|The Daily Peloton asked David Chauner about his
experiences promoting cycling in the US, his future aims and his insights
into growing the sport in the United States.
Cycling is fragile in the United States. What difficulties do you face
in promoting the sport?
Well, itís a lot less fragile now than it was. Itís tough now, but it
was tougher when I first started promoting. Back when I started organizing
races in 1976, it was long before Americans had had many successes in
cycling. The Olympic Games in Los Angeles, were a big awareness builder,
and then a few years later there was the first American, Jock Boyer, to
ride the Tour de France, but we were way ahead and laying the groundwork.
We started a lot of programs that brought cycling up, and Iím talking
now about Jack Simes and I; he was my partner back then. We were involved
in helping Coors Classic off the ground in the 70ís; and we started the
Panasonic-Shimano Team, which was the forerunner of so many of the
professional teams in the US: the 7-11 Team, which then morphed into
Motorola, and later into the US Postal Service team, to some extent.
Why do you think cycling started to pick up speed in the US at that
The good thing about the mid to late 70ís is that there was a lot of
interest in cycling, but not so much because there were marquee names, but
more because people were getting into physical fitness. In 1972, in the
Munich Olympics, we had the first American to ever win a Marathon running
race! Up until that point, people who ran Marathons were basically
bare-footed Ethiopians, and Americans were thinking that just the concept
of 2600 Americans running a 25 mile footrace in the streets of Manhattan
was just absurd. But at that time there was an endurance craze, and a
fitness craze that really started in the late 60ís, early 70ís.
The whole bicycle boom was in the 60ís when the 10-speed became a
household word, and the first year bicycles outsold cars in the US was
somewhere in that time, too. The rise of the sport was really fueled by
people getting out and riding bikes, and at the same time, we started
having more competitive success. By the time of the Olympics in the mid
80ís with the successes of people like Mark Gorsky and Alexei Grewal,
winning gold medals; and then Greg Lemond, winning the Tour de France.
Finally, the sport really started to create a little bit of an awakening
in this country, but we were working towards all that 10 years before!
Even so, for a lot of the smaller teams, itís still really a thankless
Thatís true. The majority of riders experience that and the majority of
promoters do, too. They do it as a passion. I have to hand it to the guys
that do thatÖ itís the backbone of the sport! They do it because they love
it. Itís one of my goals to see that improve for them, but weíre
different, because we see it as real business here [at Threshold Sports].
We decided a long time ago, when we first got started that we were almost
really promoting a whole different sport.
Our philosophy and our view of how to promote cycling was really
different from the prevailing club mentality, with its whole, Ďlets do
this in out of the way places and try not to disrupt peopleí approach. Our
view was always Ďletís put it right in everybodyís face, and disrupt as
much traffic as we can, and get as much TV and media as we can, and jump
up and down and sell it everybody until everybody listens.í
Do you sense any kind of a conflict between the grassroots club
mentality and the bigger business approach youíve taken?
Oh, I think most people with any sense of professionalism at all
recognize how important it is to create high profile events and get the
sport in the public eye as much as possible, and really, there are no
people more authentic than we are in terms of commitment and passion for
I think what has characterized my life, good or bad, is that Iíve been
wrapped up in cycling for so long, and wanted to be involved in it so
badly, that I had to work really hard to create a business from nothing so
that I could be involved. Iím not the kind of guy who wants to go around
living in the backseat of a van eating granola bars, so I felt that in
order to make a living at it, it had to be done professionally and at a
much higher level. I feel very pleased that Iíve been able to make a real
professional career out of cycling. There are only a few people who have
been able to do that in the US, people like Jim Ochowitz, who ran the
Motorola team, and Jim Schuyler who runs Team Sports, we do it here at
Threshold, John Wordin has been knocking on the door with his Mercury
team, and they are the people who have been instrumental in elevating the
sport to where it is now.
What are the biggest challenges you face in trying to promote and grow
the sport in the US?
The biggest challenge facing our business has always been building
enough credibility for the sport to really attract big sponsorship
With some of the things that weíve created around our events, with
media tie-ins, live television all that, I think we have created a very
sophisticated marketing strategy thatís as strong as a lot of other
sports, but we donít command the dollars because the recognition is not
there yet. However, the interest is starting to surface more than ever
before. The sport really depends on corporate sponsorship: 90% of the
revenues in cycling come from corporations. Money doesnít come into the
sport from gate receipts, itís not from participant entry fees, itís
really from the sponsorship that we can attract. The way you attract those
sponsors is to put together a valuable proposition for them. For the
corporations, the bike race is almost incidental to the on site
opportunities they buy with sponsorship.
The truth is, we stack up pretty well against other sports, like tennis
or golf, but our demographic is a little bit different. People kind of
scratch their heads and say, Ďwell, who rides bikes?í and the reality is
that more people ride bikes in the US than golfers, skiers and tennis
players combined, and thatís a huge untapped audience that hasnít been
Weíre seeing it happen in our races in San FranciscoÖ
That race in San Francisco was great. Iím a journalist, but Iím also a
huge fan of cycling, and I just had a great time that day!
Yeah, and thatís what people donít realize. Unless people have been to
a race or seen a cycling event, they just canít conceive of it. They just
donít know what it is! But, when they come out and see what it is what
they see is something that any corporate sponsor just drools over!
Our job is to translate a real grassroots level interest in the sport
to a legitimate demographic, so sponsors can say ĎYeah!í Even a five day
Tennis tournament can only take 25,000 people per day in the stadium, and
thatís less than a third of the fans we get in a single big bike race.
My sense of it is that fans of bike racing are likely to respond well
to companies that support the sport they love.
Anheuser-Busch was sort of the first company to understand that, and
they are the biggest spenders of sponsorship dollars in the world. It
didnít take them long to understand that the guy who experienced their
beer at a ski area, doing something he really enjoyed, would be likely to
buy that product again. Thatís exactly the point, and the challenge we
have: to get that across.
There are studies that show that consumers are more likely to buy a
brand that is associated with something they like to do, and now our job
is to prove that there is a huge audience out there who loves cycling, and
that their brand preferences are going to be made accordingly.
What are you working on now to grow the sport? What are your future
The main thing that weíre working on, our number one mission, is to
develop the Pro Cycling Tour over the next few years into a really
definitive series of American bike races. Right now thereís USPRO week,
The San Francisco Grand Prix, and weíre adding the Manhattan Grand Prix
this year, which is going to be huge. Thereís also Miami, and weíd like
there to be races in three or four other cities within a few years, and
have that become the defined program in the United States. Then we can be
able to build American personalities, and make it a meaningful series with
strong media ties, sponsorship support and so on which will give the sport
You have to sell it. You canít apologize for the sport. You have to
really show sponsors what a great opportunity it is for them!