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Photo: Casey B. Gibson

How Tour of Utah has weathered the tough economy in cycling

The Tour of Utah continues to thrive despite the downturn in USA's cycling economy, a result of the expertise of the Miller group, increased coverage, and sponsor loyalty.

Fourteen years of producing a professional bike race is no small task. The Tour of Utah has become a staple for the community and state since its inception in 2004 with the ownership by the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. Taking advantage of the many arms of the Miller group, including partnerships with the Utah Sports Commission and Utah’s office of Tourism have created a recipe that has sustained them.

Most races in the United States are produced by an organization that seeks to secure a title sponsor that in turn provides the financial means to organize the race. Understanding the Miller group and what it brings to the race organization is important to understanding the Tour of Utah’s longevity.  The Miller group is not simply the financial backer to the event; they also bring a level of professional sports experience that is not often seen in cycling.

“We have a lot of shared resources,” said Jenn Andrs, executive director of the Tour of Utah. “I am the only one that works full-time on the race, but there is not one functional area in our sports offices that doesn’t touch the Tour in some way.”

The group is also owner of the NBA professional basketball team, Utah JAZZ and two lower-division basketball development teams, along with the Triple-A baseball team, Salt Lake Bees. The same 36-man group that is outselling corporate sponsorships for the Utah JAZZ is also selling sponsorships for the Tour of Utah.

“It says something that I have a media operations team that’s built in, and I’ve got a fulfillment team that’s built in,” Andrs said. “We have relationships with existing vendors that are building signage for the Utah JAZZ but that also build signage for us.”

Despite the downturn in the USA cycling economy and the disappearance of races in many cases due to the lack of sponsorship, the Tour of Utah remains steadfast. The race has consistently held roughly 50 sponsors that actively support the race each season.

The depth of sponsors working with the race has given a huge boost to its longevity. Photo: Casey B. Gibson

“It’s a different sport but we’re doing the same thing,” Andrs said. “A number of our producers and directors are in-house. Our television director is also the VP of broadcasting for the JAZZ. Our relationship with Fox Sports is also really important, from the relationships we have with them in the NBA.”

The Tour of Utah is also a way to showcase the state, which from the very beginning attracted partnerships with the office of tourism and the Utah Sports Commission. The latter was responsible for securing the 2002 Winter Olympics, something they are hoping to repeat soon in the future, this time in the summer.

“Cycling is in the Olympics; what better way to get the word out internationally about the great things we’re doing?” said Jeff Robins, president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission. “Everybody knows we do great things in the winter, but to have another event like this [Tour of Utah] that goes international and shows the world that we are doing other things, it does great things for tourism.”

Looking at the start lines of many of the races in the United States this season, several familiar faces and team colors were missing. Rally UHC, Arapahoe|Hincapie, and Axeon Hagens Berman, all chose European campaigns rather than racing at home. All three are racing this week in Utah.

“For our team, it’s the biggest race we do all year,” said Thomas Craven, managing director of Arapahoe|Hincapie. “It’s one of the only races that gets international media and international teams coming. The domestic races are good races in their own right. Gila, for example, is a great event but there is nobody there.”

Tour of Utah is the only race in the States that broadcasts each stage live from start to finish, a big draw for international teams coming from Europe and Latin America wanting to get their sponsors noticed. This year, Andrs confirms the race is reaching 158 countries this week, up from 140 countries in previous editions.

“For our larger sponsors that have a national platform, it’s incredibly important to them,” Andrs said. We try and show that we’re continuing to grow with the national marketing campaign that was switched to digital this year.”

The race has consistently kept to a 7-stage, week-long format, attracting international teams cycling fans would not otherwise see competing in the States. This week two international teams, Mexico’s Canels-Specialized, and Italy’s Neri Sottoli Selle Italia, are both making their debut in Utah.

The 2019 Tour has seen international teams in attendance, including Mexican team Canels-Specialized. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images.

“We’ve crawled, we’ve walked, we’ve run and we will continue on that trajectory as we look into the Pro Series by not biting off more than we can chew. It’s made it so that we can continue to grow” Andrs said. “We are very financially responsible [as you can see from the longevity], but we don’t do things in an extravagant way. We’ve never been the race that stands up on the table and pounds our chest saying, look at how great we are. We just quietly blend in the scene and in part of the conversation.