Women’s racing Part 1

I have lots of ideas, probably because I’m an artist and the creativity flows, especially while I’m riding my bike ironically enough.  Sometimes they get very grandiose in my head and as I start to tackle them I realize very quickly that they’re either very bad ideas, someone has already done/thought of them or they just don’t pan out.  One of the ideas I had was to do a series of blog posts about women’s racing.  Not only do I race at the elite level, I also follow lots of blogs and journalists about bike racing in general; but as I started to gather material I quickly felt unqualified.  I used to write a lot as a hobby and one of the best pieces of advice I ever received, which still runs through my head every time I sit down to write is ‘Write what you know….’ so I’ll try to do just that.

Recently, I was invited to do a podcast with Cycling360 media on women’s racing in general.  It was basically done in interview style where they asked me all kinds of questions ranging from what types of racing do I do, the training I enjoy most to what women’s racing is like.  Earlier in the year, I also did a guest blog post about the 5 biggest obstacles to racing ‘pro’ over at loving the bike.  Both times I left out a lot of information regarding more controversial subjects like those that I am addressing in this series.  After some private conversations and e-mails, some from women that I race with, I was encouraged to do some writing of my own about those controversial subjects.  Most people don’t know what it’s really like, how much women (or men for that matter) are really getting paid to race ‘professionally’ and the culture within the sport that all create a very unique and hidden dynamic that is only recently being talked about but still at a surface level.

It’s a downward spiral.  The claim is, that there isn’t any interest in women’s racing.  And yet there is no television coverage, which doesn’t provide exposure and would lead to the general public as well as the avid bike racing fan to gain knowledge about the who’s who of women’s racing and the teams which provides the media with their own self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘no interest’.  I beg to differ.  I have seen more and more, especially on social media sites like Twitter and blogs that there is genuine interest, and a lot of it from the male population!  Who knew?!  There is even outrage, by both men and women, when live feeds are cut off during the women’s race following a men’s pro race.

There’s been some interesting discussions lately by many journalists as well as interviews of professional women racers.  It brings up issues like basic economics of supply and demand with demand being fueled or should I say, poorly stoked, so that the general public doesn’t even understand the word ‘crit.’  It’s already been stated that TV is everything in increasing coverage and general awareness.  In the last year, Nicola Cranmer has put together some energizing and very professional promo videos for her Team that in my opinion are very captivating.  Also, there’s been some specific companies and teams that have been very proactive in supporting and promoting women’s racing like Team Exergy 2012, Vanderkitten & Tibco and the company Project Sport who I have always been a huge fan of as they always have equal pay-outs for the pro men’s and women’s fields.  However, up until those videos and similar recent promotions, there was virtually nothing of its’ kind done to promote women’s racing.  No one is innocent.  Everyone is guilty.  We, meaning those of us who either participate in the sport or who are avid fans, play a part.  Some would say that the economy has a lot to do with decreasing sponsorship dollars and while I agree with that argument to some extent, women aren’t that much slower than men, nor is there that less interest in women’s racing versus men’s racing to warrant the discrepancy in salary or the ‘apparent’ media coverage.  That being said, I am also somewhat aware of what domestic professional men get paid & that number is also ridiculous.

In part II I talk  more about sponsorship and offer some solutions so I hope you stay tuned!

©2011 Wil Matthews

8 Responses to “Women’s racing Part 1”

  1. Bob says:

    Look forward to Part II, Heather! Good luck with this.

    My (casual) observation is that part of it is more basic than sponsorship dollars. It’s has to do with societal sexism. The issues for the women’s cycling parallel those of many other professional sports, including some “traditional” women’s sports like golf.

    Perhaps the only exception *might* be tennis. And I’m not convinced that looks don’t have an impact of who tunes in for that. Long gone are the days of Chris and Martina playing regularly on broadcast television and people tuning in and talking about the game. Now it’s about Maria’s or Venus’s outfit as much as the game.

    WNBA, LPGA, Women’s college hoops, women’s track & field. Despite the advances brought about with Title IX, these sports all lag far behind the men’s counterparts in terms of butts in seats, dollars in the purse, and eyes on the tube. That despite the fact that women’s competition is often as, if not more, … competitive than the men’s.

    The only explanation I can come up with is a sexist preconception that a) the women’s sport is less “exciting” and/or b) that women should not be doing these sports (such as boxing).

    Keep up the great work!

