Sunday, December 30, 2007

Doping - T-Mobile Racing Team?

So T-Mobile might be moving to bigger and better sports. Of course, we'll see if this is true when the BMW F1 team is revealed in January. But it could explain part of the reason why they pulled out of cycling. I have to admit that pink and blue were the colors of the team I joined when I was 15 so I wouldn't protest too much if BMW sported some T-Mobile pink.

When I had a shop, a guy asked me to name my competitors. I named all the local shops, a couple mail order places, and a couple really big shops some distance away from me. Basic right?

Then he asked me about a store down the road.

An electronics store.

"They don't sell bikes", I protested.

"No", he replied, "but they sell things. And those things cost money. And if that guy right there (he points to someone in the shop) goes and buy a nice stereo, he'll have less money for bike things."

So when everyone cries about sponsorship and doping and stuff, it's not about bikes. It's about soccer, golf, marathons, the Olympics, and even car racing.

Cycling is a minor sport. I mean, really. $5.5 to 22 million for a year for a whole team (see page 8)? That's what some stadium sports figures make all by themselves. Michael Schumacher, in one of his years at the top of the F1 heap, could fund probably 8 or 9 teams himself based on his $80 million haul one year.

And think about the Wall Street boys. $20 mil might be an annual bonus for some of these guys, especially the hedgefund guys who fly extremely fast below the radar. Instead of buy a few cars one could buy a team and watch their fund's name sprinting to the line in San Remo, climb the peaks of the Pyrenees, and if they're lucky, perhaps don some leader's jersey somewhere, or, even better, the World Championship stripes.

It's ironic that a sport that paid its stars the cost of five teams in the NFL just to race one week now takes a back seat to the NFL. Back in the day, the NFL was a rogue thing and, expanding from its 18 teams, the NFL put some franchises up for sale in 1925, available for $500 each. There were five franchises up for sale, including the NY Giants, so you needed $2500 to buy the lot.

That's half of what the major six day racers made each week.

How things change.

I don't know what caused it. Cycling was an epic sport, one for the hardiest of hardy men. There were no spectators in the mountains to cheer them on, just the rattle of the official's car, maybe a motorcycle or two, and the couple protagonists grinding out some ridiculous single gear on their 40 plus pound machines. Nothing like the party that happens every year on the mountains in the Tour.

It all changed somewhere. Car racing definitely replaced bike racing in the US. NASCAR, IndyCar (or whatever the various leagues are called now), even drag racing. Some may argue that it's easier to race a car, but to put one together such that it's competitive with another car prepared in the same way? It's about as competitive as it gets.

And if you thought diving into Turn 1 at 30 mph in a 100 rider field is nerve wracking, I can't imagine diving into Turn 1 at 240 mph in the middle of 30 or 40 other cars. I have a hard time watching the start of any F1 race, and they have only 20 or so cars.

Cycling, some say, is a "people's sport". Everyone knows how to ride a bike. Well almost everyone. But it's hard to find a kid that hasn't tried to pedal a bike, and I think nowadays you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn't ridden one.

But a lot of us eat hot dogs too, but I don't see us scrambling for a seat at the annual Coney Island hot dog shindig. So the "people's sport" doesn't really cut it.

So maybe it's doping.

No, definitely not that. I'm sure that any time a big expose article appears in those German publications their sales skyrocket. When that baseball player was indicted, the article was amongst the most popular for Yahoo. Ditto when Landis got nailed.

Maybe those stories popped up due to the evil cookies lurking on my machine but I think not.

Perhaps cycling is too tactical? Too much thinking?

Have you ever talked to a baseball fan? They spew stats like there was no tomorrow. I'm surprised the number of baseball fans don't equal the number of actuaries because, according the hard core fans, it's a numbers game.

"So and so hits .421 against lefties, .285 against righties, but the team only has one rightie left in the rotation for today and the next guy hits .471 against righties so they'll have to keep the leftie up there, plus that leftie likes throwing curveballs (28% of his pitches) and the batter is only .384 against lefties throwing curves. This is so cool!"

And that's from a 10 year old who struggles with math in school.

In the shop, I struggled with the idea that everyone was out to grab my potential customer's money. I simply couldn't do it because, well, I had no money to spend. When a customer asked me (holding a defective but expensive Pearl Izumi Jacket), "Have you ever bought something and it didn't work the way it was supposed to?", I paused to think, and when I realized the truth, I almost told him, "No, because I haven't bought anything in a store in three years."

But I kept my mouth shut.

At that time, the last big item I bought was a computer, but before that, I really couldn't remember buying anything in an actual store except a stereo and speakers I got 15 years ago.

Today my bike dollars are spent mainly at the local bike shop (LBS), some online stuff (Excel Sports seems to get a good chunk of change), and the occasional eBay thing (whoppers usually, like a bike or some Reynolds wheels).

But unlike 10 years ago, I actually have money to spend. And although I know the shops are trying to get me to spend my money there instead of somewhere else (because, unlike me, they understand who is fighting for my dollar), I still go and spend the money.

Because, for once, I have some money to spend.

How things have changed.

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