Brian Cookson has been forced to put a hold on his plans to launch a UCI women's team in 2019 due to a lack of financial resources. The former UCI President told Cyclingnews on Friday that the hunt for a main financial backer has proven to be the biggest obstacle, and that the earliest likely date to launch a team would be in 2020.
"The first thing to say is that I am anxious not to make false promises or unrealistic claims, and so I can only report that this is still a work in progress," Cookson told Cyclingnews in an email when asked for an update on the team's status for next year.
"It is proving difficult to secure the resources needed to establish a team at the level we are aiming at. There will not be a team in 2019, but my collaborators and I have not abandoned the project."
Cookson announced in November last year that he planned to develop a women's team, after he lost his bid for the UCI presidency re-election to David Lappartient two months earlier. He said that he was in the midst of setting up a structure for a women's professional team at the UCI Women's WorldTour level.
He said he wanted the team to exceed the recently confirmed new two-tier structure - Women's WorldTeams and Continental Teams - which he said was developed during his term as UCI President. Current UCI President David Lappartient confirmed to Cyclingnews the new two-tier structure, which will go along with a minimum salary requirement for the top tier of teams beginning in 2020. The salary requirement will be introduced slowly over a three-year period and will equal the men’s Professional Continental teams' minimum salary currently set at roughly €30,000.
"The main problem, as always, is finding a major funder to take the title sponsorship," Cookson told Cyclingnews. "It's as simple as that. I don't want to do this as a half measure, I want to be in a position to pay decent salaries to the riders, and if you do that then you have to pay decent salaries to all the staff, too, in my view. So the costs add up.
"Our research and preparatory work envisage that an annual budget of €3-5 million would be required to have a team complying with UCI Women's WorldTour regulations, depending upon the final details when they emerge, and upon the market value at which top level women riders could be signed. That's a lot less than a men's WorldTour Team, but it's still a lot of money by any standards.”
In April, Cookson announced that he had landed partnerships with University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and BeaconFell Limited, but that the team was still looking to fill a major sponsorship opportunity available, with the naming rights for the team still to be taken.
He said he envisioned the team as a powerful tool for change in sport and in society - raising awareness of women's health and fitness issues, in ways appropriate to each society's culture, economy, and opportunities.
He told Cyclingnews that it was difficult, however, to show potential sponsors a historical return on investment but that he believed that would be changing in the future as women’s cycling progresses and the sport develops further and gains more exposure.
"The difficulties and uncertainties of the global economy and, here in the UK, Brexit, are compounded by the difficulty in justifying the return on such an investment by demonstrating historical evidence of that return in terms of media coverage, impact, and so on," Cookson said. "Of course this is changing, thanks to some great event organisers, some good teams, and the UCI Women's WorldTour.
"Things are getting better, in women's sport generally, not just cycling, but there is still a long way to go. My contacts in other sports tell me that securing sponsorship in almost all women's sport is still a very difficult challenge.
“What is needed is sponsors who understand that, and who share the corporate and social objectives around promoting women's sport, women's health, women's fitness, women's place in society generally."
Cookson said conducting a marketing review would take time, and that he didn’t want to make any promises, but that the earliest likely date for establishing a team would be in 2020.
"I believe that those companies are out there, but we need to find them and convince them that sponsoring a women's cycling team at the highest level is the way to further their own objectives. So we are undertaking a Marketing Review to identify the right people in the right companies."