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RCS Sport chief Michele Acquarone seeks to globalize Giro, grow cycling

MIAMI (VN) —A much-anticipated revenue-sharing agreement with cycling’s top teams could be in place for 2013, and may be finalized as early as this month, says the managing director of RCS Sport.

Michele Acquarone sat down with VeloNews in Miami on Saturday in advance of Sunday’s Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia, one of a growing number of mass-participation events designed to globalize the Giro brand.

For Acquarone, who assumed leadership of RCS Sport in 2011, both are examples of the same guiding philosophy: make cycling bigger and more profitable for all involved.

Race organizers, including RCS (whose events include the Giro d’Italia and Milan-San Remo) and the Amaury Sport Organization (Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix) have historically been the sole beneficiaries of the broadcast rights to their events — to the exclusion (and consternation) of the teams themselves. In May, reports surfaced that RCS was working on a collaborative agreement to break this mold.

It now appears a deal may be close.

“The talks are continuing to happen,” Acquarone confirmed to VeloNews. “We’re talking a lot with the teams, because we need to understand what they want and what they need from us. I don’t want to just be alone on my mountain watching the others. I want to be with them in partnership, trying to find a way.

“We have to manage this carefully, but we are talking with them and I hope that things can go very quickly. Maybe even before the next season.

“If you’re asking ‘Is it possible [for 2013],’ I say, ‘Why not?’”

What’s in it for RCS? Acquarone says it’s all about growing the sport. With more revenue comes more opportunity to share.

“What I always say is, ‘I prefer to eat a smaller slice of a bigger cake.’ We need to understand how the cake can become bigger for everyone,” he said.

If Acquarone’s approach seems fresh, it may be because he himself is a relative newcomer to the sport. The Italian spent a decade within the marketing department of the RCS-owned newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport before assuming leadership of the publisher’s sporting arm.

But make no mistake: Michele Acquarone is not finished marketing. He is intent upon globalizing the Giro.

“I believe [the Giro d’Italia] has to grow up,” he said. “If you look at the Tour de France it’s a worldwide brand. The Giro has always been more of an Italian brand. The races are similar, both three-week tours, both major events in cycling — but we have a big gap to fill. And we will do it in the next couple of years.”

Key to Acquarone’s vision are mass-participation events like the one held in Miami Sunday. Approximately 1,000 recreational riders were expected to rub shoulders with Italian cyclists including Mario Cipollini, Danilo di Luca and Filippo Pozzato.

The Miami event is one of two Giro-branded Gran Fondo events in 2012, with the first held this past July in Pasadena, California. At a pre-race gala on Saturday night, RCS Sport announced plans to expand the series to five events in 2013, adding a Gran Fondo in Beverly Hills and announcing partnerships with existing events in Monterey, California (the Sea Otter Classic) and New York City (the Five Boro Bike Tour).

Think of it as Acquarone’s way of spreading the gospel of Italian cycling.

“It’s our way to help someone very far from us [geographically] to live a little bit of the Giro,” he said. “We don’t have the Dolomites here [in Miami], but we’ve tried to bring from Italy all of our style and way of living. You’ll see a lot of pink.

“I believe that if [American cyclists] have this kind of experience then next year when they can see the race on TV — or even travel to Italy to watch it in person — they’ll do it. They’ll have that connection now.”

Next year’s race may see increased viewership from around the globe with reigning Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins intimating that he may forgo a Tour defense in favor of targeting the Giro.

Acquarone isn’t surprised by Wiggins’ thinking.

“The Giro has a history. It’s a very good race, fans love it — and so I think it’s only normal that the best riders want to come to the Giro to compete for the maglia rosa,” he said.

“I really hope that year by year we’ll see that all the best are coming to the Giro. As we get closer I think we’ll see many of the biggest riders focused on Italy.”



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