In light of yesterday’s confirmation from Cycling Australia that Channel 9 and Fox have replaced SBS as the contracted TV broadcasters for Australian domestic cycling for the next two seasons, this article from Cycling Tips is well worth a read, as are the comments. It explains things pretty well, and for what it’s worth, I generally agree with their view. Below are my own thoughts…
SBS and Cycling Central have done a magnificent job for a long time and, clearly, have an unrivalled depth of knowledge and passion for cycling, something they’ll be continuing to share with us during all the big European classics and tours for the foreseeable future. But as a smaller broadcaster they deliver a niche audience and cycling wants, and in many ways desperately needs, to become more than just a niche sport in this country. For domestic cycling to truly flourish – especially given its well-documented financial troubles – it needs the commercial impetus of mainstream media backing and the elevated audience/sponsor reach that brings. In many ways CA really didn’t have a choice.
“We are now in an unparalleled position to be able to market our sport to many demographics throughout Australia on a regular basis across four major networks within Australia in 2015,” said Cycling Australia CEO Nick Green OAM, announcing the deal with Nine and Fox. “This will put cycling into the living rooms of millions more Australian homes, and we look forward to engaging with these fans to grow cycling from the grass-roots through to the elite level.”
Now, whether or not Channel 9 and Fox actually deliver on the massive untapped potential in domestic cycling remains very much to be seen. So far the signs aren’t very encouraging with viewer-unfriendly programming slots, and you’d like to think this situation will be watched very closely indeed by Messrs Green and Speed at CA. But at least there’s a foot in the door, and cycling is now on the radar of two of the three commercial networks in the land, with Channel 7 also committed to the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. And let’s not forget, SBS has been far from perfect on the domestic front. No question their coverage of the big European races is first-class and has been for many years, but to the despair of many they didn’t show the women’s road race at the nationals live last year either, for example, and their 2015 NRS highlights packages were modest at best, and often delayed by many weeks. The coverage provided on twitter and metarace of these events was infinitely better which simply isn’t good enough to be taken seriously by potential sponsors. The reasons for this situation, as expressed to me directly by an SBS employee, were unsurprisingly money related. Road cycling, by its very nature, is an expensive sport to cover – especially point to point road cycling. For example, last October when I publicly wondered if we might ever see live TV coverage of Australia’s oldest one-day race, the Melbourne to Warrnambool, a figure of around $200k was quoted as being required to do it. That’s a lot of energy gels, and a big risk to any broadcaster, especially with no guarantee of decent audience numbers. I wouldn’t show it either!
Regardless of what channel our TVs are ultimately tuned to, it’s also worth remembering we’ll still be hearing most of the same commentators like Liggett, Sherwen and Keenan, plus a few extras like the excellent Robbie McEwan. I’m sure there are other brilliant commentators just waiting to be discovered in our ex-riding ranks as well, male and female. Hopefully Channel 9 and Fox will now get out there and find them.
People don’t like change. I get that. We like loyalty and familiarity. We’ve grown up watching Tommo and crew on our TV screens and I have to admit I feel more than a little unfaithful towards SBS even writing this. But just like racing in a weekend crit, if you’re not moving forwards you’re invariably moving backwards. If CA plays things right, works hard to foster those media and commercial relationships and leverages more and more opportunities each year, I genuinely feel we might just look back in a decade’s time and think this has actually been a reasonably good thing.
Certainly, the nature of our sport, with so many races each year, means there’s more than enough events to go around anyway, so surely the more networks that get involved the better?
It isn’t going to help you with the NRS, granted. But given most of us are out there riding bikes worth many thousands of dollars and will spend hundreds , if not thousands, more in acquiring new gear in 2015, it’s well worth worth considering getting Foxtel if you haven’t already. Yes, it’s about $50-$65 a month (still less than you’ll spend on post-ride coffees), but in return you’ll get the chance to watch a never-ending smorgasboard of professional cycling from all over the world courtesy of Eurosport and its insightful and often hilarious stable of commentators such as Carlton Kirby and the deadpan extraordinaire himself, Irishman, well yes, Sean Kelly. If you love your cycling it could be the best investment you make this year.