As some of you know, I host regular online live video Q&A sessions for cycling fans, in order to answer questions related to women’s cycling, training, racing and life as a professional athlete. The one question that arises during every single session is: How can cycling fans better support women’s cycling?  Likewise, in response to my previous two articles (Money vs Ethics and Continuing the Dialogue: Women’s Cycling), several readers have asked, What can we do to help?

Gooooood Question!

In answering this, I want to first recognize what a wonderful question this really is. In Continuing The Dialogue: Women’s Cycling, I remark that there are no fair-weather women’s cycling fans. Non-fans who get to know a woman cyclist, who hear our stories, who see our races get hooked in a way that generates not only a passive interest in what we do, but a deep sense of appreciation and loyalty not seen in other sports fans. The same can be said for a large contingent of men’s cycling fans, but from my own experience, it seems that despite the smaller fan base for women’s cycling, a far greater percentage comprises die-hard fans who not only want to spectate, but also want to be involved, to contribute concretely to the support and development of women’s cycling.

This is one of the most motivational parts of my job. Sure, there is room for  improvement, but as for any industry or organization, progress is a process, not a goal, and the path forward for women’s cycling is lined with cheering, positive, generous people. Though it may grow from frustrating circumstances, our journey toward a more professionally and equitably managed sport brings out the best in our fans and reveals a very, very inspiring side of humanity. It is quite humbling to witness, and we athletes appreciate you more than you can imagine. Thank you!

Now, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of what kinds of things fans can do to show their support.

Return On Investment

This is a business, and although sponsors are often drawn to the sport because of their own affinity for cycling, teams, events, athletes and programs need to demonstrate a reasonable Return On Investment (ROI) for their sponsors. To do so is actually quite tricky and can be difficult even for those professionals whose careers depend upon it. But you, as fans, can do a lot to contribute! There are two basic kinds of ROI – quantitative and qualitative – and you can help generate both.

Contribute to Quantitative ROI

Quantitative ROI means numbers. The most effective way to get sponsors on board is to tell a story with numbers: last year, we increased clothing sales by X; our Twitter or Facebook fanbase grew by X; our team’s association with the sponsor’s website increased traffic and interactive activity by X; readership of women’s cycling stories in an online cycling magazine grew at a rate of X. You get the picture.

One of the easiest things you can do is to increase these numbers. How? Follow your favorite athletes and teams on Twitter or “like” their pages on Facebook: if they can show a larger social media fan base, their sponsors will see value in that growing influence. Likewise, follow or “like” any media source, individual or organization supporting women’s cycling.

When you see a news story on women’s cycling, click on it. Online media calculates “click-through” rates and one of the biggest complaints I hear from the media is that stories on women get lower “click-through” rates. Let’s change that!

The same goes for team websites. Take the time to click through your favorite team websites, and really, take a moment to click on the links to their sponsors (from the team website or Facebook page or Twitter update). In general, these sponsors are in it for the love of the sport and because they really do care about the athletes and programs they sponsor, even though sponsorship, at its core, is a business. You as a fan can help these companies justify their investments in your favorite programs, athletes and organizations by clicking through and increasing web traffic via the programs they support.

#ClickThruThurs

To this end, I would like to propose a new social media tradition and hashtag:  Click Thru Thursdays (#ClickThruThurs). Every Thursday, take a few minutes to “click through.” If you want to recommend particular athletes, programs, teams, news sites, or other organizations to other fans, post them with the hashtag #ClickThruThurs. Everyone can search the hashtag and take a few minutes to click through articles, “like” a page, or follow new athletes. Here are a few suggestions, but please, feel free to contribute more!

  • Follow or “Like” news sites that feature women’s cycling news articles on Twitter or Facebook
  • Re-tweet or share news articles about women’s cycling
  • Click-thru websites for events that offer equal prize money, or promote women’s cycling
  • Follow more women cyclists, teams, events or programs on Twitter or Facebook
  • Click through women’s team websites, women’s event websites or athlete websites, with special attention to their sponsors
  • Re-tweet or share posts from women’s teams, programs, athletes, sponsors or organizations
  • Comment on athlete posts, blogs, team websites, sponsors websites, etc
  • Post your favorite athletes, sponsors, websites, teams, events, programs etc with the hashtag #ClickThruThurs to remind and encourage other fans to show their support

If fans take just a few minutes per week every Thursday to voice their support, I believe we can collectively spike some of these quantitative ROI numbers in a way that will encourage existing sponsors to stay involved with the sport, as well as to encourage others to get involved. There is no need to limit this to women’s cycling, either. Take this opportunity to show your support for clean riders and programs, for junior development programs, or educational programs. Whatever you see out there in the world of cycling that is good and worthy, click through!

