Vaughters: A cycling Super League could help teams, but it won’t happen



The world of football (soccer) was in turmoil earlier this week with talks of several big teams moving away from the league’s current setup to form their own. “Super League”. The news prompted EF Education-Nippo director Jonathan Vaughters to say on Twitter this week that cycling teams should try something similar.

“The logic of the ‘superleagues’ is really simple: if I were an investor w[ith] (X) B $ + wanted to buy a sports property, I wouldn’t invest in a relegated property, ”Vaughters tweeted. “I wouldn’t invest in a company that doesn’t have strict financial equality rules. Both increase costs and lower competitiveness. “

While Super League football already seems to be extreme distress, Vaughters’ tweets elicited many responses and raised interesting questions about the value of such a proposition in the world of cycling. What would be the appeal of such a configuration? And could it happen?

CyclingTips reached out to Vaughters to see if he would expose his thoughts this week. He obliged, while categorically stating that the starting point of the conversation should be that it just won’t happen in a sport, where teams don’t have as much power.

“Cycling is so fragmented,” said Vaughters. “There is no unifying force in cycling. AIGCP [the association of professional men’s teams – ed.] is totally dysfunctional. Velon, for all intents and purposes, has sort of lost his bite. The sport is managed by the ASO and, to a lesser extent, the UCI. Neither really sees the value of financial fairness or eliminating promotion or relegation. “

He certainly has a point. The efforts that teams (or riders, or really anyone other than ASO for that matter) have made to organize over the years have generally failed, and other powerful players have failed. not the same goals. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth wondering what the Super League concept might attract to cycling.

For Vaughters, there are things about a potential switch to a Super League system that could make cycling more competitive, completely removed from how the proposed Super League system in the world of football would play out. He stressed that he does not follow football closely and that his thoughts on applicability to cycling are just that: specific to his area of ​​expertise; that of leading a WorldTour cycling team.

“If you look at my Twitter thread, people are like, ‘These are greedy landlords, you think of it from a greed perspective, and it’s all about making the money. You don’t see it from the fans’ point of view, from an emotional point of view, ”Vaughters said. “But they’re right, I don’t see it from a fan’s point of view because I’m not a football fan. I don’t know anything about football. I only know the business side. “

The proposed Super League would have given some big teams guaranteed places in the league without the risk of relegation. It was also reported that the teams have agreed on a system of salary caps. For Vaughters, these are two good reasons to shake up the cycling system.

Vaughters pointed out that the current team system in cycling is inherently risky for investors. Low-budget teams don’t tend to perform as well as higher-budget teams, and although relegation is not a probability in the current team system, where only a limited number of teams apply for the job. WorldTour status each year while many others are satisfied ProTeam Level, relegation is possible. When Tour de France participation isn’t a sure thing, making money to lead a team is a much harder sale.

Vaughters cited the NFL, which has been the most popular sports league in the United States for years, as a shining example of the success of a different model.

“What you have in the NFL is an environment where teams aren’t promoted or relegated,” he said. “Of course you have teams that win and lose, you have teams that go to the Super Bowl and not, teams that win the playoffs and teams that don’t. But no one is kicked out of the league.

“What does this create? This creates investment value and a consistent audience. If your team, as an NFL fan, were kicked out of the NFL and had to go play Triple A football or the Canadian Football League or something like that, you would lose interest. And if there was no salary cap, and therefore only the richest teams consistently stayed in the Premier League, or whatever we call it in the NFL, then only in the major markets that could afford a high wage bill. would you have winning teams. “

The proposed Super League system would work the same for these great guaranteed teams. As Vaughters said, each organization would receive “the same number of chess pieces”.

For cycling, where teams cannot rely on the different sources of income (ticket sales and TV income, for example) available to other major sports teams, this approach could have an even greater impact on sustainability. of these teams.

“In football, all of these guarantees are in place. If your team is relegated you get almost like a payment for all TV income to help you get back to the Premier League, ”said Vaughters, referring to the system currently in place in the English Premier League. “There are a lot of safety nets built into the promotion and relegation of European football. In cycling, there is nothing. If you fall off the map, you fall off the map. “

Of course, relegation is also predominant in promotion and, as football (soccer) fans in the many cities left out of the Super League discussion this week pointed out, a Super League would have negative consequences for all. the other teams. Translated into cycling terms: For the ProTeams in the second division, the possibility of promotion is a promising draw. A Super League system in cycling would inherently prevent teams excluded from the league from having the same level of exposure.

For teams like EF, however, it could at least provide more solid ground, especially if a salary cap were in place. Vaughters sees this as the most important piece of the puzzle, noting that “if you had financial fairness, you can argue that promotion and relegation is right.” Without it, small teams face big risks.

“In cycling, there is no salary cap,” Vaughters said. “If you spend the money, you win. We have seen this in recent years. Ineos, UAE, Jumbo-Visma – you spend you earn. It’s a simple equation. It doesn’t take any kind of genius to figure this out.

“You have the same teams winning over and over again, which slowly pulls audiences up, raises them in some players and lowers them in others, but the overall competitiveness, that is, the diversity of winners, decreases. with time. Then you have the option of relegation, that is, you are sent off. Let’s start by looking at this from an investor’s perspective.

“Why would you invest in cycling if you had no assurance that you weren’t in the top league, and it was understood that all teams had very different payrolls, and then basically whoever spend the most wins? If you are an investor and considering buying a team, does this sound like a good investment? “

Vaughters pointed out that while team owners may question the value of investing in cycling, at least the value proposition for sponsors in cycling is still very good in terms of return on investment in cycling. marketing exhibition. Either way, Vaughters believes team owners and sponsors would benefit from his proposed system changes.

Of course, nothing will change anytime soon, at least for the men’s peloton. The balance of power in cycling is just too skewed towards teams. Vaughters doesn’t see small teams coming together enough to make a change, nor does he see a lot of push from other stakeholders in the sport to make changes that could help teams.

“For ASO it’s actually a clear advantage if there is instability within the team,” said Vaughters. “For them, it means that there is no unification of the teams. If the teams are unified, it actually poses a threat to their sources of income and their ability to run the sport in the most profitable way for them. For them, ensuring that teams are consistently unstable and not unified is a clear advantage.

“The UCI, I don’t know. This is not an issue that is extremely important to the IOC and I think their main concern is more the IOC and the IOC’s opinion on cycling than the professional arm of sport. It’s not that the UCI would say, “No, salary caps are a horrible idea”. They are unwilling to spend effort to achieve it. “

Vaughters pointed out that the situation could be a little different for the female side of professional cycling.

“Women’s cycling – there aren’t so many politically entrenched interests, this centenary, this centenary who, that’s the way it’s always been, blah blah blah – there aren’t any teams to $ 60 million, ”he said. “Women’s cycling: a strategic reinvention is possible.”

When it comes to his WorldTour men’s team, however, Vaughters isn’t holding his breath for big structural changes any time soon. He says he’s more interested in finding ways to engage a larger audience of people who are new to recreational cycling in order to build the sport’s popularity and, therefore, a potential investment.

Ultimately, as Vaughters points out, professional sport is an industry in the entertainment business, which is an extremely competitive space. That’s why Vaughters often thinks about ways to boost investment, no matter how likely those ideas are to come to fruition.

“If we are to remain competitive, we are going to need investments,” he said. “We’re going to require ownership groups that are willing to step in and take the risk of investing in a sport rather than buying billions of dollars in Google AdSense advertising or whatever. So I always look at it from the point of view. from: “I would like to invite more investment dollars into the sport because I think that’s what keeps him healthy. It’s what keeps cycling healthy.”


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