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Louisville ’cross worlds organizers sign five sponsors, near TV deal

The 2013 elite cyclocross world championships appear to be safe for Louisville, Kentucky, as organizers tell VeloNews they have signed five major sponsors and are nearing a television distribution deal.

Louisville 2013 organizers have signed five sponsors this month, including a title sponsor from outside the bike industry. Race director Bruce Fina said he will name each of the partners soon. The event came under scrutiny in September when Belgium’s Gazet van Antwerpen ran a story claiming that the UCI was on the verge of removing the world championships from Louisville.

“We have one major sponsorship contract signed and four co-sponsorships signed. One is the Louisville Visitors and Convention Bureau and another is the Louisville Sports Commission. They’re cooperative, part of the same organization,” Fina told VeloNews. “We also have two non-endemic deals and two industry deals. We’re going the right direction with sponsorship; we have a long way to go still and we welcome everyone to get in touch about that, for sure.”

Representatives from a number of Exergy U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross sponsors, including Derby City Cup sponsor John Schnatter of Papa John’s, were on-hand for last weekend’s series stop in Louisville. Organizers signed one deal on Friday and at the number presentation party that evening, Fina’s business partner Joan Hanscom exchanged relieved high-fives with Louisville Sports Commission representatives.

Fina said that the GVA story spurred public interest in the event. The story, published September 26, claimed that if organizers had not provided financial guarantees to the UCI before the end of the week, worlds would be relocated to Luxembourg or France. Fina denied the account and no UCI representative has spoken on the record about the veracity of the story.

A number of sources have told VeloNews that the GVA story was the result of angling by a Belgian promoter interested in bringing worlds to Luxembourg. According to former UCI executive committee member and USA Cycling president, and current Atlanta Braves executive, Mike Plant, “there is a very motivated promoter in Belgium that has stirred this pot a little bit.”

“The cycling community is definitely showing support and coming out in force now to make this dream a reality,” said Fina. “I think the news from Europe has helped that cause and pushed that along, to get people to step up and react to insure the success of this event.”

The linchpin for the world championship organizers is a television package, according to Fina. The inability to lock in programming details has severely hampered Fina’s ability to sell national and international sponsorship for the event. Despite those challenges, amongst the major sponsors signed this month are two national non-endemic brands.

“We don’t have the details of the television package right now. We know the world championship is going to be on NBC or Universal Sports. We don’t know which races will be shown live and which will be delayed,” said Fina. “We’ve been in to meet with Papa John’s before with the USGP (of Cyclocross) and talking about sponsorship; they run advertisements during the Super Bowl, they sponsor a bowl game — they are very sophisticated marketers and when we can’t give answers in detail, it numbs the conversation.”

Plant told VeloNews last month that the television delay was at the root of issues surrounding the viability of the event, but since the GVA published the original story, organizers had stepped up with a plan that gave USA Cycling confidence in the event’s success.

“Some of the delay in sponsorship acquisition has been caused by a lack of understanding around what domestic and international television distribution is available,” Plant told VeloNews in October. “It’s taking longer than anyone assumed. Right now I think we all have a better confidence level of what dollars are available. We have a lot more confidence with the ability of the organizers to put on a solid event.”

Fina said that with three major television networks in Flanders, every major cyclocross event is guaranteed live broadcast in most households in Belgium. With hundreds of satellite and cable channels in the U.S., the difference between networks is huge.

“There are three or four major Belgian TV stations — VRT, VT4, Sporza — so the UCI negotiates contracts between those three or four companies, but the one thing they can always count on is that it will always be on TV in every Belgian home,” he said. “The difference between some of the cable channels, the Oprah channel and ABC Sports, the difference is dramatic. They’re not all the same.”

Fina and Plant each said the claim in September that the UCI was on the verge of moving the 2013 world championships was exaggerated. When asked if there was a drop-dead date for Louisville organizers, Plant said, “I wasn’t aware of one. I don’t think so.”

When asked how close his team was to losing worlds, Fina said, “Not very close.”

“There were a couple of things at play. There were various people in Europe that wanted to put pressure on us for a number of reasons,” he said. “To evolve the sport and expand the sport both from a sporting perspective and a business perspective, the UCI should be thankful to have a world championships here and bring in the non-endemic sponsors that we’re bringing into the sport here, global companies that see an opportunity.”

The 2013 world elite cyclocross championships are scheduled for February 2-3, 2013 at Eva Bandman Park in Louisville.

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