Contribute to Qualitative ROI

Less tangible than quantitative ROI, but arguably more valuable, is qualitative ROI. In my response to Chris R.’s comment on Continuing the Dialogue: Women’s Cycling, I describe how current marketing strategies should seek to create a brand culture; in other words, focus less on brand exposure (e.g. eyeball impressions) and more on the emotional connection between the brand and its target market. Cycling presents a perfect opportunity for brands to associate with all the qualities of dedication, camaraderie, grace, excellence, sportsmanship and pursuit of human potential that define our sport, and creating a brand-culture built on those qualities can be equally if not more valuable than brand exposure.

So how can you contribute to qualitative ROI? First of all, clicking through also supports the qualitative side of ROI. Simply by showing your appreciation and support of sponsors and programs working for the good of the sport, you are sending a very clear message: these investments are meaningful and valuable. In a way, you’re “voting” for the continuation of such positive support.

To contribute directly to qualitative ROI, I suggest taking a few minutes on Click-Thru Thursdays to write a quick email, Tweet, Facebook update, blog comment, website comment, feedback form, or whatever, to a sponsor, athlete, program, team, new site, radio show or individual to tell them how much their sponsorship, work, support, news coverage, etc mean to you as a fan.

As fans, you have far more power than you realize. Our sport depends upon you. What we athletes do has little or no meaning in a vacuum, and for sponsors, this is a business that demands ROI in order to grow and progress. You – the fans – have the power to fuel this forward movement. Remember your power, and use it well!

Other Ideas

Aside from Click-Thru Thursdays, there are infinitely many other ways to get involved. A wonderfully creative example is the 2012 Unofficial Social Media Jersey Award created by Sarah and Dan over at the Unofficial Unsanctioned Women’s UCI Cycling Blog. They collected donations from fans and held a vote for the women cyclists who use social media to engage with fans. The women athletes were then awarded lovely certificates and prize money, all created and funded by the fans. This brilliant project served several positive ends: it promoted women’s cycling and individual athletes, generating online buzz spanning several months; it promoted several major women’s races; it supported women athletes not only with fan-appreciation, but also financially; and finally, the award itself demonstrates very clearly to sponsors how much these athletes mean to the fan base. This is an excellent example of how motivated fans can show their support for the sport. Get creative! With the number of motivated, passionate cycling fans out there, the sky is the limit!

Some other ideas to consider would include making individual donations to athletes or teams. You may notice that some athletes include a PayPal “Donate” button on their personal websites. Trust me, donations of ANY amount are welcome and will help that athlete cover out-of-pocket expenses related to racing during the season (you would be surprised how much we athletes must cover, beyond what the teams will reimburse). (This also ensures that your donation goes directly to the athlete, as donations to some organizations may not always reach the athletes you want to support.) Some teams and federations have set up non-profit foundations to which tax-deductible donations can be made; support those that you think are doing a good job.

Also, buy products from companies that give back to the sport. I don’t advocate consuming for the sake of consuming, but if you need to get, say, olive oil, why not Colavita over a different brand? Or if you need cycling gear, support the brands that are sponsoring a women’s team or program or athlete. If you do buy brands specifically because they give to the sport, send them an email or Tweet or update or comment letting them know that you do and why.

This by no means represents a comprehensive list of what you can do, so please add to it! If you have more ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment. If you like the idea of #ClickThruThurs, please post or Tweet or share this article with other fans, and let’s spread the word.

Thanks for reading,
Amber

Amber at the Tour De Nez

Photo by Gary Douglas

Amber Pierce – An American expat living in Austria, Amber has made the leap across the Atlantic in pursuit of her dreams on the road. After making a name for herself as one of the top road cyclists in the US, she now faces new challenges in her life on the road in Europe.

Amber’s path to full-time racing in Europe has been anything but linear. From high school valedictorian holding national swimming records, to scholarship athlete at Stanford University and researcher on the open ocean, she has found herself in countless adventures all over the globe. With 53 career victories under her belt, however, Amber appears to have found her calling on the bicycle.

