Monday, September 7, 2009

Night Boat To Cairo

The transfer season is now wide open (no, not as part of the unfolding soccer season…). This is to do with my other love in life – bikes; the kind ridden by fellas with shaven legs because, upon us has come the season of the witch.

Plus, the start of September is also a time to consider what the ‘record label’s’ have decided we should be spending our hard-earned upon come the following autumnal months. And so, given that I’ve always held the view that bike-racing is rock ‘n roll on wheels – so much is the same, its just the stage that moves… lets have a quick peruse of what’s what.

OK, so… am I more excited about the makeup of the about-to-be-launched British mega-team sponsored by Rupert Murdoch’s SKY… or the imminent release of Mariah Carey’s Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel?

Am I spending more time wondering about what the new Lil’ Wayne album will sound like or what SKY’s jersey will look like? Have I chuckled at the title of someone called 50 Cent’s new release (Before I Self Destruct) while wishing his music would or have I self-debated what bikes will be used in 2010 by Scott Sunderland’s (the senior director sportif) team?

Questions for sure… the answers are blindingly obvious.

And, with regard to Tommy Mottola’s ex, proof positive, if any were needed, that over 60 million in the US alone (and another 140 mill around the globe) can be wrong… very wrong indeed.

But, seeing the SKY boys astride - like so many lycra-clad Italian stallions - the beautiful lines of a Colnago (or even a Bianchi) would be just about as yummy a collaboration as it gets but… somehow, I can’t see that occurring… but hey, one never knows. And... just to clarify one little bit here... I don't... errr... how do I put this... bat for the other side... just to make that clear, you understand.

Anyway... September 1st was the due date for the unveiling of the riders that SKY’d hired – any formal announcement made earlier and the team would have been fined zillions of euros for breaching one of the many UCI codes of practice.

Talking of which (codes of practice) and as an aside, it does strike me as a bit peculiar that, in trying to eradicate the internal war of doping within cycle-sport that the UCI haven’t – for once in their existence – decided to be tough… by that I mean, properly tough. For sure, the dopers (for that read cheats) are being slowly weeded out but… is the received punishment adequate?

This Voltaire (on its grassy knoll) says its not.

You’ve been proved beyond a shadow of doubt that you have doped (cheated) equals… you get life – that’s it, you’re out of the sport for good. Make the deterrent tough enough and only the truly stupid will attempt to buck the system. And, for what its worth, I’d also advocate that across all sports. Period.

Because, only then will players play on a level playing field.

And, one good thing coming out of Team SKY hq over the past months has been this total zero-tolerance level as regards anyone in the entire team’s make-up who carries even a whiff of (cheating) suspicion with them.

Anyhow… currently… no announcement has been made.

In many respects no big deal as what (who) will be, will be… and, doubtless all will be unveiled in due course.

However… it does strike me that the grand-fromages at Team SKY are not that conversant with the way the media is working as we reach the final quarter of 2009 and are, for reasons best known to themselves, stuck back in the dark-ages of working the media.

For example – while they may well be biding their time to ensure (in their own minds) that their announcement is seen as really major news… the rumour mills are running ragged. And, with every passing day, rumour and conjecture will lead to a lessening of impact.

Other established squads (notably Garmin, BMC, Katusha, Saxo Bank as well as Lance Armstrong’s new formation, RadioShack) are cleverly drip-feeding the information of newly acquired riders and co-sponsors etc; thereby generating ongoing interest but, what SKY appear to be doing is withholding absolutely everything and waiting (for their own agenda) to unfurl when they believe it suits them best.

In times past, this might have worked to their advantage but, my suspicions are that – with companies seeing bigger and better news dissemination & comment-led articles led via the likes of Twitter and on-line as a general rule – the head-honchos at Team Sky aren’t playing this terribly cleverly.

For a start, the rumour-mill has – over the past month or so – produced a number of names that have been ‘leaked’ as probables.

Lots of will they / won’t they / perhaps they should etc etc…

The most obvious conjecture and (inevitable) ongoing media-debate has been over the Manx-missile, the lad Cavendish but – unless someone, somewhere has pulled off an almighty financial and sporting coup, it would seem more than logical that he’ll sprint out his current Columbia / HTC contract; after all his job is to win and he has an established team that delivers him specifically for that purpose.

SKY – at present – is untested and (in my view) he’d be barmy to make the move for 2010. The next again year, well, that’s a different tale indeed and will be as much down to his undoubtedly huge asking-price as anything since the publicity value that he’d return any potential team sponsor would be colossal.

The other major contending Briton is the fourth-placed-finisher from this year’s TdeF – the Weller look-a-like, Brad Wiggins – but, he too, is contracted (to Garmin) for 2010 and… as things stand, it looks improbable that he, too, would jump ship to SKY; not least as that transfer would (inevitably) mean a sizeable buy-out of his (currently final year) with Garmin who – logically – aren’t going to kiss goodbye to one of their prized assets without putting up a serious financial fight.

As to former TdeF yellow-jersey wearer David Millar – well, he’s a share-holder / part-owner in Garmin (again, so far as I know, until the end of 2010) and it – again – seems logical that he wouldn’t make the switch until at least then.

