Monday, January 5, 2009

Ways to improve and accommodate growth

There’s been a lot discussion on the New England cyclocross distribution list lately about ways the Verge series can improve the schedule for 2009. Some suggestions are good, others are bad. Adam Myerson, to his credit, has been quick to respond. While I appreciate his willingness to listen, he did open this can of worms, so now he's had to deal with it. As I think about the next ‘cross season, here are my opinions on ways to improve the Verge series
1. Pay attention to those who “fund” the series
2. Reduce the number of UCI-categorized events within the series
3. Eliminate the payouts for all but the UCI categories
4. Force upgrades
5. Season passes

1. The biggest fields at the Verge races are the Masters 3/4, Cat 2/3, and Cat 4 fields. These racers are paying the lion’s share of the entry fees that essentially fund the prize lists and reimburse the promoters for their expenses. I appreciate Myerson’s desire to have a series that is top notch and worthy of the “New Belgium” moniker but not if it means $40 entry fees and 8 race weekends spread throughout New England and never within 45 minutes of Boston where most of the racers live. Let’s focus on improving the experience for those who fund the series. Give these big categories the course and start times they deserve.

2. I am all for a few marquee New England events such as G-stah, NoHo, and Warwick, but I don’t see how keeping 8 UCI weekends in New England is a benefit. Let’s face it, very few cross racers are going to make it to Europe to compete at the highest level and very few (5 maybe in the whole country) can claim cyclocross as a source of reasonable income. If the Verge series put its financial and historical resources towards promoting 3 top tier C1 races, “New Belgium” would be the only destination for top-tier elites in North America on those weekends. Instead of watching Jamey Driscoll ride unchallenged for the last 40 minutes of most Verge races among a field of 25-30 people, let’s raise the bar for a select number of weekends to watch all the best. Perhaps other areas such as the Pacific Northwest, Mid-Atlantic, and OH/WI area can follow our lead and take the same approach with 2 or 3 C1 level races of their own. On the weekends that the top-tier elites are chasing C1 points, our “grass-roots” promoters can thrive off the attendance of local amateurs and second-tier elites. If you are good enough to “need” UCI points or want to always race against the best then pick your weekends carefully and committ to traveling. Us local racers don’t need to fund your “need” for a few UCI points or your 20th out of 22 payout.
Another benefit of fewer UCI Verge series weekends is that multiple "grass-roots" races can be successful on the same weekend. If given the choice between a race in their backyard (relatively speaking) and a race of similar size and quality 2-3 hours away, the vast majority of people would stay local. That means a race in NH should be just as successful as a race in RI on the same day. Don't worry, you'll get to see your friends at the 4 or 5 Verge series weekends and you'll cherish those races even more as a result.
Also, by having fewer C2 races all over the country, the NACT and USGP become much more appealing and powerful races. There is no reason the Verge series events can't account for 3 of those series weekends, right?

3. If the amateur categories are overflowing and the elite field is too small, let’s eliminate rewards for the non-elite fields. I like what I hear about races in the NW giving prizes at random to the non-elite fields. Reward the people who show up every weekend and race for mid-pack because they love the sport even if they don’t excel. Those are the people investing money…for race entry fees, for parts, for clothes, etc. If racers want to be paid for their performance they should do so once they’ve reached the highest level. If you must reward people in the amateur fields, do it randomly so everyone has a shot at it, not just the top 5-10 people who win their amateur field each weekend.

4. If Verge races are trying to encourage competition and excellence at the highest level, then let’s force some upgrades. I’m not trying to say people can’t remain at a certain category level for multiple years, but there seems to be too much of a problem with people staying in a category they have dominated without being told (forced) to upgrade. It is likely that racers will get some pretty good beatings immediately after upgrading but everyone seems to feel the only way to improve is to race against those who are better than you. Once you reach the penultimate step, however, you face a dilemna. It is really hard to tell (force) a person to leap to the UCI level and that is exactly what one has to do to graduate from the women’s ¾ field or from the men’s 2/3 and master’s 1/2/3 fields. If we go back to the second point though, with fewer Verge races being UCI category events, this would be less of a problem. For the 3 marquee C1 weekends there should be a UCI race held separate from the 1/2 race (non-UCI license having people). If you have to start the schedule at 8am on these days, so be it. For 3 marquee weekends it is worth it.

