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Urban outfitters | UCI takes BMX and mountain bike event to Chinese city centre

  • Inaugural event to take place in Chengdu to tap into growing Chinese cycling market
  • City centre events designed to use existing architecture as obstacles
  • Setting maximises economic impact

The concept of ‘sportainment’ has become a buzz word for sports event organisers seeking to create competitions that appeal to a modern-day audience.

In November, the International Cycling Union (UCI) will debut a new annual event in China that it believes can serve as a flagship for fusing together sport and entertainment, while also acting as a showcase for three of its developing disciplines.

Hosted by the city of Chengdu, the inaugural Urban Cycling World Championships will take place from November 8-12, bringing together Mountain Bike Eliminator (XCE), Trials and BMX Freestyle Park.

The UCI believes it can tap into a growing interest for city-centre events, with the new championships representing a fresh concept for cycling’s world governing body through the development of a template that is designed to minimise the strain put on host cities.

“Over recent years, city centres have become major and popular fields of play,” UCI sports director Piers Jones tells SportBusiness International.

“Obstacles presented by inner-city architecture are used in many different ways by people on bikes, on skateboards or simply using their physical strength to run, swim, jump and climb. 

“Bicycles play a key role in this new trend and have become a central part of the urban culture. 

“As a result, cities have expressed a growing desire to organise city centre events which do not involve major logistical constraints – i.e. minimal road closures. 

“This is also to maximise the economic impact as shops, restaurants, museums and tourism locations mainly tend to be located in city centres. 

“The UCI has responded to this trend with the Urban Cycling World Championships. We are bringing the sport to the heart of the city.”

Commercial partnership

Chengdu has a population of some 14.5 million people and is the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province.

The assignment of hosting rights to the city is part of a wide-ranging commercial partnership between the UCI and the Wanda Sports division of Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group.

Signed in December, the pact seeks to develop men’s and women’s elite and grassroots cycling across various disciplines in China.

As well as the Urban Cycling World Championships, the Tour of Guangxi, a new men’s WorldTour road race, will run from October 19-24, culminating with the UCI Cycling Gala in the mountain city of Guilin, venue of the tour’s final stage finish.

The UCI says bike ownership in China has reached 600 million, with the country having 10 million active cycling fans, 20,000 cycling clubs, 100 cycling events and 15,000 bike stores. 

IMAGE: Cycling is becoming increasingly popular in China (Getty Images)

Additionally, the size of the Chinese cycling sports market is said to have grown to $1.5bn (€1.27bn) with the industry expected to reach a growth rate of 20% by 2023.

China has been guaranteed hosting rights to the first three editions of the Urban Cycling World Championships under the Wanda Sports partnership, but Jones says the UCI has plans to take the event elsewhere from 2020.

“We are currently in discussions with a wide range of cities from three different continents, and there is no question that the integration of BMX Freestyle Park to the Olympic programme has increased the interest for the event,” he adds.

“The first edition available is for 2020, which will be part of the Olympic qualification system, making it even more attractive. 

“The UCI wants to remain fair and to offer the same possibilities to all regions to develop those disciplines. 

“That is why our target is to have a rotation between the different continents, whereas for this event we believe it is more relevant to have the same host across two or three years to create initial traction.”

Hosting model

The inaugural Championships will see the world’s leading specialists in the three disciplines compete for the iconic rainbow jersey and the title of UCI world champion.

The trials competition will open the five-day show, running from Wednesday, November 8 until Saturday, November 11. 

BMX Freestyle Park will take place over the weekend, from Friday to Sunday, while Mountain Bike Eliminator will conclude the event on Sunday.

Jones says the unique nature of the championships has necessitated that the UCI design a hosting model which aims to address one of the key concerns for sports federations at present – ensuring that events are sustainable and present real value for host cities.

IMAGE: Chengdu will host the inaugural Urban Cycling World Championships (BLJBBK/Pixabay)

“The UCI Urban World Championships are a unique format with three disciplines held in one single event or location,” Jones says.

“Taking place in city centres, it is the perfect platform to stage a cultural programme alongside the competition schedule – such as street arts, dancing, concerts, city life etc.

