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New Velon deal could change the way you watch cycling

Velon, a group of 11 WorldTour teams, announces agreement with sports marketing firm that may significantly change cycling's TV coverage.

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Team group Velon announced a 10-year deal with sports marketing firm Infront Sports & Media on Tuesday that could challenge race organizers’ grip on TV revenue while bringing live telemetry and on-bike video to cycling fans worldwide.

The deal’s implications extend well beyond simply improving cycling’s TV product, a goal that has been the lynchpin of Velon’s efforts to change cycling’s economic model.

In addition to improving traditional broadcast television, Velon is “building a platform for people to see the content that will reach out to a wider fanbase, and bring the race alive,” Velon CEO Graham Bartlett told VeloNews. In a sport where television revenues are monopolized by race organizers, such a platform is a potential source of revenue for Velon and its 11 WorldTour teams.

“It will provide a unique experience during live racing, with everything [fans] want to know, see, and understand,” Bartlett said. The live telemetry Velon plans to roll out in early summer will include speed, cadence, power, heart rate, altitude, and acceleration data.

Infront is one of the world’s largest sports marketing firms. Through subsidiary HBS, it is responsible for host broadcasting of the FIFA World Cup, among other major projects. In November, Infront was purchased by Wanda Sports Holdings, the same company that was rumored to be interested in purchasing RCS Sport and the Giro d’Italia.

Race organizers have expressed reluctance (to put it mildly) to share their television revenues with teams. Teams are currently reliant on independent sponsorships, a cause of instability even at the highest levels of the sport. A Velon multimedia platform, potentially a source of revenue, would sidestep traditional TV broadcast contracts, which are penned with race organizers.

The long-term partnership between Velon and Infront is positioned to take advantage of the continued fracturing and decline of traditional television viewership, as viewers unbundle from cable packages and, increasingly, get their television online.

Tour de France organizer ASO, a goliath within cycling, is small relative to the big fish called Wanda. It is therefore notable that Infront is interested in a partnership with Velon, particularly over 10 years; it points to the Wanda group’s confidence that the upstart team organization will play an increasingly large role in cycling.

Velon’s stated goal is to increase the economic strength of pro cycling, and in the year and a half since its debut, it has focused heavily on improving the sport’s television product. It struck deals with major race organizers RCS (Giro d’Italia and other races) and ASO (Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix) last year, as well as technology providers like GoPro.

Velon is working with teams to gather more key rider data, and with TV broadcasters to help bring that data to fans, and said it will continue to work with race organizers to improve their product. It is also working with the UCI to ensure that all data release fits within the UCI’s regulations.

The new platform and improvements to traditional broadcast will be made possible through the partnership with Infront, which will quickly take Velon’s plans for live telemetry and on-bike camera footage “from theory to reality,” Bartlett said.

The partnership has been in the works for over a year, according to Bartlett, meaning that discussions began shortly after Velon’s founding.

“The partnership will bring investment and expertise, and will help cycling build a sustainable model,” Bartlett told VeloNews.

“Cycling is a key sport in Infront’s long-term strategy and also an important pillar of the wider Wanda Sports Holding business,” said Stephen Herth, Infront’s executive director. “We are therefore proud to partner with Velon in revolutionizing the cycling experience of the fans, as well as the way that the sport is positioned and marketed in the digital sphere.”

Bartlett wouldn’t put a deadline on the addition of telemetry or live on-board video products to cycling broadcast, nor did Velon indicate when its platform would be released. But Bartlett did indicate that Velon is confident that telemetry will be available to fans before the Tour de France, and live on-bike video will be tested again around the same time with a potential roll-out next fall.