Saturday, March 29, 2008

Show Me The Money*

Larry Stone's Article regarding fan reaction to doping in baseball rings true in cycling fan's ears. MLB revenues are up, the owners are making money hand over fist, and local governments are willing to fork over subsidies aplenty to keep the enterprise alive.

Compare this to cycling. In my view, cycling is a far more visually appealing sport than baseball. While George Carlin notes that baseball is "pastoral", is there anything more appealing than a bike ride through the countryside? Like most American kids, I played baseball when I was young. I stood at the plate and watched the ball go by a lot. I stood in the outfield and did the same thing. But mostly, I got to those playing fields by riding my bike there. Now, as I watch professional cycling implode as rival cycling leagues (UCI and ASO) divvy up the revenue pie, I wonder what could have been. How great would it be to see le Tour on HDTV? But alas, it won't happen. Road cycling takes place in exactly that arena: out on the open road, not in a stadium (built with the same tax dollars that build roads, BTW) where the fans can be quantified by their turning of the turnstyles and paying a fee. No, cycling depends on secondary revenue streams. Advertising. This is not to say MLB and other pro sports don't make wads on that too, but cycling (other than track events) relies almost exclusively on the good will of sponsors.

As Larry Stone points out, fans just have to come to grips with their association between their sports heroes and doping. And generally, I think I agree - many, if not most fans, would prefer to look the other way. We don't want to know. And to some extent, we celebrate the "feisty" player who challenges the ref when they make what the athletes thinks is a bad call. We want to see what athletes can get away with. Who hasn't cheered when the coach threw the challenge flag because the evidence wasn't clear? And don't you feel screwed when your team loses because while the replay likely shows a bad call, there wasn't "indisputable evidence" to overturn the call on the field? Now you know how Floyd feels.

The guys who foot the bill in cycling (e.g. "The Tour de Georgia Presented by AT&T") are very very sensitive to brand association and cheating. *No one* wants to think their cell phone company is cheating them. When your turnstyles stop turning, your sport is in trouble. ASO has essentially punished their "turnstyle turners" by penalizing a *sponsor* because of their name. I don't think anyone needs to remind Astana about their transgressions in 2006 and 2007. But ASO has chosen to do so by excluding their participation in ASO's league. Ya really gotta wonder just how wise that is. Time will tell.

If ASO's league prevails though, it is likely road cycling will cease to be an Olympic sport. I'm not sure the IOC will stand for only having access to second tier athletes. ASO's terror tactics with teams aside, if they succeed in producing a dope free sport, with verified controls that respect the rights of athletes, who will be the winners? Well, it would seem to be everyone. Except for one minor problem: to do that costs a lot of money. And ASO doesn't seem to be terribly interested in reducing their bottom line.

Go Astana.

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