“The UCI has developed a specific business model for this event – it is a full turnkey solution. 

“The UCI will supply the TV production, the timing service, the prize money but also the sporting facilities – i.e. the BMX park. 

“The aim is to reduce the workload and the complexity of the overall infrastructure for the organising city. 

“It’s the DNA of the Urban Cycling World Championships – an event designed for the host city in all regards.”

Younger audience

A total prize fund of €187,050 will be on offer for participants at the championships, an unprecedented amount for the three disciplines represented.

From a commercial perspective, the UCI will seek to reach out to the younger audience associated with the three disciplines by harnessing digital media platforms.

“Our plan will be to utilise all the UCI’s digital assets to showcase the event to the world,” Jones says.

“Competition will be available through highlights packages and live streaming on our YouTube channel and Facebook pages. 

“Like for any other UCI World Championships, social media through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will be at the heart of our promotion effort. 

“We are also in advanced discussions with partners to help us build China-based social media assets such as Sina Weibo, WeChat and Youku.”

Jones adds that the UCI has a “fully dedicated” sponsorship strategy for the championships. 

“Several agencies are working on the sales process with a strong focus on Chinese brands and we will be announcing the first partnership agreements ahead of the event,” he says.

Looking to the future, the UCI sports director is confident the governing body has developed a winning concept in the Urban Cycling World Championships, stating it will “set the bar” in the sports events market.

He adds: “It is an event which can truly activate the city centre and create a cluster between sport, urban culture and arts. It will become a flagship of ‘sportainment’. 

“The integration of BMX Freestyle Park in the Olympic programme will also bring increased media coverage around this discipline, which is already very popular among youngsters. 

“There are very few events which can bring so much to the image of a city and we are confident it will be the event host cities are looking forward to offering to their local community, as well as to foreign visitors.”

EXTRA | A unique spectator experience

The UCI believes BMX Freestyle Park, Mountain Bike Eliminator (XCE) and Trials are a natural combination of sports that can be concentrated together in a single venue such as a city park or square, providing a unique spectator experience in a city centre.

UCI sports director Piers Jones states the growth of the disciplines demonstrate they are ready for an event of the level of the Urban World Championships.

BMX Freestyle Park

BMX Freestyle Park is practised in skateparks, where freestylers are awarded points based on tricks and their respective difficulties, but are also judged on originality, style and execution.

The discipline received a boost in June when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed to add both it and track cycling’s Madison to the programme for the 2020 summer Olympic Games.

Jones says: “In the case of BMX Freestyle Park, this discipline has experienced significant growth recently. For example, it was added to the programme for the Olympic Games and will make its first appearance during the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, before its main Olympic appearance during Tokyo 2020. Prior to this, the UCI created the BMX Freestyle Park World Cup series, which kicked off in 2016.”

XCE

Raced over short and technical courses in heats of four riders at a time, XCE is a mixture of cross-country Olympic mountain biking, for the type of course, and four-cross, for the format.

Jones says: “Mountain Bike Eliminator was first created in 2011 as part of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup and became a UCI World Championship event from 2012 to provide a short, compact and tactical action-packed spectacle.

“Likewise, it favours sprinters rather than just pure endurance riders so gives opportunities to athletes, teams and sponsors who have this ability.

“Interest in Mountain Bike Eliminator has grown to such an extent that a World Cup series held separately to the more traditional cross-country and downhill events was first formed this season.”

Trials

Trials revolves around riders getting over obstacles grouped into sections, without setting foot on the ground. Any part of the bicycle, aside from the wheels, is also prohibited from touching the ground.

Jones says: “A new race format will be applied on this first Urban Cycling World Championships in which the goal is to collect the maximum number of points in the allowed time across the five sections.

“Trials is one of the oldest UCI World Championships in the off-road disciplines, with the first edition taking place in 1986.

“For many years, Trials has featured a standalone World Cup series, with several events placed in full view of the public in city centres. Historically, since 2000, Trials has been linked to the Mountain Bike World Championships. However, with the growing popularity of city centre World Cups in the discipline, it was obviously time to move its UCI World Championships to the city as well.”

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