Ramifications of ‘Bay Crits’ cancellation
With the recent announcement that the 2018 ‘Bay Crits’ will not be run, there has been widespread disbelief – even anger – that another event has been struck off the calendar.
– Photos by Jean-Pierre Ronco
As the traditional opener to the so-called ‘Summer of Cycling’, many family holidays and annual leave requests have been shaped around the Bay Crits, and their fan-friendly formula of racing that guaranteed quality, spectator-friendly racing in picturesque settings in and around Geelong.
The criteriums formed a series that became an event that had grown strongly in recent years. One doesn’t have to cast their mind too far back to recall the likes of Robbie McEwen, Baden Cooke, or Rochelle Gilmore racing in composite teams.
Sponsors could get a taste of what it was like to be part of the cycling family without investing the revenue required for a long-term commitment. Several liked what they experienced so much that they continued their investment in ‘our’ sport. Two benefactors of the Bay Series have gone on to owning naming rights to WorldTour teams, Gerry Ryan and Michael Drapac.
The prestige had grown so much that the likes of Orica-Scott sent teams hell bent on taking victories at every opportunity.
An often overlooked component of the Bay Crits was the involvement of teams that normally compete in the National Road Series (NRS).
Aside from the whimsical notion of up-and-coming cyclists having an opportunity to compete again the world’s best, there was also a commercial opportunity presented to NRS teams that have to fight for every dollar they get.
In recent years it has become difficult for NRS teams to convey to potential sponsors what the ROI is for a sponsor of a cycling team which focussed on road racing as part of the national series in Australia. But participation in the Bay Crits promised several great opportunities for teams and sponsors alike.
Naturally there was increased media coverage. More than this, however, the opportunity provided a chance for sponsors to attend the race, get caught up in the enthusiasm of the spectacle – and dare we say it – use it as a chance to network with other business people who share similar values.
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The women’s peloton lines up for stage two of the 2017 Bay Series in Portarlington.
For AMR Renault Racing team director Russell Menzies, it makes an already difficult conversation with sponsors that little bit harder.
“Going into a conversation with a potential sponsor, they want to know what exposure the team will get and what races the team will be at,” Menzies told me recently.
“When we can show them that we’ll be on the start line against the likes of Orica-Scott, that gets people really excited.
“We’ve even had sponsors come down from NSW to watch the racing in the past; not only do they get to enjoy the Bay Crits but they also get to spend a bit of time getting to know the boys on the team and some of our other sponsors.
“Some great connections have happened through the Bay Crits.”
For Menzies, the Bay Series was a way of getting the season underway and leveraging the sponsorship within the cycling community and beyond.
“We’re just starting our sponsorship drive for 2018,” continued Menzies, “and it’s already been getting harder year by year due to the uncertainty around the National Road Series schedule, so [the end of the Bay Series] another hit that us smaller teams could have done without.
“But we have a great group of boys and a fantastic group of current sponsors who have supported the team for a number of years, and we couldn’t keep going without their support. So, we’ll keep doing what we do best and support each other and stand up for our mates,” concluded Menzies.
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The circuit race format allowed for some great broadcasting innovations like the live streaming on Facebook that was a feature of the Bay Series in 2017.
For the women’s teams competing in the National Road Series, it has already been well documented that challenges around attracting sponsors are greater than those facing men’s teams.
The Bay Crits have often been an opportunity for domestic teams to test their legs ahead of national championships, and kick sponsor relationships up a gear.
The Specialized Women’s Team has been one of the strongest domestic squads in recent years, and its management has thought outside the box in terms of bringing funding into the team, with initiatives such as custom supporter kits and raffles to support the team.
For general manager Elizabeth Phillipou, no Bay Crits in 2018 will greatly affect the team both on and off the bike.
“No Bay Crits in 2018 is going to have a huge impact on Australian cycling,” said Phillipou, “and it will set the tone for the year ahead.
“My team relies heavily on exposure from such events to provide value to sponsors and maximise the team’s marketing reach.
“On the bike, ordinarily the Bay Crits would provide our sprinters with an important hit-out in preparation for the road nationals, now there will be an element of unknown when they hit the streets of Ballarat.”
As teams look to maximise the return on investment for sponsors, more and more are turning to social media, and the Specialized Women’s Team is one of the most proactive in the peloton, continually engaging with their audience even when there’s no racing to report on.
“We can’t rely on the NRS to give us the exposure and race days that we need in order to run a successful, professional team. Not only are the events dwindling but the general sporting population in Australia has never even heard of the NRS let alone do they care who wins it.
“At Specialized Women’s Racing, whilst we are first and foremost about winning races, we now place equal if not greater emphasis on our ability to market our team to a broader sporting community.
“The Summer of Cycling is where the true value in sponsorship lies, not only for our branding to be seen alongside the professional teams but also a rare opportunity for our sponsors to be trackside within arm’s reach of the best cyclists from around the world.”
With the removal of Bay Crits from the calendar, Phillipou and her team will now look at other opportunities toward the end of 2017 to market the team ahead of 2018.
“There are a number of factors that affect the decision of a business to sponsor a domestic women’s cycling team like SWR. Exposure is certainly one of the key components and events like Bay Crits carry far greater weighting than an event held in country Victoria with minimal trackside viewing and limited online following.
“Other factors are close brand alignment and corporate social responsibility. The majority of sponsors are also usually passionate cycling advocates themselves.
“We will now look to pick up additional race days around the end of 2017, events such as Bicycle NSW Spring Cycle Super Weekend, Noosa Criterium and St Kilda Supercrit provide excellent exposure also,” concluded Phillipou.
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Riders had been able to use the Bay Series to gauge their form in advance of the nationals… but now the first competition of the year will be the Australian national championships.
From a sponsor’s perspective, a reduction in race days and exposure for the team they sponsor leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
For long-time supporter of women’s cycling, and sponsor of the Specialized Women’s Cycling Team since 2016, Peta Stewart has supported riders, teams, and events through her business Peta Stewart Certified Practicing Conveyancer for a number of years, regularly travelling from her base in Albury to support riders throughout the Summer of Cycling.
No Bay Crits in 2018 is a bitter pill to swallow.
“I’m so passionate about women’s cycling, and try to offer support wherever I can,” said Stewart. “As a brand, there isn’t currently a great return on investment on NRS races, that’s something we’re involved in as a passion project.
“The Bay Crits, on the other hand, has always presented a wonderful opportunity for increased brand exposure, as well as being a fantastic networking opportunity to connect with other like-minded individuals and brands at the racing,” said Stewart.
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While nobody is suggesting that the organisers of the Bay Crits should put on a watered-down event merely so teams can schmooze potential sponsors, the hope is that the race returns to the calendar in 2019 to give these teams the opportunity to rub shoulders with the world’s best, and attract sponsors who can help them compete off the bike as well.
– By Jarrod Partridge