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UCI and Discovery to ‘revitalise’ track cycling with new competition

Georgiou with UCI president David Lappartient (Photo by Eurosport)

The International Cycling Union (UCI) has announced a partnership with Discovery which will see the two collaborate on the creation of a new UCI Track Cycling World League.

The new series will launch at the end of 2021, with Discovery-owned Eurosport Events coming onboard as the commercial promoter, overseeing the management, TV production, distribution, and commercial and media-rights sales, for an initial term of eight years. Global Cycling Network – the online content platform acquired by Discovery last year – will also take responsibility for some aspects of the events’ operations, particularly around digital distribution and additional content creation. 

The Track Cycling World League is scheduled to debut in the 2021-22 cycling season, and has been devised with a format intended to be fast-paced and more engaging to new audiences. Events will last for a maximum of two-and-a-half hours, and focus solely on sprint disciplines, in order to make the broadcast product accessible for non-cycling fans. The races featured will be the individual sprint, keirin, elimination race and scratch race.

Speaking exclusively to SportBusiness, François Ribeiro, head of Eurosport Events, said that the new event would help to “revitalise” track cycling, addressing the “lack of narrative between the Olympic Games” in the sport and introducing a simplified new format to help track cycling appeal to newer fans.

Ribeiro said: “We started looking into this two years ago, when Discovery president JB Perette said we should look to move Eurosport Events to reinforce the strong cycling vertical that we have. We sat down with the UCI and understood that one of the main properties in their portfolio was track cycling – it’s their biggest Olympic category, delivers very high audience ratings – but there was not consistency in the sport. There was scope for Eurosport Events to improve the storytelling of track cycling. You hear about track cycling at the Olympics and once a year at the World Championships. 

“They saw in Eurosport Events a perfect partner because we have the ability to take over a property, find individual event promoters locally and, at the central level, keep the calendar definition, the TV production, the media distribution, the promotion, the marketing, the sponsorship. The UCI shares our vision to bring track cycling to the next level, and that’s why we’ve signed a long-term contract beyond the Los Angeles Olympics.

“We have decided to take only the categories which are sprint, Olympic and very easy to understand, very easy to broadcast. So no endurance, no team categories. We have made a schedule of maximum two-and-a-half hours for primetime, evening programming, so that when we go on air, it is easy to be very dynamic, very compact, very easy to follow and very engaging for the viewership.”

The deal is Eurosport Events’ first outside of motorsports, where it currently works on various competitions with both the International Motorcycling Federation (FIM) and International Automobile Federation (FIA). The news follows the announcement last week that it was also set to launch a new all-electric rally series in 2021, in partnership with the FIA.

Ribeiro said that Eurosport and GCN’s long history in cycling would make the transition straightforward: “For 25 years, Eurosport has been broadcasting UCI track cycling on a very consistent basis. So we know that there is a good fanbase on Eurosport, and that it would feel very natural to bring the new series under our umbrella. We also have GCN on our backend and the experience they have of working in and broadcasting the sport.”

While broadcast duties will be handled by Eurosport through its linear channels and by GCN digitally, Ribeiro also confirmed that Eurosport Events will look to sublicense the Track Cycling World League internationally in territories where Eurosport doesn’t operate, both exclusively and non-exclusively.

The new event means that from 2021, the UCI’s track cycling season will begin in March with the Track Cycling Nations Cup and end the following February with the conclusion of the new Track Cycling World League, which will start in November. The Track Cycling World Championships will take place in between the two series in October.

UCI president David Lappartient said: “I am thrilled and delighted that Discovery will be by our side to help launch and promote our new Track Cycling World League. Their expertise and recognised know-how in the fields of organisation and TV production and broadcasting will contribute significantly to the development and popular appeal of track cycling.

“With this new UCI circuit, the discipline will have a packed and attractive annual calendar that offers variety and will meet the expectations of new audiences while also appealing to existing cycling fans.”

Eurosport president Andrew Georgiou added: “The partnership with the UCI demonstrates what the scale and expertise of the wider Discovery family can offer partners in sport, providing both highly localised content to the widest variety of audiences as well as offering unrivalled expertise, analysis and storytelling from the best experts. Combining this strength in cycling with Eurosport Events’ promotional know-how and the global scale of Discovery’s channels and platforms, including Eurosport and GCN, we are confident we will build the UCI Track Cycling World League into a huge success.”