What is the National Road Series Missing?
Following on from the articles I wrote a few weeks ago on the topic (here and here), I think it’s time to throw my thoughts on where domestic cycling in Australia, and in particular the National Road Series (NRS) is struggling. With cycling becoming more and more popular among the mainstream it can no longer be considered a fringe sport. Along with an increase in popularity has come a surge in the quality of the racing in Australia. It could be easily argued that the gulf between the NRS and World Tour is smaller than the gap between the A-league and the Champions League in Soccer. So why is the domestic national competition shrinking every year?
Quiet simply, there is none. Keen cyclists and followers of the sport have no idea what the NRS is about, or even that it exists. We can’t possibly build a competition which is sustainable when each event is sold to local governments as an opportunity to bring people in to their region. The people that they are talking about aren’t spectators, but teams and riders. Not many people know the events are on, and even fewer are prepared to travel in order to watch some racing.
Once again, the NRS calendar is generally not accessible to the larger population centres (with a few exceptions). In an effort to reduce costs, get local government funding and get road closures more easily, races are moved to regional centres. With most of our populations based in the major cities, putting on events which can’t take advantage of these populations removes the potential for sponsorship.
After taking the team to Bendigo last month for the Oceania Championships, it reminded me of the fact that event organisers put minimal to no effort into engaging the local population. Not a single local that I spoke to in the 5 days we were there knew the event was on. With social media it wouldn’t have been difficult to get some local engagement from the community. A $400 boosted post on Facebook would have easily covered 90% of the Bendigo population.
All parties have failed to create a following. Most teams, most organisers and most riders have missed the point that sport is entertainment. If you want your sport to grow then you have to entertain people and give them something they are interested in. More people watch Orica-Greenedge’s “Backstage Pass” than watch the race highlights. These take effort (and money) to produce, but the point is that you don’t need live TV coverage and they could easily be filmed on a latest generation smartphone. If we aren’t prepared to produce our own content and following then why should we expect sponsorship?
Trying to do things like they have always been done
Our national administrators are so stuck on doing things like they used to be done, that have neglected to adapt and evolve with the modern world. They continue to run the NRS as a series of amateur events relying on the charity of business and individuals. It’s time for domestic cycling to stop complaining about what we don’t have, and use what we do have to create a following, awareness and a sport which is both promotable and accessible to the world.
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