5. Offering season passes seems completely logical. Growing up I was fortunate enough to spend nearly every winter weekend on the ski slopes. Unfortunately it was always at the same mountain because my family invested in a small condo on the slopes. But I digress. I remember pre-purchasing our seasons passes in June or July because the mtn offered a discounted rate in return for the off-season influx of otherwise non-existent revenue. Why wouldn't this work for the Verge series? With 8 (I think) race weekends on tap for next year, why not put together an early season purchase option? Here are some possible offerings:
- pay by May and save the equivalent of 4 race entry fees, plus the bikereg fee you'd have to pay on each individual race.
- pay by August and save the equivalent of 2 race entry fees, plus the bikereg fee you'd have to pay on each individual race.
- pay by September and save the equivalent of 1 race entry fee, plus the bikereg fee you'd have to pay on each individual race.

This way the promoters get money earlier than usual to reduce any out-of-pocket money they may otherwise have to front. Also, if this is a series and the promoters are working in conjunction with one another it will boost revenue to be shared among them. It also creates an incentive for racers who may not otherwise make the trip to VT or ME or down to RI late in the season because they can save as much as $100 with the early buy in. I'm not trying to say this is the only or best scenario but I do feel strongly that a season pass could work to everyone's benefit. Oh, and just like the ski resorts, all sales are final. If you break a wrist in pre (summer) season you don't get a refund. Yeah, it's harsh, but to make something like this work there has to be some rigidity.

I attend the Verge races because I like competing with and socializing with a great group of amateur cyclists. It is my strong feeling that the series would not suffer by eliminating the UCI status at many of its events and would in fact grow like the NW series if the emphasis were put back on growing participation, especially if the races were held in strong cycling based communities like Boston (why are there no Boston venues?) and Providence.


Anonymous said...

While I don't agree with everything you wrote here, I really do appreciate the time to think it through and contribute. There are some good suggestions here, and I will definitely account for it. Thanks!

rosey said...

thanks Adam. I don't know how you can accomplish anything with this dialogue going on in the necyclocross board. I put my comments on my blog since they're more of my opinion and not worthy suggestions (commands) for how you should run the Verge series. I'm sure I'll be there next year, no matter what the changes are.

matt said...

I agree with you scott nearly 100%.

rosey said...

what else do you think could be done to improve the series matt?

Colin R said...

Hey Rosey,

I was initially put off by this post but the more I think about it the more I like it. I think doing three BIGBIGBIG UCI C1 events here instead of 6 UCI C2's would be an improvement for the sport. The bottom line is that if a race is part of the Verge Series, it's going to get the huge attendance from the low categories that pays da billz.

The biggest problem I see is, what happens to your elite race when it's not UCI? Is it just going to be me and Ryan Kelly riding around because all the real elites would leave? You have to think that non of the B men would temporarily cat up because they are engaged in their series battles.

The other thing that concerns me is the whole "reward-the-big-fields" premise for guiding decisions. The non-big fields are either Juniors, Women or Elites -- are we really comfortable shafting that group of people? They've all either earned it (elites), or are in the two groups we allegedly don't want to marginalize. I still prefer a merit-based determination of who gets "screwed" ("don't want to race at 8am, then upgrade") over "3/4 masters are numerous and vocal so lets do what they want."

Part of the reason people are so worked up about the schedule is that next year's Verge series is six double weekends. That's a LOT of 5-6am wakeups for the early morning racers. If we had 3 C1 weekends, I don't think you'd hear anywhere near as much complaining from the guys that have to race early to accomodate the big show.

rosey said...

Thanks Colin. Regarding the potential non-UCI Verge series weekends, I still think you'd get an ample elite field. I don't quite understand the infatuation with earning UCI points unless you are 1. going to be competitive at nationals 2. making a living off 'cross racing.
If we have three UCI weekends instead of six (i think it is actually 8 with the addition of Providence and rebirth of ME?) the top tier racers (i.e. top 5-6 who meet criteria 1 and 2) will travel for their coveted UCI points and be forced to race in fields of 40+ similarly skilled racers therefore earning the UCI points and prize money. That also means on the non-UCI weekends, the lesser elites who do not meet criteria 1 and 2 and therefore do not need UCI points can feel comfortable about being in the elite race and can grab valuable points towards placing in the elite category. Would you rather be top 15 in the elite field or top 5 in the 2/3 field? Plus, would you rather race for $25 if you finish 15th in non-UCI elites or $0 for winning the 2/3? The top racers that usually lap these lesser elites and make it intimidating (and a waste of money in some eyes) are less likely to be in attendance.
Perhaps this lowers the "caliber" of the field at some Verge series races but I also think it will encourage people to make the leap to the higher categories on a faster timeline, thus reducing the crowding and sandbagging that is often complained about in the amateur fields.

