The 2011 Cycling Broadcast Media Challenge

Aug 13 2010

Do my eyes deceive me? Is there a piece critical of Lance Armstrong up on Versus.com? If it weren’t comparing him to Mel Gibson (hard to imagine the phone calls curiously absent from Armstrong’s emails with Floyd and Dr. Kay were anywhere near that bad) or erroneously claiming that Armstrong smashed Floyd’s (or Armstrong’s own non-existant) 2006 trophy, I might actually be impressed about the fact that it’s there.

Over at Universal Sports, BikeSnobNYC has continued his blogging as well. He’s a sharp enough writer that I can almost overlook his misattribution of Sungard’s sponsorship to promises of a Contador Grand Slam; Sungard’s sponsor affiliation with Saxo dates back to the beginning of this year, and their move to title sponsor was pretty much a given long before Contador’s third Tour win, let alone the Spaniard’s (and his most trusted domestiques’) acquisition by Riis.

What it almost seems like is that Versus and US are competing to retain viewer interest at least through the Vuelta a Espana, which begins later this month. It’d be a fairly unprecedented move, especially considering that Team RadioShack (whose marketing machinery all but declared the season over in July) will not be attending. I say “almost” because it appears Versus hasn’t updated their cycling schedule since before the Tour and probably isn’t even broadcasting the race.

While Universal Sports will indeed be offering live video coverage of the event, it’s doubtful, given the criticism of both usability and level of commentary during their Giro broadcasts, that anyone will elect to pay the $15 dollars when so many easier-to-use sites are giving away better commentary for free.

At any rate, since both NBC Universal and Versus are owned by the same cable megalopoly—and have their online video services delivered by the same company—it’s hard to imagine that we, as consumers, would see any benefit from market competition between the two broadcasters.

All of this leaves me scratching my head at why Versus or Universal Sports even bother. I can’t imagine BikeSnob or whoever the heck Gerard Wright is cost much, but they must cost something. Why continue to spend money when you know better professional outlets, fan-based efforts, and a few tech-savvy pirates are going to bury you in terms of both coverage and quality during non-Tour events?

Even with an American winner defending his title at Vattenfalls, or the best-known American squad fighting to make a point at Tour l’Ain, I can’t find anything about either race on either company’s website. I can’t imagine lip-service text posts—without at least a tip of the hat to ongoing racing—are going to convince fans that the two legitimate US broadcasters are in any way serious about the sport.

I’m guessing that Joel Felicio or whoever has his job at Universal Sports would counter by saying that without them, there’d be no cycling for American audiences. But that’s just not true anymore; even Lance Armstrong, who’s made tweets I can’t find about how he never pirates music, knows where to find coverage if legitimate sources don’t make an effort to cover it.

My challenge to both Versus and US is this: take 2011 off. You say you’re tired of having fans tear you down for your hard work, so stop doing it. If it’s too hard to find advertisers, or if too few people are watching, or if no one will pay for anything online, it would make sense to stop, right?

So just don’t bid for exclusive US or online rights to any major cycling events —the only real thing limiting other video to Eastern European dudes with screencast software—for one year, and let an open and competitive market determine the future of cycling coverage.

Then, in 2012, you’ll have your change to come back and prove to everyone that you’re doing the best job possible, and that most criticism against you is levied based on spite and delusion. If you have as much confidence in your opinion as I have in mine, you should be as eager as I am to see this little experiment take place.

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