SBJ/December 10-16, 2012/Events and Attractions

NGB, Louisville group save Cyclocross event

USA Cycling, the sport’s national governing body, and the Louisville (Ky.) Sports Commission have collectively contributed a mid-six-figure payment to save the Feb. 2-3 UCI Cyclocross World Championships race in Louisville.

A sponsorship issue had threatened the UCI Cyclocross World Championships. The sport combines bikes, mud and obstacles.
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The event, which has a budget of approximately $2 million, was dealt a nearly fatal blow when presenting sponsor Exergy Development Group skipped payments and had its contract terminated.

“When we realized there was a funding gap and the UCI was knocking on the door, we agreed to backstop the event,” said Micah Rice, vice president of national events for USA Cycling.

Cyclocross is a non-Olympic event in which participants race bicycles on dirt tracks and navigate barriers and other obstacles on foot. In Europe, the sport supports a multimillion-dollar racing series with tens of thousands of spectators. In the U.S., the sport is smaller and largely participant-driven.

In 2010, U.S. promoters Joan Hanscom and Bruce Fina won a bid to host the 2013 World Championships in Louisville from the sport’s international body, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). It was the first time in the 63-year history of the event that the UCI had chosen a non-European venue. The two promoters began selling sponsorships in 2010. Hanscom said sponsorship outside of the bike industry was slow to materialize.
“When you see cyclocross, you get it,” Hanscom said. “It’s never been televised in the U.S. so we were selling an unknown commodity.”

In 2011, Hanscom sold a presenting sponsorship worth $400,000 to Idaho-based renewable energy company Exergy. Exergy sponsors other major U.S. cycling properties, including the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the Exergy Women’s Tour and its own pro team. But in January 2012, Exergy missed its first payment of $100,000. By November, Hanscom terminated the contract after the company had paid only $50,000 of its total obligation.

In August, the Associated Press reported that Exergy owed $37.9 million to a wind turbine vendor. That month CEO James Carkulis admitted he was late on payment for the Exergy Women’s Tour. In November the company cut sponsorship of its pro team.
Carkulis did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

With sponsorship cash running short and Exergy missing its payments, Hanscom and Fina also missed an undisclosed number of payments to the UCI. According to Rice, USA Cycling stepped in and negotiated with the UCI to relax the payment schedule. It also negotiated TV rights, contributed a mid-six-figure payment and helped with sponsorship sales.

“It’s no longer an issue of losing the event,” Rice said. “It’s now about making it run smoothly.”

Currently the race’s sponsors include Sierra Nevada, WD-40 and Greenware food packaging, among others. Activation includes dasherboard signage along the course, space in the expo and TV spots, depending on the packages, which range from mid-five to low six figures. It also has sold 35 smaller sponsorships for spots in the event’s expo.

While the race’s TV package is not finalized, a source said it had purchased two one-hour spots on NBC Sports Network for tape-delayed airing on Feb. 2 and 3. The race also will be shown live during prime time in Europe.

Fred Dreier is a writer in New York.

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