Putting Shoulder Pads on Schleck: How the Business of Professional Cycling Could Be Improved Through a More American Structure
52 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2011
Date Written: November 11, 2011
In August 2010 it was announced that three-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, less than a week removed from his latest victory, was leaving his Kazakhstan-based team, Astana, at the end of the season. Contador reportedly rejected a two-year, nearly $13 million deal from Astana, instead choosing to sign with Bjarne Riis’ Danish-based team for a reported two-years and $20 million. Starting in 2011, Riis’ team is named Saxo Bank-SunGard. The move was particularly notable because Contador was essentially replacing rider Andy Schleck, who announced that at the end of the 2010 season he would be leaving Riis’ Saxo Bank squad to form his own team based in his native Luxembourg – Leopard Trek. Schleck finished second to Contador in both the 2009 and 2010 Tours de France, including a controversial 39 second margin in 2010.
The advent of free agency in American professional sports has made roster changes an accepted part of the game, causing some commentators (notably comedian Jerry Seinfeld) to note that we merely “root for laundry.” Nevertheless, the degree and nature of the turnover in professional cycling can quickly strip away any meaning of the laundry as well – undoubtedly many 2010 Saxo Bank supporters found themselves rooting for Leopard Trek in 2011. More than anything else, doping scandals have sundered the sport – chasing away sponsors, destabilizing team operations, and causing annual chaos among riders.
While the freedom of contract and employment opportunity is something to be celebrated considering sports law history, there are superior business models that would improve the operations and financial viability of professional cycling while also making it more comprehensible and more appealing to the fans. This article explains the current structure of international professional cycling and compares it to the typical American team-sport structure. The article will compare European and American labor and antitrust laws and their application to professional sports. Lastly, the article will explain key areas where the structure and operations of professional cycling could be improved by adopting a more American approach.
American sports have been largely successful in creating a shared and lucrative partnership between teams and athletes through the collective bargaining process. Cycling teams and cyclists need to do the same thing. The minimization of doping scandals is probably the most important part of increasing stability and interest in cycling. By adopting some of the American approaches to professional sports, cycling could take steps towards a cleaner and more stable sport.
Keywords: Cycling, Tour de France, free agency, Armstrong, Contador, Schleck, doping
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