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Richard Plugge, chief executive of Visma-Lease a Bike, said cyclists were earning peanuts compared to other sports and he was now pursuing major changes (Photo: Tim van Wichelen-Cor Vos)

Richard Plugge, the boss of Visma-Lease a Bike, says cyclists need to become much bigger stars and make young people excited in the way YouTuber turned boxer, Jake Paul, does.

He insists the sport needs a stronger brand, or identity, at its centre – like the Champion’s League in soccer or Ironman in triathlon. He said he was working towards that with the One Cycling project he is developing with other teams and some race promoters.

He believes if cycling was successful in cultivating that concept – a strong series of linked major races featuring all the big names – the era of cyclists making “peanuts” compared to other sports would end.

But he also believed the sport had to get away from generating huge publicity around the Grand Tours, only for the media and social media exposure to end for another year once those races were over. Instead, intense hype needed to be constant, as other sports had managed to cultivate.

“The aim of One Cycling is to look ahead to where we want to be in ten years. In cycling, the battle outside the race continues between the teams and their management,” Plugge has told

Jake Paul, left, is a YouTuber turned boxer and Plugge said cycling needs to create hype around itself the way Paul has for his own profile (Photo: Yes Media)

Plugge continued: “We (in cycling) do not sufficiently realise that our opponents are not the other teams or organisers, but all other forms of entertainment. They are competing increasingly harder for the attention of the TV viewer.

“Our real competitors are the Champions League, golf, American football, basketball in the US, Formula 1 and martial arts. We notice the latter clearly here with a phenomenon like Jake Paul. Screaming young fans approach him. Those youth do not rush towards our Jonas Vingegaard or other top riders. I want to change that.”

A “unified circuit, which will then hopefully become a bigger brand” would help attract sponsors from outside the teams, said Plugge, who is both a team boss and president of the AIGCP, an association that “groups together many professional cycling teams”.

“Equally important: we could earn much more by bundling media rights,” he added. “Today, the major media companies are laughing at the scattered order of battle in which organisations and teams negotiate over chunks of rights. It explains the peanuts we earn compared to football.

“I see the big races, such as the Tour and the Giro, operating as hypermedia companies for three weeks with a stream of tweets and videos. And after the race it collapses again. Let us do this together, so that cycling becomes a 24-hour media factory. That would help us grow as a brand.

“More circuits with laps are also the future in unified cycling (races), because it makes the race safer, is better for the environment and you can also sell tickets and VIP packages around it. That also means extra income.”

Plugge said even his own star rider, Jonas Vingegaard, did not generate enough excitement, adding a strong identity and clearer offering in cycling – that reached outside the hardcore fans – would help the sport reach the wider public (Photo: Charly Lopez)

The big stakeholders in cycling, such as ASO which owns the Tour France, may suffer short term as their races lost a little of their dominant place in a restructured sport, said Plugge. But in the long-term they would win because cycling would become much bigger and richer, and they would be a beneficiary.

He added shortly after taking over the team that is now Visma-Lease a Bike – when it was Rabobank in 2012 – he immediately set about trying to bring in revenues from multiple sources, not just from headline and secondary team sponsors.

And he believed that concept needed to be developed, as well as a Champions League-style series at the centre of pro cycling.

“Although it was mainly about survival in the beginning, we also started to create added value with the team,” he said of new revenue concepts he developed over a decade ago.

“From day one we have opened the door to documentaries: from the public broadcaster NOS to our own film in the cinema to series from the streamers Amazon and Netflix.

‘We also have a paying platform for companies to become part of the business community around the team, a membership with benefits for regular fans and a web shop with merchandising through our clothing sponsor AGU. And cycling? Far too little has happened in this regard over the past ten years.”

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