British Cycling, the sport’s national governing body, has announced it will organize the men’s and women’s Tour of Britain professional cycling stage races after recently terminating its licensing deal with UK events company SweetSpot.
The move is part of the federation’s new five-year vision for major cycling events in the country unveiled today, covering road, off-road, urban, and track disciplines.
This begins with plans to organize the Tour of Britain races this year and beyond. The events will be delivered in the calendar slots previously occupied by The Women’s Tour (June) and the Tour of Britain (September).
British Cycling stated that while delivering the events in 2024 will be incredibly challenging, “we have already commenced positive discussions with partners across all areas of commercial, broadcast, and local delivery, and have been hugely encouraged by the support we have received to date.”
The governing body added: “We understand that the uncertainty surrounding the two events has been a cause of concern and confusion for riders and teams, and we will be open and transparent to ensure the greatest possible participation and success in the two races scheduled to take place this year.”
Late last year, British Cycling terminated its long-term contract with SweetSpot to organize the Tour of Britain over unpaid rights fees of £750,000 ($947,000).
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At the time, Sweetspot said its legal team would handle its dispute with British Cycling to resolve the issue amicably but the firm has since entered into liquidation after losing that contract as well as facing legal claims totaling almost £1 million.
That move came a year after SweetSpot canceled the Women’s Tour and the Tour Series for 2023 due to a lack of funding and commercial partners, and six months after the company helped run the UCI Super World Championships in Glasgow.
SweetSpot is now reportedly facing legal action from the Isle of Wight council after it canceled the final stages of the 2022 Tour of Britain in the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death.
Following the announcement that it had lost the contract for the Tour of Britain, SweetSpot founder and chief executive Hugh Roberts and race director Mick Bennett announced their retirement in December, ending their 20-year stint at the company's helm.
Although British Cycling owns the rights to the annual race, SweetSpot has organized the Tour of Britain since it was revived in 2004 and last secured the rights to do so until 2029 under a 10-year contract agreed in 2019.
Speaking in a media briefing, British Cycling chief executive Jon Dutton said about the SweetSpot relationship: “British Cycling terminated its agreement with SweetSpot in the latter part of last year. SweetSpot, Tour of Britain Limited, and several other related companies have gone into administration.
“So that's now being dealt with by an insolvency practitioner. We had a license relationship with SweetSpot that has come to an end.
“Today is about looking forward so there are some legacy issues that we've had to deal with. But we're just really excited by what the future holds across multiple disciplines, and we're focused and determined on delivering that.”
According to Roberts, British Cycling insisted on receiving its full license fee from the 2022 Tour of Britain despite the Queen’s passing in the middle of the race and was not showing the same “financial sympathy” that other partners were.
In response, Dutton said: “I'm not sure what has been said by SweetSpot is entirely accurate. What I will say is that there is a sum of money to alter the organization.
“It's across multiple years, that money would have been invested into community cycling activities, which hurts the organization. But we just would prefer to draw a line and move forward.
“We were always open to supporting SweetSpot whether that be commercial introductions to local authorities etc. but that's gone. We can't control the past but we can certainly influence and control our future.”
All cycling events over the next five years will be delivered through the British Cycling Events subsidiary, which has already organized events including the UCI Track Champions League.
British Cycling Events is led by interim managing director Jonathan Day.
SweetSpot formally owned the Women’s Tour and had announced the 2024 edition was to be staged in Wales for the first time as part of a long-term agreement with the Welsh Government. This year was supposed to mark the 10th anniversary of the first Women’s Tour.
However, the host agreements held by Sweetspot will be nullified by the liquidation.
The Tour of Britain Women will now be a completely new event and wholly owned by British Cycling Events which has opened talks with local authorities about new agreements to host the race.
The Tour of Britain has traditionally been held with a title sponsor, which was always a key source of revenue for the organizers.
British Cycling has begun discussions with potential partners and is open to working with agencies to build a commercial portfolio for the Tour of Britain events with a limited timescale.
Dutton said: “We will engage with agencies. What I've outlined is a five-year event vision across multiple disciplines. Specifically on the Tour of Britain Men and Women, we are in a rush and we'll need some help with that.
“So, yes there are several agencies that we're talking to at the moment. As we move forward, particularly in the more creative and digital space, we're excited to work with people who share our ambition.
“Commercial sponsorship will be a vital part of the cocktail of funding that will be needed to stage the two races.
“We have to work hard and really quickly on 2024 but we're focused on growing the properties in 2025, 2026, and onwards and for it to be part of the suite of opportunities and portfolio that I've described. We believe there’s great strength in that for a brand to look at investment not just into the race, but to be part of that social impact program across multiple years and potentially across multiple communities.”
Dutton, appointed as British Cycling chief last April to replace Brian Facer, admits the situation with SweetSpot has prompted the federation to take a different approach to managing events.
The 28-year sports industry veteran has an extensive events background and joined the organization after concluding his tenure as chief executive of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England.
He also has experience working for major organizations including golf’s PGA European Tour and European soccer’s governing body UEFA.
Dutton stated: “It's [the collapse of the SweetSpot relationship] made us think really hard. I'm nine months into the post and I've got a strong events background from Rugby League World Cup 2021, seeing an event delivered with a social impact program that drove commercial revenue into the organization.
“In my early conversations with the [British Cycling] board talking about that and the new opportunities, Tour of Britain Men and Women wasn't a part of that at the start but has now become part of it. From a crisis position, thinking that the women’s Tour of Britain didn't happen last year, we want to turn that into an opportunity.
“We're here as a federation, with an event subsidiary, we're not for profit. So, the ability to make decisions for the right reasons and the social impact program we genuinely believe will ensure more deep and meaningful relationships that will have more commercial value.”
While the Tour of Britain events will be the immediate focus, British Cycling has a long-term vision across its disciplines.
That vision includes exploring the feasibility of a multi-sport urban event series in Britain, including BMX freestyle, conducting a feasibility study on a new domestic track league concept, supporting efforts to secure mountain bike and cyclo-cross World Cup rounds in the country, and the long-term growth of national series and championships for road and circuit racing.