• Michael Rogers at the 2016 Giro d'Italia. (Getty)Source: Getty
Michael Rogers has deemed professional cycling “broken” within just six months of his appointment as CEO of Riis Seier, the company aiming to field a WorldTour team in 2018 developed around a financially self-sufficient business model.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
5 Oct 2016 - 10:03 AM 

The 34-year-old in his new occupation has had to quickly expand his scope of the sport to include some of its biggest business issues, including a dependency on corporate sponsorship he argues is unsustainable.

Rogers retired from competition in April due to a long-time congenital heart condition and his Tinkoff team has since called it quits too with Russian businessman and owner, the outspoken Oleg Tinkov, becoming frustrated with the sport’s commercial model.

“Oleg is obviously a very vocal person in the cycling world and I honestly see that as a positive because otherwise cycling is too comfortable in its own zone,” Rogers said from his home in Switzerland. “We need people that don’t have such a long cycling history and traditional view to move forward because professional cycling, if you look at it as a sport trying to move forward, it’s broken. It’s really broken.”

The Australian discussed in-depth the ambitions of his company, contrasting them against the current economic climate and business models of other international codes. Riis Seier initially had intentions to field a top-flight team for 2017 after confirming its establishment in February, but those were benched.

“We had played around a little bit with looking to 2017 but we eventually gave up on those plans because it was just such a short time line,” Rogers said. “We were actually worried about rushing and creating something that didn’t have the foundation that we envisioned, so that was a purposeful decision to sit back and make the foundation that will take us a long way down the track.”

For now, Riis Seier continues to develop products linked to related industry and designed, over time, to partly fund its WorldTour team, as, for example, tickets sales or membership subscriptions do for football. The idea is that the team would in such an instance be less at the mercy of sponsors, their whims and shortfalls, a model that this year saw two squads collapse (Tinkoff and IAM).

“[Company founders] Lars [Seier] and Bjarne [Riis] have invested into a couple of cycling related products that will be developed…We’ve invested in this fitness bike with the quite ambitious goal to sell as many as we can. We’re also looking to cycling travel, leisure and working on a virtual exercise platform, which we’ll announce in due course,” Rogers said. “They’re not going to make millions of euros overnight but we believe, over time and a lot of hard work, that we do have a possibility to subsidise a small percentage of the team.”

Rogers had planned to study business after he retired from professional cycling. He was approached by former team boss Riis as well as Seier not long after he called time on his competitive career and over lunch was sold the position he describes as a steep learning curve.

“I say to [Riis] that he used to tell me what to do on a bike, through the race radio, and now he’s asking my opinion on certain things, so I think our relationship has progressed!” Rogers mused.
The former Tour de France stage winner like many is at odds with cycling’s economics, which team managers at the Tour de France this season acknowledged was flawed but equally had no certifiable answer to.

He says he is not convinced cycling, by its dependency, gives sponsors a great return on investment, especially compared to other sports that have multiple revenue streams and can offer more for less.
“Try and go out to a company and ask for €45 million in 10 years. Cycling doesn’t have that stable platform to be able to back those figures up,” Rogers said.

“[Take] soccer being 20 per cent or 30 per cent dependent on corporate sponsorship. What have I got? In 10 years I’m going to spend €45 million on a cycling team, or I can go to soccer, or football, or baseball, whatever, you name them, and probably have better exposure for €15 million.

“We need to start addressing those longer term issues. I certainly hope these conversations are being held in the UCI and with some of those bigger stakeholders.”

Rogers admits the project he is overseeing is ambitious though not a pipe dream.

“We are aware of the fact that we’re just not going to be able to create these parallel businesses we are working on to fund a €25 million team, that’s not going to happen [instantly],” Rogers said.

“However, over time, if we can create a structure that after five years might be able to contribute let’s say 10 per cent, 15 per cent, that’s already a start.

“We’d eventually like to create this structure that is ultimately self-sufficient, which is a big ask. But we have to start somewhere and get rolling.”

Rogers said the company is currently focused on business and not sporting aspects, so yet to determine an orientation like general classification, spring classics and so forth.

“I don’t think we’re at that level yet to have those conversations within the team. First and foremost, our focus is on having a team and then we have to see what riders are available on the market,” he said.