Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pro Cycling from the view of a Pro Climber

On May 18, I was invited as a guest of Team Radioshack to watch the exciting finish to Stage 4 of the Tour of California in San Jose, CA. Having missed the Tour of California coming through my home town of Santa Rosa for the past few years, I was stoked to go check it out, especially from a booth right next to the finish line!

Through my work with PCI, I am constantly comparing climbing to other sports in respect to their events, presentation, organization, fans, sponsors, athletes, and history. This day gave me a great glimpse into the world of professional cycling.

We arrived a few hours before the riders were anticipated to finish the stage and I was happy to see the area in total chaos. Sponsor banners still had to be hung, the finish line had to be erected, booths needed to be set up and cameras still had to get into place. The reason I was happy to see this was because I've been there. This time last year, together with The Spot, we produced The Battle in the Bubble. Event production is no joke. Talk about a logistical nightmare. However, it all seems to come together in the end, and it came together with hours to spare at the top of Sierra Road.

From the RadioShack booth, we were able to watch the race coming in live via satellite on a flat screen TV. It was great to talk with some of the families of the riders on Team RadioShack and hear what they were like as kids. We exchanged hospital visit stories in what turned out to be very similar childhoods filled with adventure and passion. The parents I talked to reminded me of my parents in a lot of ways as they described watching their child scrape their knees, break some bones, and pursue their passion to the fullest. Very cool.

From an event production standpoint, all I can say is "WOW." Consider the footprint of a bouldering event versus a pro cycling event. We are talking about the difference between covering the action that can fit in the corner of a small football field (bouldering) and one that needs to be followed by helicopter. Stage 4 of the Tour was the shortest stage at 81 miles in length between Livermore and San Jose. At any given time, the field of riders is spread across several miles of road, traveling between 10 and 60 miles per hour, and across who knows how many different jurisdictions. I counted no less than 3 helicopters following the action up the road.

Despite the scope of the event and all the media coverage, it was also interesting to hear a very similar conversation to what we hear with climbing: "growth," "going mainstream," "popularity," and "big sponsors." I've always said that PCI isn't trying to do anything new, just new for climbing. Attending this event really drove this point home for me. I heard the commentators talk about enhancing the quality of the media coverage over the years, slowly growing the fan base, slowly attracting and retaining new sponsors, and growing the number of athletes who attend each year. This is coming from a sport with 40 million participants in the United States alone. Compare this to the Sport/Indoor/Bouldering segment of "Climbing" which has 4.3 million participants and you start to get the picture of where climbing is on its potential growth curve.