Thousands of screaming fans standing for hours wanting to catch a glimpse of their favorite racer’s face, wearing colors that match the team colors. The bravado and coolness of speed oozes in and around the men. Power can be felt and seen. Interviews coming and going. Cameras jockeying for position. Strategies being discussed and rehashed.
No, this is not a cycling event. It is a National Association of Stock Car Racing event, better known as NASCAR.
Always having a fairly solid fan base, NASCAR has been around since the 1940s, but exploded in the early 21st Century. The question is why? In a typical family, the dads attach to the tough guys, the wives to the lookers, and the kids to the kid (Jeff Gordon). This produces a family sport. The drivers are “normal” guys, just your run-of-the-mill country boy who likes cars, speed, money, and winning. They are the guy who could work right beside you at the auto parts store. They will punch someone in the face who bumps and rubs too much. No flash. No chit chat. After racing, they will climb into their RV and settle back with a beer, only later to be found hanging out with a crowd of fans.
Professional cycling has one event a year, according to the general public in America: The Tour de France. Ask someone to name a rider. Lance Armstrong, maybe. The professional ranks have new blood that has very strong potential of lunching the sport into a world-wide love for cycling. Yes, the fan base is super heavy in Europe, but in America . . . not so much. What could be the catalyst for America? The bravado is definitely there. The nicknames are cool. The riders are incredible athletes. Tempers do flare. The atmosphere is tangible. The key is connecting the riders to the general public . . . marketing! America is an untapped source of what could be a cycling frenzy, which equals money. Sure, we have The Tour of California and other big events, as well as the USA Cycling organization, but the isolation and patches of interests are too spread out.
At the peak of the NASCAR frenzy (yes, it is dwindling), the popularity of the sport forced stations like ESPN to devote air time to it. Some people who never watched stock car racing suddenly found themselves drawn to it and more importantly the drivers. He is funny. He’s a jerk. He can freaking drive! I hope he’s embarrassed, today. I cannot stand him! Previously mentioned, cycling has the same potential. Any sports writer worth his salt can make a story out of Contador’s comeback or lack there of. Who wouldn’t want to watch the power of Andre’ Griepel (The Gorilla) crush other sprinters with what appears to be no effort? Oh, you don’t like Peter Sagan’s finish line shenanigans? Then beat him.
For NASCAR, driving in circles can’t be all that exciting to many people and with added restricting plates making all the cars essentially the same, boring would be word that would come to mind. Hours of laps. Many of the same drivers leading. So what was added to the races, throughout the years, that could be used in cycling? Radio transmissions. Listening to the drivers converse with crew chiefs about the car and curse other drivers is priceless. Fans eat it up. Most, if not all, cycling teams communicate with a radio: manager to rider and rider to manager and other riders. Add those conversations to the television broadcast, connecting the viewer and the teams. Yes, language is a barrier, but that is why we have the commentators. Another added component is showing the cars’ “vital” readings. Maybe at the bottom of the screen, switch out different riders’ vital readings, such as power, heart rate, speed, and cadence. Could that be used as an advantage, if another team were monitoring another rider’s vitals? Sure, but it doesn’t seem to affect NASCAR drivers too much. It’s all about connection.
For anything to become noticed and move ahead, promoters must think outside of the box. Cycling must move in a direction that leads to bigger gains in viewing and popularity. Where else in the world, in any sport, can the fans run along right beside his/her favorite athlete? The sport has multiple avenues of venture. Sitting back and doing the same thing and expecting different results is nuts. Take a message from an old European friend of mine:
…Come, my friends,
`Tis not too late to seek a newer world…
for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset,…
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.