June 4/98 12:31 pm - The Pro Comp Story
Posted by Editor on 06/4/98
Professional Competition Bows Out
Last week, Professional Competition, the B.C.-based mountain bike race promoter, abruptly announced that it was pulling out of event organizing. This was particularly shocking to racers, since Pro Comp has long been viewed as the largest and most professional event organization in the west. Pro Comp has, in the past, organized multiple large scale events, including Mountain Bike Nationals, Canada Cups, the Whistler International (part of the AMBC U.S. series) and, of course, the traditional season opener - the Burnt Bridge Classic. For this season, it leaves the status of the Whistler International (July 24-26) and Canada Cup Final (August 22-23) up in the air. (Note: Cycle B.C. and the CCA are discussing options at this point to save either one or both of the events. Negotiations are ongoing to have Cycle BC become the organizer, and contract out to a professional event organizer to take over the running of these events. We should know something in a week or so.)
I had a chance to sit down with Pro Comp owner Dave Smith last week, while out in Victoria for the Track World Cup, and talk about his reasons for pulling the plug. This is, of course, seen from his perspective, but it may open the eyes of many riders as to the expenses and backroom politics that are involved in our sport - particularly at the higher levels. I invite responses from the CCA and Cycle BC, and will provide equal space to their statements.
The stated reason for pulling out, according to Dave Smith, is money. Through his manufacturing company, Professional Components, Smith has poured, by his estimate (backed up by others) $500,000 over the last 10 years into building an organization that is able to put on large, well attended events. However, the costs of hiring a full time event coordinator, bringing in proper timing equipment, etc. requires that multiple large scale events be put on, and that large sponsors be found. There is the additional need to have prestigious events in order to attract those sponsors. As Smith said: â€žyou canâ€št just keep putting on the same BC Cup or Canada Cup events. You have to move up the scale if you want to attract (large) sponsors.â€°
This is where Pro Comp ran up against traditional cycling bureaucracy and politics. Just because you may have the largest, or best funded, or most experienced organization doesnâ€št mean that you will always get the events (or dates) that you want. Some of this is just first-come, first-served procedure of scheduling. Some of it is the requirement of fitting into the national and international calendars. And some of it is wanting to spread the events around for reasons of equity and, yes, favouritism.
It makes sense to not put all of your eggs in one basket - the CCA did that with the Canadian Tire National Cycling Series some years ago (a stellar series, that attracted big teams from the U.S. and Europe), and when Canadian Tire moved on to other promotional activities (as all sponsors will do, eventually), the entire series collapsed. If an association wants to encourage and develop new events organizers, they do have to allow them the chance to bid on, and receive, sanctions for events. Thatâ€šs the equity side of things and, while large organizers (such as Pro Comp and Gestev) might prefer to grab all the plum events for themselves, they can generally accept this situation.
Where it gets a little, shall we say, unsavoury, is when quality organizers get consistently passed over in favour of others who either donâ€št have the resources or the experience, but do have the right connections. Smith is angry at being passed over for some large events - specifically a World Cup and the National Championships. He points out that, with the exception of Gestev, his organization is the only one of four bids for a World Cup that met all of the published criteria put forth by the CCA (specifically, having organized a National Championships). However, the CCA accepted and forwarded bids from Bromont, Quebec and Canmore, Alberta, along with the Pro Comp one. Smith argues that those bids should never even have been submitted, since the organizers had not met the criteria. He does not blame the organizers for submitting bids, just the CCA for not following its own rules. The result was that Pro Comp, and Whistler, were left out of the World Cup. This is embarassing - Whistler is internationally recognized for the quality of its facilities, but has never been the site of a World Cup.
Smith also says that he is no favourite with either the provincial or national cycling associations. He does not â€žplay the gameâ€°, is definitely not politically correct, and has no respect for the traditional way that bike racing is run. â€žIâ€šm a businessman, and cycling needs to be run more as a business.â€° This rubs a lot of people in the cycling hierarchy the wrong way, and I would agree with his assessment that it has hurt his ability to bid on major events.
One example of this is at the Nationals his company ran in Whistler, when each province came up on stage during the opening ceremonies to be presented. Quebec performed a rather risque skit that had the crowd rolling on the ground. Another was at a Canada Cup when he hired a (fully clothed) Go-go dancer to dance and gyrate on top of a tower while the racing was taking place. Both earned him the enmity of CCA and Cycle BC political correctness types, who were so paranoid of offending anyone (particularly sponsors) that it effectively put him on a blacklist. They forget that Pro Comp actually paid the travel expenses of a competitor from PEI, just so that (for the first time) a National Championship would have every province and territory represented. They also forget that most people want to have fun when they ride their bikes. Cycling has nothing to do with world peace or nuclear disarmament - some people need to learn that and lighten up.
This leads to what appears to have been the final straw - the Burnt Bridge Classic this spring. By all accounts it was a tremendous success. Then Pro Comp received a letter from a Cycle BC staffer, complaining about the race commentator (Dave Smith). I saw that letter, it was threatening (suggestions of issuing disciplinary action against Pro Comp and threatening to withhold sanctions in 1999), and accused him of racist remarks (a very serious charge). So Dave Smith is walking away, and cycling just lost another promoter (which it can ill afford to do).
This is not a tribute to Å’poorâ€š Dave; I donâ€št know the guy that well (I maybe talk to him or see him twice a year on average). Is it a warning on problems in cycling? Yes, I think it is. Dave Smith is not the first promoter to walk away recently - tired of dealing with all pettiness, backstabbing and narrow mindedness that seems to be developing in our sport. We need these people, along with the commissaires, marshals, sponsors and rookies.
Iâ€šve said about as much as I want to, now itâ€šs your turn - post your comments in Forum.