As some of you know, I host regular online live video Q&A sessions for cycling fans, in order to answer questions related to women's cycling, training, racing and life as a professional athlete. The one question that arises during every single session is: How can cycling fans better support women's cycling? Likewise, in response to my previous two articles (Money vs Ethics and Continuing the Dialogue: Women's Cycling), several readers have asked, What can we do to help?
In answering this, I want to first recognize what a wonderful question this really is. In Continuing The Dialogue: Women's Cycling, I remark that there are no fair-weather women's cycling fans. Non-fans who get to know a woman cyclist, who hear our stories, who see our races get hooked in a way that generates not only a passive interest in what we do, but a deep sense of appreciation and loyalty not seen in other sports fans. The same can be said for a large contingent of men's cycling fans, but from my own experience, it seems that despite the smaller fan base for women's cycling, a far greater percentage comprises die-hard fans who not only want to spectate, but also want to be involved, to contribute concretely to the support and development of women's cycling.
This is one of the most motivational parts of my job. Sure, there is room for improvement, but as for any industry or organization, progress is a process, not a goal, and the path forward for women's cycling is lined with cheering, positive, generous people. Though it may grow from frustrating circumstances, our journey toward a more professionally and equitably managed sport brings out the best in our fans and reveals a very, very inspiring side of humanity. It is quite humbling to witness, and we athletes appreciate you more than you can imagine. Thank you!
Now, let's get to the nuts and bolts of what kinds of things fans can do to show their support.
Return On Investment
This is a business, and although sponsors are often drawn to the sport because of their own affinity for cycling, teams, events, athletes and programs need to demonstrate a reasonable Return On Investment (ROI) for their sponsors. To do so is actually quite tricky and can be difficult even for those professionals whose careers depend upon it. But you, as fans, can do a lot to contribute! There are two basic kinds of ROI - quantitative and qualitative - and you can help generate both.
Contribute to Quantitative ROI
Quantitative ROI means numbers. The most effective way to get sponsors on board is to tell a story with numbers: last year, we increased clothing sales by X; our Twitter or Facebook fanbase grew by X; our team's association with the sponsor's website increased traffic and interactive activity by X; readership of women's cycling stories in an online cycling magazine grew at a rate of X. You get the picture.
One of the easiest things you can do is to increase these numbers. How? Follow your favorite athletes and teams on Twitter or "like" their pages on Facebook: if they can show a larger social media fan base, their sponsors will see value in that growing influence. Likewise, follow or "like" any media source, individual or organization supporting women's cycling.
When you see a news story on women's cycling, click on it. Online media calculates "click-through" rates and one of the biggest complaints I hear from the media is that stories on women get lower "click-through" rates. Let's change that!
The same goes for team websites. Take the time to click through your favorite team websites, and really, take a moment to click on the links to their sponsors (from the team website or Facebook page or Twitter update). In general, these sponsors are in it for the love of the sport and because they really do care about the athletes and programs they sponsor, even though sponsorship, at its core, is a business. You as a fan can help these companies justify their investments in your favorite programs, athletes and organizations by clicking through and increasing web traffic via the programs they support.
To this end, I would like to propose a new social media tradition and hashtag: Click Thru Thursdays (#ClickThruThurs). Every Thursday, take a few minutes to "click through." If you want to recommend particular athletes, programs, teams, news sites, or other organizations to other fans, post them with the hashtag #ClickThruThurs. Everyone can search the hashtag and take a few minutes to click through articles, "like" a page, or follow new athletes. Here are a few suggestions, but please, feel free to contribute more!
- Follow or "Like" news sites that feature women's cycling news articles on Twitter or Facebook
- Re-tweet or share news articles about women's cycling
- Click-thru websites for events that offer equal prize money, or promote women's cycling
- Follow more women cyclists, teams, events or programs on Twitter or Facebook
- Click through women's team websites, women's event websites or athlete websites, with special attention to their sponsors
- Re-tweet or share posts from women's teams, programs, athletes, sponsors or organizations
- Comment on athlete posts, blogs, team websites, sponsors websites, etc
- Post your favorite athletes, sponsors, websites, teams, events, programs etc with the hashtag #ClickThruThurs to remind and encourage other fans to show their support
If fans take just a few minutes per week every Thursday to voice their support, I believe we can collectively spike some of these quantitative ROI numbers in a way that will encourage existing sponsors to stay involved with the sport, as well as to encourage others to get involved. There is no need to limit this to women's cycling, either. Take this opportunity to show your support for clean riders and programs, for junior development programs, or educational programs. Whatever you see out there in the world of cycling that is good and worthy, click through!
