Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 26 No. 175
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

USA Cycling Planning Major Campaign Aimed At New Members

Cycling membership is flat and changing that by broadening its appeal could be key for the sport
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Cycling membership is flat and changing that by broadening its appeal could be key for the sport
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Cycling membership is flat and changing that by broadening its appeal could be key for the sport
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

USA Cycling is set to embark on a major marketing campaign this month, aiming to drastically increase its paying membership. USAC CEO Rob DeMartini -- who spent 12 years in the same role at New Balance during a period of extraordinary growth -- has convinced the NGB's BOD to authorize a three-year plan quintupling its annual marketing spend from 2% of its budget to 10%. In '19, that would have been $1.8M. That level of spending in pursuit of new members is likely unprecedented among Olympic governing bodies. Nonprofit NGBs cannot take on outside investors, and are generally judged based on how much of their money directly supports current athletes. But membership in cycling is flat and changing that trajectory by broadening the appeal of membership is the key to unlocking the sport's potential. "We fundamentally have a revenue generation problem," DeMartini said. "Until we start gaining members, we are playing defense."

COME ONE, COME ALL: The mission is to gain market share of all bicycle riders. Sixty-five million Americans own a bike and 7 million call themselves enthusiasts. Only 60,000 people belong to USAC, but more than 90% of those are active racers. "We need a reason for non-racing cycling enthusiasts to be members," DeMartini said. The marketing campaign will focus on cycling's social and health benefits, and will include extensive digital ad buys on major social platforms. The NGB also is pursuing bike-friendly influencers. USAC has secured agreements from at least 60 mass-participation cycling events to encourage membership, including the Gran Fondo New York World Championship in May. Each of those events has agreed to give USAC members early registration, entry fee discounts, dedicated starting corals and unique finish-line experiences.

STRATEGY SHIFT: Membership tiers will be simplified and restructured, with no more separate racing licenses and memberships. A standard membership will cost $40 and a family (unlimited number of children), $60. A premium upgrade, which comes with comprehensive racing rights, will cost an additional $40 per person. USAC's BOD has wanted to pursue noncompetitive members for at least five years, said Chair Bob Stapleton. "We've always felt there was a much broader role USA Cycling could play," Stapleton said. "We have one of the largest gaps between scope of participation in our sport and the size of the membership of any NGB." Stapleton believes elite athletes are relatively happy with USAC's financial support, giving the board the flexibility to fund a brand campaign. USAC rolled out a basic $20 membership in '18, with limited results. DeMartini believes this will be different because of the perks members will enjoy at races. Cycling's financial commitment to brand marketing and membership growth is extraordinary, according to former USA Swimming CMO Matt Farrell. He said, "It's clearly a long-term play. ... This is a dramatic way to get a more sustainable model, where membership is really the most stable revenue source."