I guess I don't disagree with your statement on who to listen to. Just keep in mind that asking Masters 3/4 or cat 4 racers to show at 8am and then expecting them to 1. stick around to cheer on elites 2. appreciate watching smaller fields strung out around the course during the more ideal 10, 11, or even 12 o'clock slots is going to be tough. I do agree it gives incentive to upgrade, but also appreciate that upgrading may not be appropriate or possible for many of these racers.

gewilli said...

absolutely agree on #5

season pass is the way to go...

heck just do a one race discount or two race discount. the 4 race one, no good IMHO...

bring on the season pass, maybe just for Cat 3 and above races?

rosey said...

i'm not married to any of the details as long as they make it both fair and attractive to potential buyers and promoters. I forgot to add that this would allow the series to move towards assigning race numbers for the entire series instead of requiring a new number at every race (more money savings and less time required at registration).

Colin R said...

I like the season pass in theory but I think you'll find promoters don't like it for several reasons:

1) Big promoters in the Verge series (Gloucester) would claim they were taking a pay cut for the small races.

2) What happens when you upgrade and your entry fees go up? Pay the difference? Who tracks that? Does the hassle discourage upgrading?

3) How do you seed races? Are you effectively opening registration for every race in August? People who are willing to pay as they go will get screwed on start position.

(The wrongness of start position by reg order is a whole other issue...)

4) Is the current system "broke" in any way? Turnout is high and no one (I think) is losing money -- why change the equation and risk losing some money?

rosey said...

good points colin, it probably is not broken except for the idea of staging by reg order (doesn't seem fair from an athletic standpoint). i'd be interested to know whether the promoters of the "UCI conflict" weekends (ME, VT, and RI) are able to cover their increased costs due to prize money increases as mandated by UCI. VT and ME get historically low turnout so perhaps incentive for racers with the pass will help bring them some revenue and encourage the amateurs to stay local instead of making the trip to NJ or PA or PDX or whatever other conflicting race. also, i doubt it would be too hard to calculate the total number of season pass holders that race at each event and then give that event the appropriate portion of the season pass money. i don't know, it's not perfect, but it seems like a useful thing to try.

Colin R said...

I generally don't push this idea, because it suggests that points are legit -- but if Verge gave points 25 riders deep, and staged everyone else from points -- that would be pretty good staging, right? Even if you have no points, you can ride into a good starting spot on day 2 with a good ride day 1. And I actually do have points for most people, including non-New Englanders...

Of course this has nothing to do with the season's pass but given how important staging is in a big race, it might be time to try to find a better way.

rosey said...

if the season pass were put into affect promoters could certainly justify staging by
1. points
2. season pass
3. crossresults rank
4. day of and unranked riders

you could always remove the crossresults rank and replace it with reg order as they do now. this would reward those who make a financial committment to the series from the beginning. yeah, riders are buying a guaranteed start position, but i can accept that more easily than riders with a quick refresh action on their keyboard.

Brooke Hoyer said...

The Cross Crusade in Portland, OR hosts zero series UCI events. We have had the USGP dates promoted by the same folks that bring us Cross Crusade but those races are not part of the series.

In any event, the A race has been big and competitive every year.

You don't need UCI to be successful. A few dates are good. Lots are unnecessary and clog talent in the Bs.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the CX Crusade, it's not a appropriate comparison. They have very different goals, and both series' should be judged on the success of those goals. CX Crusade is completely focused on grassroots, and does the best job of any series in the country in that regard. The Verge Series is focused on the elites, and creating a regionally based pro 'cross circuit. I think we've also been successful with that goal. Of course, elites come out of the grassroots, and grassroots come out for big events, so it's not an either/or situation. Just a matter of priorities. What works in Portland will not necessarily work in New England, and vice versa.

matt said...

Most of my thoughts are extensions of yours and I'll share those shortly, but one thing that haven't been mentioned is the issue of host housing and carpooling. The series appoint a director of host housing and carpooling to organize those that are interested and give the racers tools to connect with eachother along these lines.

matt said...

I really need to read my comments before posting. It's embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

Matt, you're hired. Let me know when you want to start in your new position.

rosey said...

matt, that's a great idea and perhaps something that the NE Verge forum could facilitate thus negating the need for an official person in charge. one problem i see is the location of most of the Verge races. the % of folks that can claim to be local to most of these events is rather small compared to the volume of people that come from out of town. VT and ME especially, and NoHo to some extent are pretty good examples. even if people can coordinate carpooling and/or hotel lodging that might help. i'd say the message boards or forum are the best way to coordinate ride and lodging sharing for now.

matt said...

ok... posted my thoughts on the blog. I don't work in IT and have no idea how to link to it from here. Something about HTML tags.

go nuts.