21 April 2011

Pedal Dancer's 10-point plan

PedalDancer's letter from a fan
Lately everyone has their ideas about how to improve the sport of cycling with various 10-point plans (by Jonathan Vaughters). I thought for fun, I would formulate my own 10-point plan from the fans perspective. First let me say that there is a reason why our broadcast coverage of the Olympic games continues to be 50% sports, 30% personal stories of the athletes, and 20% images and activities in the Olympic host city. People and place sell sport.

Here are my 10 ideas about what Cycling Fans like. If we can provide more of this, then it makes sense that there will be more of us -
1. Atmosphere
After all we are talking entertainment. We come to relax and have fun, to enjoy the pageantry and excitement. To be around other people enjoying themselves as much as we are. Fans are pretty hardy, we don't need much, but we also don't like being shut out. Be careful of an overuse of VIP blockades.
2. Character
Fans like to see the struggle, the battle, rivalry, disappointment, and emotion! We like to know something about the athlete, hear their voices, know a little about their background, what motivates them, how hard they have worked. We appreciate rider interaction. We want more charisma and excitement for the sport from all involved.

Riders signing fan autographs: Alessandro Petacchi, David Zabriski, Mark Cavendish, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie. All Photos by PedalDancer.com
3. Place
Fans are proud of our hometowns and are curious about other places. We like to see how others live. The Grand Tours are unique because they link entire communities together in one long race crossing regions and borders. All fans understand local and national pride, this includes scenery, culture, language, tradition, and food! Armchair sports fans like to imagine being there. Tell us more about the places.
4. Team
In what other sport is the winner an individual on a team? This is somewhat unique to cycling and should be emphasized. Nothing appears more powerful than a team time trial, we want more. We want more team pictures together and more talk about how important the team members are to the winner.
5. Winners and losers
Don't stop the coverage once the racers are over the finish line. Fans like to see both the winners and the losers. Seeing Nick Nuyen's family at the finish of Tour of Flanders was wonderful. Fans like seeing wives, parents and family members share in the celebration. We like seeing the reactions of the losers, so keep the cameras rolling.
6. Organizers & Sponsors
We like the people who do the hard work. The people who are making these events happen for the athletes are the event organizers. Without their hard work in securing sponsors and road safety and team arrangements and bringing in revenue to local towns, the riders would have no place to race. We are there to see the riders. We also know to be grateful to the people who pay, so we don't mind hearing more about the sponsors.    
7. Machines & Technology
It makes sense that if we like fast cars, we would like fast bikes. The equipment used by the professional cyclist is very impressive. Emphasize the speed and engineering of the bikes, and talk money. Fans like to know how much things cost. Car racing is the #1 sport in America for a reason - big money, big sponsors. Fast racing. We also think that new technology should be utilized whenever possible, but the real focus of the fan is the athlete.
8. Schwag
Fans like tshirts, and hats, and pins, and flags, but mostly we like free giveaways. The fans at the Tour de France go crazy over the trinkets thrown to them by the caravan. We especially like team memorabilia or items with team or event logos. Give us more opportunity to buy, and offer simple free stuff as a thanks for coming out. 
9. Rules
The more we know, the more we enjoy. We like to understand the rules of engagement. Even if they give cycling more broadcasting time on TV, if the home spectator does not understand what they are watching, they will change the channel by the third commercial, thinking I watched some of that there cycling today on TV, bunch of guys who all looked the same, not much going on. Provide more education and explanation to create more fans.
10. Cycling!
We are no fools. Fans know that all in life is not fair; there are cheaters. We are not really that shocked when a cheater is discovered, so why are you? However once a cheater always a cheater, and we'd rather not have to continue to hear about them, no matter how much of a talent they are. There are so many other athletes worth our attention. We do want all athletes to be treated the same, preferential treatment is not respectful. A bit of ignorance is bliss for the fan, so we would like other professionals to consistently enforce the rules and handle the messy details. We'd like to focus on the fun part of the sport.

If we want to grow the sport of cycling in America we must reach out to the people, this means everyone. The Tour of California is an example where the organizers have done a great job of making the race fun to attend by creating a good atmosphere for fans. I appreciate the information they offer the fan on their website, but we need even more. More information about how to get to the race, ways of enjoying the race, what to expect at the race, and who will be racing. Also offer a basic introduction for beginner fans. Create involvement and excitement, emphasize the experience for the fan, emphasize the international field of athletes. Expose the fans to the Sponsors, and the Sponsors will return. 

Here is another idea: consider a Tifosi Zone (fan pit). An area that is not the $500 VIP area, but is also not free. Perhaps a $50.00 area where fans can stand, pay to enjoy a beer, purchase fan apparel, play trivia, get some freebies. Cover the area in sponsor banners and information. Different from the vendor area, this would be an area on the race route. I think it might be a popular more hip social alternative. 

Remember the fan is there to have a good time, cheer on their favorites, and watch some fast bike racing! We know the racers are racing for glory, but also for our entertainment. The sponsors are competing for our dollar. The fan matters. The sport of cycling is awesome, and I hope more people will come to enjoy it.