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SBD Global/October 13, 2017/People and Pop Culture

Hangin' With ... Welcome To Yorkshire CEO Gary Verity

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Gary Verity has served as CEO of Welcome To Yorkshire since '08.
GARY VERITY is the CEO of tourism agency Welcome To Yorkshire, which, along with the Amaury Sport Organisation, organizes the Tour de Yorkshire. The fourth edition of the annual cycling race will be held from May 3-6 in eight locations throughout the county. Last month, the Int'l Cycling Union (UCI) confirmed that the race will be extended starting in '18. Verity spoke with SBD Global about the Tour's expansion and fanfare, as well as Yorkshire's efforts to promote women's cycling.

On the race's beginnings ...
Gary Verity: We hosted the start of the Tour de France in 2014 -- the Grand Départ. ... That was the start of our journey to make Yorkshire the cycling capital of Europe. We said that one of the things we'd need to be able to demonstrate if we were to be truly able to justify the statement that we're the cycling capital of Europe is that we have our own professional top-quality bike race every year both for men and women, and the Tour de Yorkshire is that.

On the race's expansion ...
Verity: We've been lobbying for a while for the expansion of the tour -- 100 percent expansion of the women's race and a 33 percent expansion of the men's race. We felt that was important for the men's race, first of all, to give it more balance so we could do two flat days -- or relatively flat days, there's nothing exactly flat in Yorkshire -- and two hilly days. ... It also enables us to visit much more of Yorkshire, to cover much more of Yorkshire, clearly, if we've got four days rather than three days.

On the women's race ...
Verity: We've been pioneers in terms of helping to grow women's cycling. We introduced the largest prize pot for the women's event a couple of years ago, and we're delighted that we can increase the duration of the women's event to two days. The women basically have been lobbying us for a long time to say there's three things that they're looking for. Firstly, parity in terms of media coverage so both races are screened from start to finish on television -- not just the final two hours. Secondly, parity in terms of courses so, as much as possible, the women have exactly the same parcours as the men. Thirdly, in terms of prize money and financial matching. Well, we've gone one better so the prize money for the women's event is far more than for the men's event. ... For last year, the prize pot for the women's race was €50,000 and for the men's race it was about half of that.

On choosing the routes ...
Verity: I've described the choosing of the routes and the choosing of the start/finish -- the host cities and towns -- as a bit like designing a giant sudoku puzzle. You have a number of things that you have to try to make work. You're looking for something which is very good from a sporting point of view, clearly. You're looking for something that has outstanding backdrops and stunning scenery for the television shots. You're looking for something that's going to be able to accommodate massive crowds because we know we'll get several million people at the roadside watching. And you're looking to go to all four parts of Yorkshire over the race -- north, east, south and west. ... So you put all that together and it's a bit of a conundrum, and we ask towns and cities, hosts, venues, to bid to be a start or a finish. This year we had 18 different potential start and finish venues and I had to pick eight.

On the raceday crowds ...
Verity: We have a wonderful carnival atmosphere. All the towns and villages that the race passes through really take to their heart to decorate their area with bunting and yellow bikes and blue bikes and with flags and wonderful land art. So we get dozens and dozens of pieces of land art that communities do off their own back to try to get those obviously onto the helicopter television shots.

On the economic impact ...
Verity: Last year, the immediate financial impact was £64 million, just on the race weekend alone. We obviously anticipate that it will be a much bigger number with having four days this year rather than three days. But it's much more than just a bike race. The way I describe it is to say this is about social change. This is about bringing communities together. It's about getting neighbors and neighboring businesses to collaborate and talk with each other -- to have a great time. This is their moment to have a party for their communities.

On media coverage ...
Verity: We're on television in 185 countries around the world. We're live from start to finish in the U.K. on ITV. We're on Eurosport and we're distributed through the EBU [European Broadcasting Union] around the globe so people will get an opportunity to see the race wherever they live in the world, either live or highlights.

On charitable efforts ...
Verity: We have a nominated charity partner for the race each year. ... Last year it was the Alzheimer's Society. We'll announce on Dec. 5 which this next edition's charity partner is. The other thing we have is the Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries. We said as part of our vision to be the European capital of cycling, we need to make sure that every child in Yorkshire, no matter their social background, had access to a bicycle.

On the race's sponsorship model ...
Verity: It’s a classic model in terms of the funding through contributions from starts and finish hosts -- those are the main funding routes for it. ... We have Asda, which is part of the Walmart group -- a big supermarket in the U.K. -- who have been great sponsors for the women's race and have helped us to sort of push back the boundaries in terms of women's sport. We have the Yorkshire Bank who are a big banking corporation in the U.K. and many other sponsors as well.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.
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