Our friends at The Outer Line recently published part one of an in-depth interview with Michael Aisner, who was the driving force behind the Coors Classic race. It is striking how many notable innovations Aisner introduced to Coors Classic, and in some cases, pro cycling. Here are a few key quotes and details.
“The first thing I did,” Aisner says, “was to hire a film production company to make what we used to call a ‘short’ — a brief docu-film about the race which could be distributed around to mainstream movie theaters.” This sounds a lot like the YouTube shorts that major races like the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France produce as sizzle videos for their races, doesn’t it?
Aisner used a variety of media to promote the race. In addition to the video shorts, he negotiated a partnership with Rolling Stone. “[Cycling] is youthful, it’s fast, it’s colorful, it’s dangerous, and it’s international. Rolling Stone basically owned the youth market in those days. Everybody read it, and I wanted that youth appeal.”
He also emphasized the women’s side of the event, bringing in more European women to compete against the dominant American racer Connie Carpenter. “Connie was brutally focused,” says Aisner, “and the tougher the competition, the stronger she raced.” The Classic became the biggest race in the world for women. The women mostly raced the same courses as the men, some with shorter race distances, and the prize money was nearly equal.
Inspiration came from abroad as well. In 1981, Aisner went to world championships in Czechoslovakia and came home with an idea that would help him convince CBS executives to give the Coors Classic some air time. “The cameramen could shoot backwards into the faces of the riders. All the TV guys in New York had ever seen were cameras following the race, shooting a bunch of asses! Of course it wasn’t interesting!” Aisner convinced BMW to give him two top-of-the-line motorcycles which he then fabricated with swivel seats and camera gear boxes.
Plus, Aisner’s innovative approach benefited more than just his race. “Coors didn’t even have a sports department to manage their two properties — a hot-air balloon and a Belgian-horse hitch wagon. The race was the catalyst to start a proper ‘big boy’ sports sponsorship division. And look what that is today!”
Like today’s carefully branded races and events, the Coors Classic merchandise division was lucrative. “We had more than $100,000 of sales even in Japan,” says Aisner. “Coors was heavy into licensing – they were ready to license most anything. We ended selling over thirty unique race-branded products to cycling and sports stores, as well as mainstream grocery and drugstore retailers.”