And, while one and three on the above list appear to have publicly ruled themselves out of contention; Wiggo who – as this is being written has just secured the British National Time Trial Champion’s jersey – remains a dark-horse.

Be that as it may, cycle-sport is – nowadays – more international than ever before and despite this being the first really major British team, SKY will – undoubtedly – contain significant names from a number of countries other than the UK; most probably Scandinavia, Australia, Germany as well as the other (obvious) British talent.

And… all of them (those of non-British nationality) will have their own relationships with their own, home media – this is one of the reasons why the rumour-mill has been churning, because, without a shadow of a doubt, its been fed by international riders (or their managers / ‘informed sources’) offering ‘off the record’ comments to their own local journos / media folk… after all, one of the tricks of working the media is keeping the people who write about you… sweet.

Plus, over the past month or so, there have been quoted statements, stating that the vast majority of the riders they’ve targeted are now contracted.

So… what is the delay and… what is the delay in making these announcements achieving?

Well… it looks like the major-domo’s at SKY are requiring that ALL of their ducks are lined up in a neat row before – officially – saying anything. That’s fair enough – after all, its their team and their cash that’s set it all up.

However, in this day and age, that is (again, in this voltaire’s view from its own grassy knoll) a bit of a strange tactic and one fraught with all manner of potential to back-fire.

How would I have done it..?

Firstly, I'd have eradicated the rumour mill by drip-feeding the riders announcements from the due (and given) date

And secondly, properly considered the overall picture appertaining to 2009 and not 1990.


Within the major announcement, there would be a number of smaller announcements that would all combine to make up the whole.

This isn’t just about the riders who’ll spearhead the team but will (necessarily) include the clothing manufacturer; the bus-supplier; the logo / jersey design; the bikes and components to be used (from wheels to tyres, from pedals to handle-bar tape and bottles and more), the off-road clothing and nutritional suppliers; the doctors, physios, masseurs and mechanics – and so on and so forth – because the formation of a cycling team will include literally dozens of people and sponsoring partners alike.

So… given that September 1st was the key date, I’d have dealt with (1) above by issuing ‘notices’ on a regular basis from that day forward… when the initial riders had been confirmed, their names would have been released; and as regards (2), once the bike supplier had been finalised, another press-release; once the key components for the bikes had been sorted out – another… so on and so forth.

This way, the drip feed effect would have garnered more and more publicity – after all, that’s the real name of the game – and each supplier would have had their own level of media exposure.

However – the way its going – it looks like the final announcement will, in reality, become so huge that – inevitably – only the cream from the top will be written about or commented on… meaning that the (deemed-by-the-media lesser ‘components’) won’t get much of a look-in – creating less media value for those – be they suppliers or riders themselves.

And, this is the bit that this Voltaire believes the field-marshalls at SKY have got wrong; this is the bit – however much you think you can control… you absolutely cannot.

As such, it is also highly probable that – given the nature of this ‘announcement’ – that the major-domo’s are all preparing their own wordings for inclusion in said ‘official press-releases’.

IF that’s the case (and I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be) then, there is another lesson to be learned here… as much as the major-domos will all want their ‘corporate words’ to appear in magazine X / on-line publication Y / newspaper Z, chances are that those worried about / much fiddled about with pithy corporate phrases will not be used at all. History shows that and that’s a fact. The media – as a whole – don’t much care for corporate this or that; what they’re looking for is key – one-to-one – words from the key players…

The end result… I’m anticipating more and more rumour running amok over the next week or so and would imagine (since I’m not part of the circle, let alone an inner one) that those at the sharp end right now – Scott Sunderland being one – are going quietly bonkers with their cell ‘phones ringing off the hook and e-mail in boxes full to bursting with… questions.

Questions that I’d imagine (since all I’ve done is apply a bit of logic fuelled by years and years of doing that PR job to the above arguments) he – and maybe one or two others – are probably forbidden from answering.

Ahh well, that’s life at the 2009 corporate coal-face no matter what game you're in.

So… what else do we have to look forward too?

Stephen Still has a new record coming out by all accounts; David Gray too… Muse and Vampire Weekend as well... There is to be a massive Miles Davis retrospective boxed-set issued and REM are due to release a live album too.

All far more intriguing than the poodles – Leona Lewis and Mary J Bilge – who’ll both be unleashing volumes of… errrr… warbling to beats… later this year. Gosh, I’m so, so very excited.

However, in between waiting on the SKY team news, I will be really waiting on Maps who – so I’ve read – will unleash a new album (Turning The Wind) in late October and Guy Clark’s Some Days The Songs Writes You that should (grammar not withstanding) also be out by November; well – at least there is some light on the musical horizon then.

The last Maps album came out what… three or was it four years ago… to this day, its a permanent fixture on the I-Touch wherever I travel and Guy Clark… thank heavens he is still making music; one of the truly great songwriters of all time and, from memory, his first album (Old No 1) came out roughly when The Cate Brothers released their first record on Asylum… I wonder if both still sound as good as they did back then… darn that’ll mean a trawl off to to try and find a copy of both (given that both vinyl languish far away at Merle HQ currently).

Ah well… no matter the delays and the rest, three things to really look forward to for when the days of summer start to properly shorten.

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