Women’s racing part II

In part I of my women’s racing series, I introduced this subject and why I wanted to write about it.  In this piece I go into more depth about the issues regarding sponsorship as well as what is currently happening & the discussions taking place & offer up some possible solutions.  There were some fantastic comments and discussions that came about as a result of the first installment.  There is some general consensus about the ‘over’-sexualization of women paired with a lack of focus on their athleticism as well as intellect in the more traditional work environment.  It is a fact that sex sells.  To demonize that part of our human nature however, I think is counter-productive.  I think that celebrating our femininity in a tasteful way while continuing to push past that envelope to bring the focus onto the other aspects of what it is we each do is going to be at least part of the answer.

Some would argue that adding a women’s team to an already existing men’s team (like HTC columbia did) would provide the additional support and exposure that is needed for women’s racing.  Up until a recent conversation that I had with someone very high up in the international men’s cycling world, I agreed with that statement 100%.  He argued against that business model for some actually very obvious reasons: men plus women equals drama.  Think about it, you pair a men’s and women’s team in the same place for very long and ‘opposites attract’.  In the middle of a race then when sponsors, team directors and owners are putting pressure on the athletes to perform and manager’s to answer for the behavior of their athletes, the added drama between the men’s and women’s teams is quite simply a recipe for disaster.

Interestingly however, the recent sad news of the women’s Colavita team folding (even after having such an incredible 2011 season) and the re-birth of a new team in its’ place ran by the same director – Rachel Heal is evidence in near complete contrast to the a fore-mentioned opinion.

So if a women’s team really is better off being run & sponsored completely separate from any men’s team but finds it almost impossible to secure sponsorship & visibility without being attached to the men’s side of bike racing, then what is the solution?

If you’re also ever on twitter and you follow the likes of @vaughters @festinagirl @UCI_Overlord etc and pay attention to the running conversation about women’s racing then you’ll notice arguments for pairing women’s teams with existing men’s teams as well as running large men’s races with women’s races – almost like a concert pre-show.  The public can get essentially a ‘two-for-one’, the infrastructure is already there for the most part in running a race so there’s not a lot of additional cost to putting on the women’s race alongside the men’s race.

Now for the issue of funding a women’s team entirely separate from a men’s team when it’s already hard to find sponsorship for even top international men’s teams.  I believe that this idea of more TV/media coverage is at least part of the answer.  You pair a women’s race with a men’s high profile race (say the Amgen Tour of California) and you run similar stages right before/alongside the men’s stages where coverage is already taking place and BAM you get double the race, double the coverage, double the exposure and suddenly the public will start recognizing the women and start following them separately from the men and their teams.  Social media has already proven that there’s a desire for more women’s racing coverage.

When I think about how far we women have come in fighting discrimination in general, I feel very lucky to be living during this time.  The gap is getting smaller and it’s really exciting to have men part of the conversation.  In the next installment, I move away from the financial gap in women’s racing and focus on some of the cultural aspects of the sport itself and the unique dynamic that exists beyond the radar of the casual fan.

6 Responses to “Women’s racing part II”

  1. Bob says:

    Interesting, I just replied to you and Marc over on part I before I read this expressing the exact same sentiment.

    Keep up the great work, Heather!

  2. Steve Kahn says:

    There was a good deal of disappointment among Colorado’s Pro women when there was not a women’s race included in the Pro Cycling Challenge here in CO last year. I agree that pressure from the social media, might help here. Women’s sports are interesting. The Women’s World Cup last year drew large TV audiences. About a combined Men’s and and Women’s teams, drama doesn’t hurt TV ratings. Keep up the great post Heather.

    • Heather says:

      Yes I think there was disappointment from the whole pro women’s field about that cancellation; as well as other races being cancelled. There’s also been a significant decrease in the number of races at the international level including UCI & World Cup races. Drama drama drama is good for TV I think, but not for professional athletics in my humble opinion. Thank you for reading and responding!

  3. beth says:

    I think the crap media coverage for women’s races is one large reason large successful teams with oodles of wins are having a hard time of securing sponsorship dollars. in addition to race results, companies want media exposure. and when the media is not covering races, or covering them poorly, companies aren’t feeling like they are getting the exposure.

    While there are some awesome grassroots publications like Podium Insight and Podium Cafe – VeloNews just plain sucks. I get the print version of the magazine, and one issue sticks out in my mind… it was an issue late this Spring, doing a report on the Redlands Classic Race. The men’s race had several pages of detailed race reports. The only coverage of the women’s race was a small quarter page pop-out, doing a puff piece on Theressa Clif-Ryan’s wins. I thought it was actually an extremely offensive piece because it almost was written like these were her first big results – which clearly wasn’t the case! She’s been dominant for years! Moreover, it didn’t even mention that Amber Neben won the overall! I mean, how offensive to not even mention the stage race winner.

    I feel that most of the coverage that VeloNews provides of women’s racing are really puff-pieces, written in the Bob Costas style of those cheesy pre-Olympics sob stories.
    (at least in their print version…i’ve stopped going to their website, because it just annoys me too much, but unfortunately my print subscription still has a few more months til it expires…which i won’t renew)

    I find it ironic that in the United States, the main cycling print doesn’t really cover American racing at all… there are more articles on the Euro… or, shall I say the Euro men. I would appreciate some actual articles detailing out the race strategies, much how the articles of men are written…

    Not related, but as I am velonews bashing….the freakin’ NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS for track weren’t even covered in their website, let alone their print version. Ironic, considering it is probably the one of the few chances the U.S. has for a gold medal. An article would have been cool, but at least a link to results would have sufficed. Instead, we need to go to Cyclingnews, an Australian publisher, for news reporting.

    But, there we see a staff of all men reporters, with women only in subscription management positions.

    • Heather says:

      Oh I totally agree Beth! The coverage of women’s racing is insulting at best. They don’t do their homework at all. Podium insight and Podium cafe have done an incredible job to start that change. I agree, VeloNews is VERy one-sided. Yes, American racing is focused on European racing which, to an extent, makes sense as that is who ‘we’ are learning from but there’s no real effort to develop the sport here at ANY level. Even the professional men don’t get paid a respectable salary, much less the women. The consistency in support is absurd for both sexes here and now with the split of the NCC and NRC calendars it’s going to be very difficult for any American to really compete with the Europeans unless one of ‘us’ moves over there and races there. I still can’t believe the national track championships were covered. #EPICFAIL is the only reaction. There IS no excuse!! Track racing would be a fantastic way to get the public involved as it is way more spectator friendly than road racing and would provide an excellent platform for increased coverage and visibility if only they’d televise it AND took the effort to educate the public about what is actually going on!

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