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Nokere Koerse hoping to limit financial losses from COVID-19

NOKERE BELGIUM MARCH 17 Podium Trophy during the 3rd Nokere Koerse Danilith Classic 2021 Womens Elite a 124km race from Deinze to Nokere Champagne Detail view NokereKoerse on March 17 2021 in Nokere Belgium Photo by Mark Van HeckeGetty Images
The Nokore Koerse podium (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The empty roadsides, lack of VIP hospitality, and sanitary requirements to hold professional races amid the COVID-19 pandemic have cost races dearly. Organisers of Wednesday's Nokere Koerse men's and women's races have opened their books to show the world the real economic picture.

Organisers Robrecht Bothuyne and Rony De Sloovere detailed the additional costs and lost income to Het Nieuwsblad, saying that after operating under a balanced budget during the last normal edition in 2019, they hoped to limit their losses to €50,000.

"We were the first Flemish race that could not take place due to coronavirus," the organisers said. "Until a week before, we had hope. On Friday there was another meeting with the governor and co. on the program to find out how we could still organize it. But the lockdown came on that Thursday and the meeting never took place. Our VIP tents were already up, a lot of costs had already been incurred."

The cancellation cost €220,000. "Ultimately, thanks to the loyalty of many of our partners and the adjustment of sponsorship contracts, we were able to reduce that to 120,000 euros. Still, it was a bitter pill."

The reshuffled racing calendar actually increased the costs for the races, with more WorldTeams signing on for smaller races increasing the budget for start fees.

The women's team budget is €50,000 and €120,000 for the men. "The more WorldTour teams at the start, the better your field of participants and the better we have it. But also the higher the cost. Ironically, corona even increases this cost. AG2R would normally ride the GP Dénain. When it was canceled, they chose us. This is the only additional cost of corona that we don't mind."

Government restrictions on public gatherings have meant that spectators are banned from the race courses, and this means increased broadcast coverage to satisfy sponsors. 

"Maybe there are more viewers but we are not really rewarded for that. We still pay back a large part of the production costs to Sporza. In total: €49,000. That is still difficult to digest, because we know that other races do not have to do that. Fortunately, we can recover part of what Eurosport pays us for the foreign rights: €14,000."

Publicity costs totalled €45,000 including the design of logos, banners, brochures and publicity signs. "Just because the public is not allowed does not mean that you should not advertise. The sponsors want a return."

Permits and taxes are the next biggest cost, with €8,000 owed to the UCI and more than €16,000 to the Belgian federation, plus an anti-doping fee of €2,275. However, Cycling Vlaanderen reduced their fee from €172 to €65, "less than a drop on a hot plate," organisers say.

The prize money for Nokere Koerse is €18,800 for men and €4,660 for women as required by the UCI rules, and the race still hires an announcer (€250) even though there are no spectators.

Safety and security, including the course marshals cost another €19,000. The costs for the 400 marshals needed to secure the course has gone up as it has become harder to find signalers. "In two years, the costs has almost tripled from €6,000 to €16,000."

The race has had to hire additional security to keep the public away to the tune of €3,000. "We even do a campaign to keep people at home: post a photo of you in front of your TV on Facebook, in a race atmosphere, and win ten cups of Ename beer!"

Coronavirus tests for all of the employees who will come into contact with riders and the teams' rapid tests have cost €7,500 - that includes the person conducting the test and the analysis, all coming out of the race organisation's pockets. Hygiene measures such as extra hand washing units and sanitizer have cost another €1,000.

"Not only is there a covid person responsible that we have to pay, as an organization we also have to bear the costs of all covid tests. For example, all employees who come close to the riders are tested and we also pay for the teams' rapid tests: not cheap."

Lost income includes spectator entrance fees of €5 per person to get on the Nokereberg, that normally would generate €10,000 in addition to a pre-race party, junior races and cyclo-tourist rides that would bring in €15,000.

The biggest bank-breaker is the loss of hospitality – VIPs and sponsorship are a huge part of the income, bringing in an estimated €386,500 for the race in 2019. 

"What is left of it now that we cannot offer our sponsors a VIP package in exchange for their contribution?

"Fortunately, the majority of our sponsors have shown themselves loyal: good for around €150,000 in income. In addition, we came up with a creative solution and we teamed up with the organizer of the Belgian championships later this year. That races climbs the Nokereberg. For €10,000 we bought exclusive rights to place VIP tents there. The sponsors that we cannot serve at our own competitions now, we hope to be able to offer a VIP arrangement in exchange for their support of Nokere Koerse. 

"One problem: the Belgian championship is on June 20th. Which corona measures will still apply then? Will we be allowed to place VIP tents at all? How many people will be allowed in? All highly uncertain. But there is no doubt that we are pouring an extraordinary amount of money into this work."

Normally, a race will have a large tent for VIPs with catering, shuttles to the finish and parking, large screens to show the race. All of those costs – around €150,000 – are gone but the race still have one large screen and lunches for volunteers, costing around €10,000 for both.

The race still gets subsidies from the local and Flemish government, a total of €78,000.

"We receive €15,600 from the start town of Deinze. Kruisem (where the Nokereberg is) gives €45,000 and the Flemish government subsidizes €17,500. Fortunately, those contributions are preserved. Although corona also has its influence here. Normally the start is in the center of the city and this is an opportunity for Deinze to put itself in the spotlight.

"Because the entire start site has to be hermetically sealed off to the public this time, we moved it to the stadium of football club KMSK Deinze, which makes its accommodation available free of charge. For which, big thanks. Fortunately, the city of Deinze will bear the costs of making the entire site corona proof. Police gates, police officers…"

The total balance is expected to be €50,000 in the red in the best scenario.

"This is good for once. Two years ago we had a balanced budget. Half a million euros in income, half a million euros in expenses. Where we will end up this year is impossible to say. What can we still recover in VIP income at the Belgian championships later this year? Do we have to carry over certain commitments to next year? We hope to limit the loss this year to 50,000 euros. But it will be close."

Nokere Koerse balance sheet

Subsidies78000
Sponsorship160000
Signalers-16000
Announcer-250
Publicity-45000
Prize money-23460
TV Production-35000
Permits-26900
Start fees-170000
Covid tests-7500
Hygiene-1000
Security-3000
  
Losses 
Spectator entry-10000
Ancillary activities-15000
Reduced costs150000