11 of professional cycling's leading teams, including Team Sky, BMC, Tinkoff-Saxo, Orica-GreenEdge and Garmin-Sharp have announced that they have become controlling members of the Velon group, a joint-venture company that aims "to drive a financial model that, in line with other international sports, ensures a sustainable future for the teams".
The name Velon replaces the group's working title of Project Avignon, created after several teams gathered in the French city for the first time during the 2013 Tour de France. Cyclingnews revealed the existence of Project Avignon in January this year but everyone involved has refused to give any details until today's formal announcement.
Former Sky Sports and Liverpool football club commercial director Graham Bartlett has been appointed at CEO of Velon. The 11 founding members are the management companies behind the Belkin, BMC, Garmin-Sharp, Lampre-Merida, Lotto-Belisol, Omega Pharma-Quick-Step, Orica-GreenEdge, Giant-Shimano, Team Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo and Trek Factory Racing teams. Other teams may join in the future or agree to work together on specific projects.
Velon claims it has 60 per cent of the WorldTour teams on board. However no French teams have yet joined Velon, neither has Astana, Movistar or Katusha.
Velon makes the vague claim that it wants to create a more exciting, stable and credible sport. It talks about creating a "season long story' by changing the race calendar and structure of the teams so that professional cycling can be "better understood by a growing international fan base, with more entertaining racing for the fans".
It is not a breakaway project, demanding a cut of race organisers' television revenue, and prefers to negotiate with the UCI and race organisers, and to work alongside other associations such as the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes (AIGCP). Velon attended the recent UCI stakeholders meeting in Paris to discuss the reform of the WorldTour.
"The existing, sponsor-only business model is fragile for all teams. We need to change this to a more rounded one with fans at the heart of it, investing in new technological initiatives to generate greater excitement from the races and bring the sport closer to its fans. The company will look to use the combined commitment of the teams to create new revenues and to move forward," Bartlett told Cyclingnews.
"I think the way you change any business model in sport is to bring new value to the table. If you don't bring anything but want to take from what others have done, then you have a very difficult time. You have to come with new ideas."
Using innovation to create upside revenue
Velon cites the introduction of on-bike video footage at the 2014 Tour de Suisse and then the Tour de France as a small but significant example of the innovation it wants to bring to professional cycling.
"The on-board cameras are the start, there's also position tracking, data and other developments we can introduce to make race presentation better for the races, the teams and the fans. This is a long term project and we hope to keep innovating and then share any upside revenue," Bartlett said.
Credibility is a key word for Velon but the teams do not intend to adopt any special rules regarding doping. Velon apparently has no rules about the fit and proper governance of the teams. Some of its members are part of the MPCC but others are not. Bartlett said Velon will work under the anti-doping rules of the UCI and WADA.
Team managers and leading riders from many of the 11 founding teams that have backed Velon's objectives naturally praised its creation. However it is unclear if the UCI and Tour de France organiser ASO see Velon as a threat or possible future partner.
"There has been a group of teams collaborating for some time about how we can - by working together - shape the future of the sport," Jonathan Vaughters of Garmin-Sharp said.
"Facilitating the use of on-bike cameras during racing was our first major step and now, as a formal cooperative, we will be able to continue to create even more opportunities to grow this great sport and make it more accessible to our fans."
Dave Brailsford of Team Sky said: "Collaboration is the cornerstone to positive change and as such this is very exciting for professional cycling and a big step towards the sport reaching its full potential. The teams involved in creating Velon have come together with a powerful shared vision to optimise the sport and develop new ways for professional cycling to grow. If the teams unite and work collectively with other key stakeholders to make cycling better to watch, easier to understand and get guaranteed commercial support it's to everyone's benefit and will encourage even more fans to follow the sport we love."
Mark Cavendish (OmegaPharma-QuickStep) said: "It will be important to make our sport even better, more understandable, and more marketable for people outside the cycling world. I believe that this kind of project is important to enlarge our fan base and to increase the awareness of our sport internationally, using, for example, technology as we show in the recent past with on board bike cameras."
Tejay van Garderen (BMC) said: "Velon is a great way for teams to help cycling fans get closer to the sport they love. It will lead to new technology and create even more exciting racing. Cycling has also needed a way for teams to work together, like they do in other mainstream sports. This is a tremendous first step."