Like many professional/trade associations, generating interest in their issues and reaching younger members are critical and ongoing challenges.
For this installment of the Next 20, we sat down with the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado’s (BRAC) Board President Doug Gordon and Executive Director Shawn Farrell. The association is thinking broadly about the industry category in which they exist, finding new ways to engage members and generate interest among a new generation of bike racing enthusiasts.
Generating interest and participation a key focus
“Our biggest challenge is increasing interest in our sport and getting non-racers to participate,” said Gordon.
The challenge, he says, isn’t unique to Colorado.
“Participation in bike racing is down more than 10 percent nationwide. In Colorado, we’re doing slightly better than that, but it is still a key focus for us. In part, we attribute this to there being a lot more opportunities for outdoor activities than in the past. There is more competition for how people spend their time.”
Gordon said bike racing associations like BRAC also continue to struggle with the negative fallout associated with the very public downfall of the sport’s most recognizable competitor.
“We still have a bit of a hangover from the Lance Armstrong experience,” said Gordon. “He got everyone excited about bike racing. As an industry, we are still recovering from that.”
For people who were already committed to racing, says Gordon, it didn’t change things that much.
“But for people who are somewhat on the fence and have a bike hanging in their garage, they may not be racing as much today.”
“We are not getting as many ‘tourist racers’ as in years past – people who come to Colorado to vacation and participate in bike racing,” said Farrell. “In part, this is due to a decline in sponsors and the bigger prizes they generate.”
“Overall, we are also dealing with a generation of people who are just more sedentary than they used to be,” said Gordon. “This is particularly true of youth, who spend more time online than outside.”
Getting Colorado youth to participate
Like many associations, BRAC is particularly intent on increasing engagement and participation among the next generation of its members. For them, that means increasing interest among younger bike racers.
“Nationwide, 80 percent of bike racers compete in over-30 categories,” said Farrell. “It is critical for us to generate interest among younger racers – particularly those 18 and under.”
Reaching that next generation of racing members is a challenge, he says. Most schools don’t have cycling clubs and tend to focus on more traditional sports. So, to reach youth as well as over-18 potential racers, BRAC is going to events that draw people who love cycling, but may not participate BRAC-sponsored events – such as high school mountain biking events.
“We are also coming up with new categories of racing events like gravel races, so people can participate in off-road events that may be more appealing to them.”
In addition, says Gordon, BRAC is doing outreach to people who participate in fitness, but may not be involved in cycling. (Later this year, the association is putting on its first running event.)
“It’s all about getting to people we know will love bike racing once they have the opportunity, but simply haven’t been exposed to it yet.”
Demonstrating value to members
In addition to creating new events and increasing interest in the sport, Gordon said BRAC needs to continue to demonstrate value to its 2500 individual members.
“Our fees are modest compared to other organized events and individual recreational activities,” he says, “but we still need to ensure members know what they’re getting, such as access to professional events and tracking of their racing performance over time. We also are the only local association sanctioned by USA Cycling (USAC).”
BRAC is also invested in maintaining positive relationships with the more than 50 clubs throughout Colorado and southern Wyoming that govern the statewide association.
“The relationship between the association and local clubs is very symbiotic,” said Gordon. The clubs pay member dues to BRAC, he says, which supports them by providing supplies, training and support for racing events. People then join their local club and get their racing license through BRAC/USAC, which provides tracking of racing performance data through BRAC’s website.
“We also help spread news about bike racing to generate interest in the sport,” said Gordon, including generating ‘hometown hero’ stories of Colorado bike racers who have gone on to success overseas.
a series exploring how communications may evolve over the next two decades.