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13 world championships in 11 days: Will the UCI’s UK£60m mega event deliver for cycling?

More than 8,000 amateur and elite cyclists from more than 120 countries have descended on Scotland for the first edition of the UCI Cycling World Championships. Trudy Lindblade, the chief executive of the event, tells SportsPro about the unified hosting model, the impact of Covid on costs, and delivering a blueprint for the future.

4 August 2023 Sam Carp

Image credit: Cameron Prentice

Back in February 2019, the International Cycling Union (UCI) announced Scotland as the host of its inaugural Cycling World Championships. Four years and one pandemic later, that event got underway on 3rd August following an opening ceremony that featured a live concert in Glasgow’s George Square and a parade of hundreds of cyclists led by a giant bagpiper called Bessie.

The brainchild of UCI president David Lappartient, who was at the helm of European Cycling when the sport was included in the first edition of the European Championships alongside other sports like athletics and gymnastics, the mega event is bringing 13 world championships across seven disciplines to a single host destination at the same time.

The individual tasked with delivering all that is Trudy Lindblade, who was appointed chief executive of the 2023 Cycling World Championships in October 2020, becoming the organising committee’s second employee at the height of Covid-19.

“We were creating a new event, the international federation was wanting to keep the sport going, and then we were trying to work together to create this brand-new event,” recalls Lindblade, speaking to SportsPro on the opening day of the world championships.

“And if you think about it, [from being awarded the event in] 2019 [to] delivering in 2023, that’s not a long time for an event of this size and scale. And again, for a brand-new event of this size and scale.

“But it’s amazing what you can do when you’ve got the will and great partners.”

The cost of putting on a show

The next 11 days will see more than 8,000 elite and amateur cyclists from over 120 countries compete in events taking place at ten venues across Scotland. For context, that’s significantly more competitors and nations than what comprises a Commonwealth Games.

Glasgow is serving as the hub for the international gathering, with the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome staging the track discipline, Emirates Arena hosting the indoor cycling and Glasgow Green the place to find BMX cyclists. But fans will be able to see competition up and down the country, including in cities like Edinburgh, Stirling and Dundee, as well as the more scenic bucket list destinations such as Loch Lomond, Fort William and the Scottish Borders.

Ensuring all that runs smoothly requires a sizeable logistical operation, particularly in an environment where the business of major events is being impacted by supply chain issues, staff shortages and rising costs. Lindblade describes the local organising committee as being “relatively small” and says the event is leaning on the support of third-party businesses and commercial companies to deliver the world championships, as well as an army of around 4,000 volunteers.

Putting on an event of such scale also requires a significant financial investment. All told, the budget for the 2023 Cycling World Championships is approximately UK£60 million (US$76 million), which is significantly more than originally forecast. But Lindblade, who previously held several senior roles at Visit Victoria in Australia, stresses that the organising committee has worked “very carefully” to manage costs.

“All major events running at the moment, costs and budgets is something that you are monitoring every day,” she notes. “Because as we know, with the current inflation, cost of living, it does make things much harder.”

Events will be taking place up and down Scotland (Image credit: Cameron Prentice)

Selling a vision

Hosting 13 world championship events in the space of less than two weeks gives cycling what Lindblade calls a “focal point” in the calendar. In the past, it may have been difficult for fans to keep track of these competitions taking place individually throughout the year, whereas together they will now have a dedicated, quadrennial slot 12 months out from the Olympic Games.

Another perceived benefit of the consolidated hosting model is the deeper proposition it presents to broadcasters and sponsors. In theory, having these events take place alongside each other creates more inventory, more hours of coverage, and larger audiences, which means more exposure for sponsors and an extended ‘moment’ in the calendar for them to activate around.

One of the main partners secured specifically for the 2023 Cycling World Championships is supermarket chain Lidl, which operates more than 100 stores across Scotland, while the official partner category includes companies such as building materials retailer BigMat and connected cycling platform Zwift. But the event also creates a bigger global platform to promote existing UCI sponsors like Shimano and Tissot.

“We can’t fully rely on public funding to run major events,” Lindblade notes. “For us, in really tough times, we were out securing sponsors at the height of the pandemic. I definitely think the aggregation of the disciplines gives us a really attractive proposition. And hopefully, for future hosts, that will be much easier, because they’ll actually have something to show. We had a vision, but they’ll have something tangible that [brands] will be able to see.”

From a broadcast perspective, the UCI said the world championships will benefit from ‘unprecedented’ television production and distribution. Eurovision Sport, a division of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), is on host broadcasting duties and will produce an estimated 240 hours of live coverage, which will be supported by 30 hours of news and highlights.

Eurovision Sport is also distributing the media rights to the event across Europe, while the IMG agency secured the brief for the rest of the world. Together, they have secured coverage in more than 120 countries, including on the BBC in the UK, NOS in the Netherlands and ZDF in Germany, as well as Fox Sports and SBS in Australia, ESPN and FloSports in the Americas, and SuperSport in Africa.

Given so many marquee events will be taking place in such a short window of time, the competition schedule has been a key focus for the UCI and the organising committee to ensure that each discipline gets its moment in the spotlight, while also making sure it works for attendees and broadcasters around the world.

“It was really important to have world champions crowned every day,” says Lindblade. “It was really important to strike that balance of Olympic events and non-Olympic events. So we had a number of factors that we had to consider.

“It may not be perfect, and then we’ll probably learn from this as well. The UCI will take away some learnings and I’m sure you’ll see some tweaks to the schedule and some other changes [at the next edition in France in 2027]. But that’s OK, because we’ve put the blueprint together, and then that needs to evolve.”

Balancing social and economic impact 

Several competitions at the world championships are free to attend, including the BMX freestyle flatland, the road race and trials. However, for ticketed disciplines at venues like the velodrome, Lindblade reveals organisers have “only a small number of tickets left” and have seen “really strong sales” across the flagship events.

Despite going up against the start of the annual Edinburgh Fringe festival, which is notorious for driving up accommodation costs in the Scottish capital and in surrounding areas, Lindblade also reveals that the organising committee has already met its revenue target for ticketing income. Crucial to that has been making access to the event affordable, meaning people have been able to buy a ticket for as little as UK£8 (US$10).

Lindblade (right) says the world championships has already met its ticketing revenue target

Glasgow and Scotland more broadly will also be hoping for an economic boost from both domestic and international visitors attending the event. Local pubs have even been allowed to extend their opening hours to maximise the opportunity of having more people in town.

The event was initially projected to deliver an economic impact of UK£67 million (US$85 million), but Lindblade notes that forecast was made “in a very different time” – in other words, before Covid. The Australian also won’t be drawn on whether the world championships will meet its other revenue targets and says a “really robust evaluation” will be carried out once the action concludes.

For now, Lindblade is keen to focus on the social impact of the event. She believes that needs to sit alongside the economic benefits of hosting the world championships, which is seen as playing a key role in the Scottish government’s ongoing efforts to encourage more of its population to take up cycling as a sustainable mode of transport. SportScotland has already committed to investing UK£8 million (US$10.2 million) in cycling facilities, while other legacy commitments include UK£2 million (US$2.5 million) being spent on cycling infrastructure and services across the country’s railway.

The headline might be 13 world championships in 11 days, but Lindblade hopes the impact of the event will be felt for longer than that.

“First and foremost, we want to deliver a safe event for everybody that’s here,” Lindblade says. “But also that we inspire people to ride a bike, to get out on those bike lanes popping up all around Scotland. And that we’ve delivered that blueprint for the future that the UCI and the next host can take away.

“Because this event will evolve, and I can’t wait to see how it will evolve and is delivered long into the future.”

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