and watch on as the glut of interest in cycling fades and looks like little more than a fad.
Thankfully there are numerous stakeholders involved who have genuine vision and what seems like endless energy to do what’s required to resuscitate the sport when interest is fading.
Cycling is much more than a fad. It is a thing of beauty, it is a sport that has numerous dimensions and endless scope.
The NRS should be an integral part of the broader Australian sporting landscape but it has become little more than a strange anomaly, an obtuse series which offers little more than confusion to those who strive to find out more about it.
After so many years, you’d expect more from “the review” than five A4 pages with a bunch of bullet points and an attempt to summarise a few sessions of thought-mapping.
There are a few interesting points raised but it’s far from a document that will provide a clear pathway to the future for the NRS.
If you don’t know what the National Road Series is in 2017, you are not alone. Even those who are closely aligned with the NRS don’t really know what’s going on this year… or next. Cycling – and cyclists – deserve better than that.
– By Rob Arnold