SBJ/May 13-19, 2013/Events and Attractions

As Richmond, Va., prepares for event’s rare trip to U.S. in ’15, Armstrong scandal isn’t helping

Two years out from Richmond, Va., hosting the 2015 UCI Road Cycling World Championships, event organizers face the challenge of attracting national and international sponsors in the wake of Lance Armstrong’s doping controversy, which has sent marketers running from the sport.

The weeklong world championship awards individual titles in road racing and time trials at the elite, under-23 and junior levels. Since its debut in 1927, the annual event has been held outside of Europe only seven times and only once in the United States: Colorado Springs hosted it in 1986.

The UCI Road Cycling World Championships are rarely held outside Europe.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
American cities have shied away from hosting the event because of its sizable budget — currently in the $20 million to $25 million range — and because it traditionally requires substantial public funding. Road bicycle races generate no gate receipts, and the relatively small television audience generally negates a rights fee.

Lee Kallman, who oversees marketing for the Richmond event, said he has sold approximately $12 million in sponsorships to local and regional entities. Included in that figure are pledges from the city and state, though Kallman expects public dollars to account for just 15 percent of the $21 million budget.

“We’re ahead of schedule,” Kallman said. “It gives us time to work through our TV deal and other assets.”

Still, that leaves about a $9 million gap in funding at a time when attracting major sponsors to the sport of cycling has become difficult. Longtime cycling sponsor Rabobank pulled out of pro cycling in October. Nissan ended its sponsorship of Armstrong’s team in December, and RadioShack reportedly is leaving the sport altogether after 2013.

“I think anyone would be remiss to say [the Armstrong controversy] didn’t hurt the sport with nonendemic sponsors,” said Matt Wikstrom, who oversees bicycle and endurance sports sponsorships for Wasserman Media Group. “But when you look at what cities are doing with bike lanes and bike infrastructure, there is a resurgence around people’s interest in bicycles.”

The UCI, or International Cycling Union, also forbids a title sponsor for the entire race week, so Kallman said he’s adopted a creative approach to selling the event. The UCI does allow principal sponsorships for each day of competition, so Richmond plans to alter the racing schedule to include women’s and youth races on specific days, which Kallman hopes can open the door for more targeted marketing.

Kallman also said Richmond will organize mass-participant rides, amateur races, a health expo, and events promoting alternative transportation and sustainability. A study conducted by Chmura Economics and Analytics predicts 400,000 to 500,000 spectators will attend at least one of the races. The event also hopes to fund a handful of legacy projects, including a trail system connecting Richmond to Williamsburg, about 50 miles away.

“We’re not just selling a bike race here,” Kallman said. “We talk to [partners] about leveraging the championships as a way to talk to their employees and customers about sustainability and health and other things.”

In addition to a dozen or so six-figure deals, Kallman has secured low-seven-figure sponsorships with Philip Morris’ parent company Altria Group, Genworth Financial, local power company Dominion and packaging company MeadWestvaco. Ned Massee, vice president of corporate affairs for MeadWestvaco, which has 800 employees in the city, said his company is still developing its plans for the event.

“We see this as a great retention and recruitment tool because activity and health, that’s important to our employees,” Massee said. “What if Richmond could become the Denver or the Portland of the East Coast?”

Fred Dreier is a writer in Colorado.

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