SPECIAL FEATURE: 2017 is an opportunity, let’s make sure we take it

As the dawn breaks on a new Cycle Speedway season, there is reason for optimism as the sport begins it’s journey down a new path, which should sow the seeds for growth across the sport in the UK.

The new Supertrax series, which encompasses the Battle of Britain, the successfully established Women’s League and HSBC Elite GP, offers a fresh structure for Cycle Speedway and one that should address key issues that have plagued the sport for decades.

Out goes the Elite League, a series dominated by cheque book and pen – replaced by a series that is open to ambitious riders from all clubs, free of club destabilising transfers and more importantly, freeing up more weekends for club racing.

Truth be told, the Elite League only benefitted a small handful of clubs or riders and offered absolutely nothing for anybody else, yet it filled up an enormous chunk of the racing calendar. Even out of the 5 or 6 clubs in the series, it could be argued that it only really benefitted the clubs in with a chance of success. Those clubs achieving prosperity were built on spending obscene amounts of money or signing riders from other clubs, not on homegrown success.

Therein lies the problem. It was impossible to compete against. Newport, Birmingham, Sheffield and up until last season, Ipswich, could seldom put up a fight against the super teams. Coventry found out first hand the shear cost of trying to keep up with the pace, both financially and at club level and still ended up no where near, whilst only tracking 2 or 3 of their own riders.

Poole won the title in 2013, but only did so with the assistance of chartered flights and hundreds of pounds spent before enduring a tough few seasons post-title win. It’s not hard to see that the Elite League was unsustainable.

The Elite League often caused clubs to take their eye off the ball in terms of recruitment and what matters the most – their membership. It’s argued by many that 8+6 is incredibly detrimental to the sport and shifts far too much focus away from delivering a quality programme of opportunity to a club’s riders.

If a club has 40 or 50 riders, but any given Sunday, less than half of those riders can be involved in racing, the other half will lose interest and find something else to do. A simple programme of local racing and club nights, all at your own track, is all that is needed to keep the bulk of your membership, your customers, happy and coming back for more.

With the Elite League, at some clubs, members witnessed teams that were thrown together from all over the country, with no affiliation to the club they were riding for, thus reducing opportunities for homegrown riders enjoying track time further.

With the Battle of Britain series, the racing hasn’t changed. It’s the same formula, the same team racing and the top echelon of riders battling it out on track – it is essentially, the best parts of the Elite League, without having the burden on clubs.

2017 Supertrax series race jerseys concept for both Battle of Britain and Women’s League will be worn by South East & Eastern, South West & Wales and North & Scotland teams.

Three of the four regions have taken up the offer of new bespoke and eye catching race jerseys at a cut-rate price to aid the promotion of the sport at a national level. British Cycling will be covering the series extensively online. If we’re going to make inroads as a cycling discipline, it’s vitally important our sport looks good from the outside and racing around in football tops does absolutely nothing for our image.

The top end of the pyramid represents the smallest part of the sport, it is essential that we have an elite series that runs itself, so clubs and officials can put their focus on widening the base, this is where growth will come from. You widen the base, the top gets bigger too.

The structure of any sport is based on a pyramid. The wider the bottom, the bigger the top.

The Battle of Britain gives elite racing back to the sport and shares it out region wide. You no longer have to be tied to a club for access, you simply need to become one of the best in your region. Those who are the best in their region are in the shop window to become one of the best in the country and throw on a Great Britain jersey.

Having riders thrown together into teams that would not always ride together can only benefit Great Britain on the international stage.

A new career path for riders has emerged, from club level racing, to regional level to international level. As the sport grows, the vision will be to split the regions to add more teams into the mix and create more opportunities for aspiring riders to fulfil their potential.

Whether the sport grows is down to us and how we embrace these changes. If we do not, the alternative of reverting back to our old ways is out of the question – it’s doomed to fail and as the saying goes, “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results is insanity.” So what then?

2017 is an opportunity to turn it all around. To focus on the things that matter. Our club nights, local racing and re-building our clubs to levels that give CS more than a 1% share in BC’s overall membership.

The new competitions structure is only part one of the British Cycling Cycle Speedway Commission’s development plan. Part two is giving all clubs access to a business model that is proven to work and gain results. This is achieved through British Cycling’s Go-Ride programme. Offering everything to members, our customers, that a club in 2017 needs, from structured coaching sessions to safeguarding and constitutions.

So what will it be? Does the sport embrace change, something it has always been reluctant to do in the past with dire consequences, or do we listen to the self-interested minority of nay-sayers, often with the most to lose, who tend to be the ones shouting the loudest, and risk total failure?

Your call. Have a good season.