Contribute to Qualitative ROI
Less tangible than quantitative ROI, but arguably more valuable, is qualitative ROI. In my response to Chris R.'s comment on Continuing the Dialogue: Women's Cycling, I describe how current marketing strategies should seek to create a brand culture; in other words, focus less on brand exposure (e.g. eyeball impressions) and more on the emotional connection between the brand and its target market. Cycling presents a perfect opportunity for brands to associate with all the qualities of dedication, camaraderie, grace, excellence, sportsmanship and pursuit of human potential that define our sport, and creating a brand-culture built on those qualities can be equally if not more valuable than brand exposure.
So how can you contribute to qualitative ROI? First of all, clicking through also supports the qualitative side of ROI. Simply by showing your appreciation and support of sponsors and programs working for the good of the sport, you are sending a very clear message: these investments are meaningful and valuable. In a way, you're "voting" for the continuation of such positive support.
To contribute directly to qualitative ROI, I suggest taking a few minutes on Click-Thru Thursdays to write a quick email, Tweet, Facebook update, blog comment, website comment, feedback form, or whatever, to a sponsor, athlete, program, team, new site, radio show or individual to tell them how much their sponsorship, work, support, news coverage, etc mean to you as a fan.
As fans, you have far more power than you realize. Our sport depends upon you. What we athletes do has little or no meaning in a vacuum, and for sponsors, this is a business that demands ROI in order to grow and progress. You - the fans - have the power to fuel this forward movement. Remember your power, and use it well!
Aside from Click-Thru Thursdays, there are infinitely many other ways to get involved. A wonderfully creative example is the 2012 Unofficial Social Media Jersey Award created by Sarah and Dan over at the Unofficial Unsanctioned Women's UCI Cycling Blog. They collected donations from fans and held a vote for the women cyclists who use social media to engage with fans. The women athletes were then awarded lovely certificates and prize money, all created and funded by the fans. This brilliant project served several positive ends: it promoted women's cycling and individual athletes, generating online buzz spanning several months; it promoted several major women's races; it supported women athletes not only with fan-appreciation, but also financially; and finally, the award itself demonstrates very clearly to sponsors how much these athletes mean to the fan base. This is an excellent example of how motivated fans can show their support for the sport. Get creative! With the number of motivated, passionate cycling fans out there, the sky is the limit!
Some other ideas to consider would include making individual donations to athletes or teams. You may notice that some athletes include a PayPal "Donate" button on their personal websites. Trust me, donations of ANY amount are welcome and will help that athlete cover out-of-pocket expenses related to racing during the season (you would be surprised how much we athletes must cover, beyond what the teams will reimburse). (This also ensures that your donation goes directly to the athlete, as donations to some organizations may not always reach the athletes you want to support.) Some teams and federations have set up non-profit foundations to which tax-deductible donations can be made; support those that you think are doing a good job.
Also, buy products from companies that give back to the sport. I don't advocate consuming for the sake of consuming, but if you need to get, say, olive oil, why not Colavita over a different brand? Or if you need cycling gear, support the brands that are sponsoring a women's team or program or athlete. If you do buy brands specifically because they give to the sport, send them an email or Tweet or update or comment letting them know that you do and why.
This by no means represents a comprehensive list of what you can do, so please add to it! If you have more ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment. If you like the idea of #ClickThruThurs, please post or Tweet or share this article with other fans, and let's spread the word.
Thanks for reading,
Photo by Gary Douglas
Amber Pierce - An American expat living in Austria, Amber has made the leap across the Atlantic in pursuit of her dreams on the road. After making a name for herself as one of the top road cyclists in the US, she now faces new challenges in her life on the road in Europe.
Amber's path to full-time racing in Europe has been anything but linear. From high school valedictorian holding national swimming records, to scholarship athlete at Stanford University and researcher on the open ocean, she has found herself in countless adventures all over the globe. With 53 career victories under her belt, however, Amber appears to have found her calling on the bicycle.
Follow Amber on Twitter: @ambermalika