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MARKS TEY, UK (VN) — The Women’s Tour wants live TV coverage next year, but it won’t compromise on anything else to get it.
Race organizer, SweetSpot announced earlier this year that it would have — for the first time — live coverage of the race. However, it went back on that promise last week, saying that it would only have a highlights package in 2021.
Race director Mick Bennett said funds could not be taken from other parts of the race, such as policing, and the current highlights deal with British network channel ITV 4 — which is then licensed to Eurosport and GCN — takes priority over a short live stream.
“We have a contract with ITV 4 for the highlights program and we’ve got that until 2025. So, you’ve got to deliver that because that’s what you’re contracted to do. You can’t then say we’re going to take all that money put it into that and forget you,” Bennett told VeloNews.
“The reality is for us. We could run the live stream for 45 minutes a day and tick that box. Forget the highlights program, which has amazing viewers, and the rights are around the world. Where’s the balance? What we produce for the highlights program far outweighs what live streaming would deliver.”
— Rebecca Charlton (@BeccaCharlton) October 5, 2021
SweetSpot was working with broadcaster Eurosport and its cycling platform GCN to host a live stream of the race, which would have cost the organizer over £100,000 ($135,900) to do. However, poor 4G coverage outside town and city centers in the UK made it an unviable option.
“There was no guarantee there was going be a continual picture… I was talking to communications specialists, and we can’t even get an audio signal that’s consistent in this country. It’s ridiculous,” Bennett said.
The requirement of live TV images for at least 45 minutes of Women’s WorldTour races is one of several changes brought through in recent years to help edge towards parity between the men’s and women’s side of the sport. Last month, during the world championships, the UCI announced it would continue to increase minimum salaries for women’s WorldTeams so that they matched the men’s “as soon as possible”.
Bennett wants the sport to continue to grow but believes the UCI is progressing too fast with its changes.
“In my honest opinion here is the UCI trying to move too quickly with women’s sport. Far too quickly. It took the men to get to where they are now. It took them many years,” Bennett said.
“It’s not going happen overnight and they’re trying to make it. I even spoke to members of the [UCI] Commissions in Aigle, and who are on the women’s commission, and they said it was happening too quickly.”
More sponsors mean TV and more prizes
Getting this year’s race, with or without live TV coverage was a huge logistical challenge for the organizer due to many councils being reticent to shell out the money needed to host the race when there were still a lot of social restrictions due to COVID-19. It was only when the UK’s vaccination program got well underway and restrictions eased that things changed.
“We could have turned ran to the UCI and said it’s only a two-day stage race this year because no local authorities would have us, and this is going this is late into May of this year,” Bennett said. “It was just a nightmare. There were stages that came in very, very late because double vaccinations happened. It was like trying to organize in a fog.”
Bennett and the SweetSpot team also hope to up the women’s prize money for next year after it fell from about €14,000 when the race was last put on in 2019 to a bit under €3,000 for this year. However, as with the issue of television pictures, it is a question of finances.
With no racing over the last two years and uncertainly surrounding this year’s editions of the men’s Tour of Britain — which it also organizes — and the Women’s Tour, it has become difficult to entice new sponsors on board. Now that racing has resumed and looks set to be, more or less, back to normal next year, Bennett is hopeful that it will become a little easier.
“There is the opportunity going forward. If we had new sponsors come on board then, of course, we’d factor that in,” Bennett told VeloNews.
“More sponsors means equal prize money and live TV, I don’t want to overcomplicate because it’s not complicated. I wouldn’t put the money into anything else. We can’t put any more money into the safety of the riders. It would go back to the riders and TV. It’s not complicated at all.”
The Women’s Tour is currently set to be a part of next year’s Women’s WorldTour but with another year of no live TV pictures, it could find itself relegated. The only grand tour on the women’s calendar suffered that fate this year and will return next season after a raft of changes.
Being demoted would be a major disappointment for the race, but Bennett believes that what he and his team deliver despite the dearth of live coverage is worth keeping the event at the highest level.
“I’m concerned but I don’t worry about it. I’d be like shooting yourself in the foot for them. The commissaire has said to me, this is perfect. I know the problems that the Giro Rosa had, and it wasn’t just TV,” Bennett said.
“At the same time, June 2022, is the next race and it’s very much got to be live TV. We very much need new partners for that. That doesn’t just mean title partner that’s across the board.”