Breaking Away

You may not care about the bicycle racing industry, or bikes, or racing, but you may enjoy this article about the bicycle racing industry, specifically the intersection between athletes and corporate promotion. It’s short, and well written, and maybe you’ll learn something you didn’t know.

One of my older pet peeves has been how the internet was taken from being a public information commons into a series of paywalls where real information costs money but bullshit is free. Here we see how this process directly spiked the popularity of the World Cup and deflated many businesses.

The other point of interest is the understated point of the article, which is that for atheletes to achieve and maintain corporate sponsorship into the future, they need to start handling their own promotional materials, producing long form video media, biographies, and training updates on their own. This guy claims enough relevant experience that I expect this observation to be generally true, even if it ignores the larger issue he reports that the sport has lost a lot of general interest and doesn’t appear in the mainstream media, thus there are fewer corporate promotional spots remaining to vie for.

In the persistent quest to increase profits to shareholders, corporations tend to eat themselves to make profit when needed. Where they had once provided services to ensure consistency, continuity, and legal liability, they have gradually cut away areas that provided “quality” not “profit”, “risk” not “reward”, “investments” and not “payouts”. Gradually, they pushed the risk and expense of training, supporting, and caring for a worker onto the workers themselves, and then they demanded more at a lower price.

Consider the path of the humble writer. A century ago, they were heavily in demand and paid by the word. Fifty years ago, a publisher would take an author’s rough draft, edit it, turn it into a book, print it, and promote it. Nowdays, if an author doesn’t handle editing, publishing, and promotion themselves, publishers are liable to use “AI” (read: “automated plagerism systems”) to fill the space. This is now being expected of atheletes, who must also be winners.

If we’re now asking bicycle racing teams to develop and produce their own sitcom, how much time are they going to have to race their bikes? How well will they compete against teams that don’t have to diversify their resources? How many bike teams will be able to spend millions of dollars producing this media without getting picked up? This doesn’t seem like a “winning” combination.

We talk about the enshittification of the Internet these days, but this is just a visible manifestation of the overall rot that has consumed the entire US business culture. It’s not just important to make a profit, it’s illegal to do otherwise. So whenever there’s a conflict between people and profit, lives and profit, health and profit, or sustainability and profit — profit always wins. The original selling points to even allowing corporations in the US was that their larger pools of cash would allow them to take on more risk, invest more deeply into their workers and systems, and handle very large, expensive projects. Interestingly, since none of those activities directly lead to profit, most corporations today have minimal risk, rarely invest in their workers, and don’t take on large, expensive projects.

Perhaps it’s time we just nationalized all these corporations and run our sporting competitions for free.


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