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Two of the biggest economic challenges faced by traditional road cycling have been the general inability to collect any kind of substantial gate or ticket revenues, and the high costs of producing quality television content to attract fans.
Organizers and overseers of the sport have been scratching their heads for years about how to address these fundamental challenges – and how to make cycling more economically self-sufficient. Now, a new indoor cycling league, long in development and finally set to premier in 2023, offers a new and radically different format to overcome these legacy challenges, and may provide exciting opportunities to engage a new and broader cycling audience.
World Cycling Limited’s new TeamTrak league is a U.S.-based arena sports property that will put a new and different “spin” on the sport of cycling. The privately-owned league will start off with eight location-based teams, each consisting of four pro men and women who will race head-to-head on a steeply banked and portable indoor 150-meter velodrome. Events will be held in medium-sized sports arenas around the country, with seating capacities varying from 3,000 to 7,000 people. Professional racers employed by the league will compete for not just prestige and honor, but also in a season-long points-based competition that will offer significant prize money. Men and women will be paid the same salary and will qualify for identical prize money.
“TeamTrak was developed with a fan-first mentality, reimagining the best elements of track cycling into a fully accessible and easy-to-follow format. Our high energy co-ed team model is specifically designed to appeal to modern American sports fans,” said Dave Chauner, CEO of World Cycling Limited – and a long-time race organizer and two-time Olympic cyclist.
Chauner has been working for a long time to bring this concept to life. The first “beta” test for an indoor racing event was held in Los Angeles back in 2016. After dealing with various partners and investors, Chauner believes he has now put together the right group and the necessary infrastructure to turn the sport into a reality. “We believe there is a very strong market for emerging sports right now – the potential for this sort of venture is as great as it has ever been,” Chauner told The Outer Line.
He hopes that the league’s innovative and easy-to-understand points ranking system will make the sport very accessible to both traditional cycling fans as well as a new and larger audience of broader sports fans.
This week, Chauner announced a strategic partnership with Legends – the global sport experience and management company originally founded by Jerry Jones and George Steinbrenner – to support the launch and growth of the startup league. This partnership will leverage data and analytics to provide fan accessibility and insights, which in turn will drive sponsorship sales and overall revenue-generating opportunities for the league. Legends will also provide broadcast and media rights support and share its intelligence-fueled 360-degree service solutions – including planning, sales, and hospitality to support growth of the new league.
Said Gabby Roe, President, Legends Growth Enterprises. “The TeamTrak leadership group has created a competition format that is fan and television friendly, easy to follow and features co-ed teams competing ‘elbow to elbow’ in the most exciting version of track cycling in the world. We see an incredible growth opportunity for the league.”
The new league will feature state-of-the-art technologies designed to maximize the fan experience, including real-time scoring and athlete statistics like speed, power output, heart rate and on-board cameras. The standard event will consist of two-and-a-half hours of racing, including five races for both the men women, with various events at distances between 1 kilometer to 15 kilometers. At the end of each meet, teams will be ranked by total points scored, both teams will have an MVP (a man or women) and the team which accumulates the most points wins the event. Management foresees a 2023 calendar consisting of four multi-day stops in four different U.S. cities, with the first TeamTrak Championship event – an eight team elimination series held over five days – to be held at the Orleans Area in Las Vegas in late September.
All races will be livestreamed by Outside TV, with the TV production managed and overseen by long-time industry pro Kent Gordis. The league hopes to quickly add other teams and locations in the U.S. and eventually, possibly from other countries around the world.
From the broader cycling perspective, this new format holds the promise to address a number of the sport’s traditional economic challenges and audience engagement shortfalls. First, and perhaps most important, it will offer the opportunity to charge gate admission, and the potential to sell merchandise or other services within an arena setting – including a beer garden in the infield of the track.
Collectively, this will constitute an important new source or revenue. Although Chauner is cautious about making any firm commitments, he says that the league initially hopes to seat an average of about 3,500 fans per event at ticket prices ranging from $30 to $60. Chauner has identified a number of mid-sized arenas around the country that will be ideal for staging TeamTrak events – which need roughly the same amount of floorspace as a hockey rink.
Second, the costs to televise the event will be significantly less than in the case of road cycling – where multiple motorcycles, helicopters, fixed-wing relay planes, and countless fixed cameras are necessary to effectively capture the action. Chauner foresees needing only four or five fixed cameras to record the full action, with perhaps additional camera embedded in the track itself – for the same perspective we are used to seeing in Formula 1 coverage. Most interestingly, there is also the possibility of having micro-cameras (similar those in a cell phone) built in to the bikes themselves – facing forwards, backwards, and up toward the rider’s face – to really capture the intensity of competition from within the pack.
And it’s not just these financial criteria where TeamTrak may bring fresh ideas or more sustainable approaches. The league’s plan to build more regionally-based and locally-identifiable teams will help build up the sort of regional fan base – and hopefully fervor – that is commonplace in most sports but has always been lacking in commercially-sponsored pro road racing. Among the inaugural teams will be squads based in California, Colorado, Philadelphia and Las Vegas.
Finally, the league’s proposed focus on team performance – as opposed to simply individual performance – will also work to build greater fan accessibility and interest. By means of its points structure, awards, and prize money, TeamTrak – as the name suggests – will focus on the team. While each team will still have an MVP for each event, the team that scores the most points will be the winner – just like in most other sports. And at the end of the season, the team with the most aggregate points will be crowned champion.
Summarizing the TeamTrak vision, Chauner says, “We want to take most exciting discipline in cycling, and infuse it with many of the solutions that have held cycling back in the past – considerations like a sustainable revenue base, cheaper and more compelling TV coverage, location-based teams, equal contracts and prize money for men and women, and a fan-friendly standard 10-race meet format based on a points system that builds throughout the season toward a championship event. We believe that TeamTrak will be able to deliver these critical growth components to a core audience of cycling enthusiasts as well as to modern sports fans who like high speed, fast action and instant scoring.”
The first event kicks off next April 4 in Tampa, and it will be interesting to see how quickly this new version of pro cycling catches on.