You might have noticed the turquoise and black jerseys in Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs. They were on the attack, rode in the breakaways, made the final selection, and slotted three riders into the top-20.
They’re called BEAT Cycling, an up-and-coming Dutch team that’s not only punching above its weight in the peloton but also trying to transform the business model that underwrites professional racing.
Instead of relying solely on sponsorship deals, management is bringing a different kind of business plan to cycling’s traditional funding model. Rather than hang the entire operation on one or two big-money sponsors, team backers are creating a tent-like model, with many poles holding up a structure that is built to last.
Those are lofty goals, but they align with the ambitious vision that ownership has laid out to build a new kind of team.
“We are not trying to find a title sponsor, but we’re building a company,” team founder and director Geert Broekhuizen told VeloNews. “We are building membership that is focused on the cycling fans. We are building a community who want to enjoy cycling in the front row. We are not depending on one or two main sponsors.”
Think of your favorite top soccer club, and you’ll get an idea of what they’re after.
Rather than provide a rolling billboard for sponsors, management behind the Dutch-registered third-category team is looking to create a new way of doing business in the peloton. Subscriptions, an online shop, events, more fan interaction, and the real sense of belonging to a larger community are all part of the team’s DNA.
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Will it someday grow into a major team to rub elbows in the WorldTour? Maybe.
Right now, management is building the foundation of what it hopes will become one of Europe’s biggest cycling teams.
Bridging the gap between fans and pros
Broekhuizen’s long been involved in elite professional racing. He worked with such teams as Cervélo Test Team, Giant-Alpecin (now Team DSM), and the Quick-Step franchise in marketing and PR.
The Dutch entrepreneur noticed two things; the vulnerability of cycling’s business model, and the distance between the fans and the pro riders.
Broekhuizen had some ideas on how to do things differently and founded the BEAT Cycling in 2016. Along with partners as well as founding rider and co-owner Theo Bos, the group formed a professional track cycling team in 2017 and a road racing team in 2018.
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After watching title sponsors come and go, seeing teams die on the vine, and face perpetual headwinds when it came to chasing sponsorship dollars, Broekhuizen wanted to take a different approach.
“Sponsors and partners are still a big part of our revenue, but we are also developing memberships and creating new revenue streams,” Broekhuizen said in a telephone interview. “That helps us run two cycling teams.”
This is a big shoutout to @beatcyclingclub, the little Dutch Conti team that could put three guys into the front group at the @Scheldeprijs and launch an attack in the final kilometres. pic.twitter.com/Cg9GlAO3TM
— Soigneur (@soigneurjournal) April 8, 2021
Sponsors are still a key part of the business plan, but not the only tent pole holding up the growing organization.
In fact, the team and club counts on more than 20 different sponsors and partners to back its menu of offerings. Broekhuizen wanted to build a foundation around a cycling club concept, where paying members help underwrite part of the teams’ budgets. And then drive memberships by connecting fans with the racing teams on the track and the road.
The company’s target audience is what Broekhuizen calls the “active cyclist.”
That means fans who not only follow professional racing, but also actively participate themselves, be it in amateur races, gran fondos, bike tours, cycling vacations, online racing, or other mass participation events.
Members receive their national federation license through the BEAT Cycling subscription, as well as a variety of goods and services provided to them as members. With the club membership, members receive access to training, nutrition, equipment and events.
It seems to be working. The club has quickly grown to one of the largest in Benelux, with more than 5,000 members, and is expanding into Asia with a hub in Japan.
“Our membership is focused on the cycling fans,” he said. “Our members want to know about and have the same equipment our pros have. The same training and nutrition. Bike riders are our target audience.”
When Broekhuizen looks at today’s WorldTour peloton, he still sees many of the top teams facing the same sponsorship problems that have plagued the business model for decades. One team that piques his interest: EF Education-Nippo.
“EF is doing the right thing. It’s not just bike racing anymore,” he said. “Our business model is really focused on cyclists. If you look at what people are doing, it’s bike-packing, gravel, beach riding, and adventure trips, that’s where cycling is going.”
Passion for cycling at its core
There’s always an underlying tension in every start-up team. You cannot build a team to chase results without sponsors. But it’s hard to chase sponsors if you don’t have results to show off to would-be suitors.
Broekhuizen thinks the team has found a unique work-around to that quandary with its fan club/subscription-based model. They’re still hoping to bring on major sponsors to take the team to the next level, but its unique approach is providing the team with the base it needs to take root.
Plans to jump to the second-tier ProTour level in 2021 were scuttled by the coronavirus pandemic. There’s not a Dutch team currently operating in cycling’s second wing, so jumping to the next level remains a firm part of the team’s future.
“We had a nice program for 2020, but like for a lot of teams, we did not do many races because of COVID,” he said. “We decided there was too much uncertainty and we saw it was not possible to make a ProTeam for 2021.”
During the worst of last year’s lockdowns, the team pivoted to engaging with its members via online racing and created do-it-yourself trips and training rides once things opened up. Membership grew.
Right now, the men’s road team is focused on making the most of the racing opportunities it sees across Europe. After Wednesday’s big ride at Scheldeprijs, the team’s 12 riders will participate in a mix of one-day and stage races over the next few months.
The team also has a strong track cycling component and is bringing its same disruptor outlook to the even more traditional world of track racing. One of the team’s owners is track superstar Theo Bos, and the team also races in a series of international track events under its trade team banner.
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Track cycling has long been under the control of the UCI and the national federations, but BEAT Cycling and other entrepreneurs like Huub-Wattbike are trying to bring a professional business model to the boards as well.
“When I founded the club, Theo Bos came to me and said I would like to start a commercial track team,” Broekhuizen said. “It’s thanks to him we started this team. Everyone knows Theo and he is a big name in the sport. He still does Keirin races in Japan. There he is a legend.”
With all the pieces in place, Broekhuizen and his partners are looking to the future with optimism.
Cycling is booming across the globe, especially across online platforms, mass participation events, and emerging markets such as gravel and adventure riding.
Professional racing is also seeing a boon thanks the exploding women’s scene as well as a new generation of male stars from Mathieu van der Poel to Remco Evenepoel.
Broekhuizen is betting that his club concept will play the integral piece to stitch together all the moving parts.
What is BEAT? Broekhuizen says it’s not an acronym, but rather a reflection of its attitude and ambition. It’s more than a slogan.
“‘Beat’ is our mindset,” he said. “Beat the status quo, the ordinary, yourself on the bike, the competition. We are not having the biggest impact in pro cycling right now, but we are building for the future.”
So far, there hasn’t been a lot of winning at the finish lines, but behind the scenes, Broekhuizen and his partners appear well on their way.