    • Heather says:

      Hey thanks for your comments Bob. You make some very valid observations. I too think that the issue quite a bit more complicated than what meets the eye. It is a fact that sex sells. I get that. It’s not something we should be ‘fighting’ or staying in denial about but recognizing that reality and pushing beyond that envelope to propel women as being recognized for their athleticism and brain-power. Almost like, okay now that we have you looking, listen to what we have to say and how what we have to add to the sports industry. I think it not only takes a concerted effort by women but also a willingness of men to accept and help promote women across the board.

  2. Marc Cox says:

    You make a very good point about tennis there Bob. There’s no doubt the over-sexualisation of the women’s game is a factor in the amount of coverage it receives, certainly that’s the case here in Great Britain. I have to say though, where cycling is concerned we’ve had a steady increase in women’s cycling coverage the last few years, mostly due to our success in the Olympics. I can now have a conversation with a non-cyclist and mention Victoria Pendleton or Nicole Cooke knowing they are as well known as Lance Armstrong (and more than Bradley Wiggins come to think of it!). We now get tv coverage of national and international track events which includes women’s events but still such a long way to go.
    Obviously, as a cyclist I’m going to be biased about how exciting the sport is to watch on TV, but I have watched others around me react to coverage of women’s cycling events (admittedly Olympics) and how much they’ve been moved by the racing just as much as the men’s. Personally one of my all time favourite memories is of Nicole Cooke taking the road in Beijing through pouring rain. I literally cried with excitment.
    Perhaps, maybe, rousing the nation behind Olympic medal success would work in the States aswell? I imagine the games still get good column inches when you’ve some gold to shout about ?
    Nice blog, will look forward to the next installment.

    • Heather says:

      Hi Marc! Thanks for reading and replying. I think the same can be said for other sports where a woman’s sexuality is more-or-less spotlighted like say figure skating and gymnastics. The coverage for those sports is also quite a bit higher than other sports like cycling, basketball, golf etc. Again, instead of fighting that reality I think that helping to further focus people’s attention beyond that is what is going to help bring attention to women’s sports in general. Wasn’t that an incredible win by Nicole Cooke?! I loved watching that ending. I’m also wondering if women’s sports isn’t perceived as ‘exciting’ as men’s simply because there are fewer of us? How would a pro women’s criterium play out for instance, if the field size was consistently 75+ participants? The top women in the sport ARE just as strong as a large contingent of the pro men it’s just that we don’t have the sheer numbers to keep the pace as high for as long as the men do; which might explain the overall lower speeds etc. I think drawing attention to women’s racing during the Olympics is a really good start. However, I honestly believe that in order to keep the momentum going, there has to be a consistent focus, more than just every four years in other words. There are world and national championships every year as well as other high profile national and international races that deserve attention.

      • marc cox says:

        Heather, you’re absolutely right of course that the Olympics are not enough. I mention them in relation to the way British Cycling has fostered a very successful approach to launching riders into the pro road scene with the effect that we actually now have a ‘British’ team competing in the Tour – something we could have only dreamed about a few years ago. It was success and exposure in Olympic events that eventually led to the interest from Sky. Now, regarding support of women’s road we have much to do, but my point is that the Track approach and knock on effects of Sky’s involvement has created opportunities for lady riders where before they had none. With any luck Mr. Brailsford has plans hatching for a full women’s pro road team under Sky – now that would be superb – just need the races 🙂
        What I’m trying to say is, given the captive audience the Olympics commands, do you think that a concerted effort through track events would be a good way of gaining more exposure with a long term view to attracting road sponsorship of women’s events. (also, as in this country, I imagine that track is a safer environment for promoting grass roots and youth participation?)

        • Bob says:

          I agree with both of you. And I think it’s imperative that UCI step up to push for more sanctioned women’s races to ride parallel to men’s events. Esp if they can be run the same day – you have the road-side audience already assembled. Men’s team sponsors need to step up too. Unfortunately, the UCI doesn’t seem interested and sponsor’s are leary about throwing more money at cycling.

          • Heather says:

            Yes exactly. I don’t think that the UCI is genuinely interested in the development of women as professionals in the sport and quite honestly, I don’t think USA cycling is either.

        • Heather says:

          Oh I agree absolutely! So many professional athletes have gotten exposure as a result of the Olympics, no matter what the sport. However, I guess I just feel that in order bike racing in the United States to really go any further, the focus needs to be altered somewhat because obviously it hasn’t worked to have the Olympics as the main reason for convincing sponsors to invest in a team, male or female. I absolutely agree about how track racing has provided women (and men) with opportunities. I’m thinking that the main reason is the same as it is for criteriums – those events are spectator friendly, thereby providing a lot of exposure to the general public. So yes, increasing television/internet live coverage of track racing as well as other events where it makes sense (criteriums? circuit races?) will help for sure.

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