Follow Amber on Twitter: @ambermalika

11 Comments

  1. If there is one common denominator among the female professional cyclists I’ve met over the years, it is the willingness to engage less-experienced riders with advice that is not just practical, but also emotional. Emotion is an important part of cycling. The process is so simple mechanically, but because so much of the rider’s effort and concentration is needed to be successful, emotion is the spark that lights the fire. The greatest cyclists in history — Merckx, Longo, Carpenter, Rusch and more — rode as much with their heart as their legs. “Turning the pedals in anger” only wastes energy. Love for the sport, for the experience, for teammates is the true path.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, and especially one so heartfelt and profound. I could not agree more with your sentiment on what defines the true path!

  2. I believe that there is an added benefit to Amber’s #ClickThruThurs idea that she has not discussed directly: cultural change. This is important because it ultimately can affect ROI for sponsors, but it is important simply as a meaningful goal by itself. What I mean by when I refer to culture is this: the collective social attitudes, beliefs, actions (or inaction) toward or related to women’s cycling. In society in general, women’s cycling is not always respected or perceived positively; people often believe others don’t care about it, so they are then less likely to pay attention to it or its sponsors. In a sport as commercial as cycling, this cultural attitude can be very troubling to sponsors and media outlets that run advertisements for those companies. Moreover, a sense of community and support is important to athletes of both genders but especially to females, but if the athlete (perhaps a potential female cyclist) perceives an unwelcome culture towards her and her peers, she is unlikely to pick up the sport or progress far into it. As I discussed in my response to Amber’s “Money versus Ethics”, women in cycling matter.

    Let’s now consider the impact of a collaborative initiative such as #ClickThruThurs. Amber already did a great job of explaining ROI in terms of sponsorship, so I won’t go into that further. Rather, think about what happens when you visit Twitter and look up #ClickThruThurs or #WomensCycling and see dozens or hundreds of tweets on any given week or even on a single day. Consider what you would think if you read an article related to women’s cycling on a popular cycling news website such as Velonews and see an earnest discussion about the content, and you notice that the article has been shared and tweeted dozens or hundreds of times; perhaps it’s even featured on the “Most Read” section of the main page. Think about Facebook pages for women’s cycling teams and the effect of seeing a multitude of likes for a particular page or even a particular post, such as this one. Now, think of your reaction as each of several people: a supporter of women’s cycling, someone who is indifferent, and someone who is opposed to women’s cycling.

    In this digital world where everything is counted, larger numbers mean more people care. Larger numbers mean this is important. Larger numbers make people curious to see what is so important to everyone else.

    The women’s cycling supporter, such as yourself, might feel thrilled to see that so many people care; the indifferent person might get curious about what everyone else seems to think is so important, so she or he might look into it further; and the opponent might at least concede that people are becoming more open to and supportive of women’s cycling. Social Psychology could play a role in changing people’s perceptions. For instance, Robert Cialdini stated that through social proof, people will be more open to things they see others doing. The indifferent person in the above examples is most relevant to this, but the same applies to all groups regardless of whether the effect is clicking a link, engaging in a constructive discussion, or making a conscious effort to look into women’s cycling further.

    With these numbers on the rise, can someone still convincingly say, “No one cares about women’s cycling!” People might still say that; but at least we could pull up our favorite Twitter hashtag or ideally, any blog, online article, or Facebook page or post; point at the numbers or a lengthy discussion; and say, “Can you really still say that no one cares?!”

    Furthermore, a welcome, open community can grow more easily when people believe that there are other like-minded individuals in their area. This is especially advantageous to women, who are generally more influenced by a social aspect of cycling than men. Thus, a more positive culture towards women’s cycling will allow it to grow at all levels.

    There is yet another benefit of #ClickThruThurs: networking. By meeting the right people, you can build a collaborative network of other people who want to work together to improve women’s cycling, and you can meet people that simply inspire and motivate you to do more. For instance, I have been a very passionate supporter of women’s cycling for years but did not have a clear direction for how I could take meaningful action until I recently stumbled upon Amber’s blog, discussed some questions with her, and considered the ideas that she discussed. Now, I feel that I have some great ideas and goals for what I want to do, and I feel that I am part of the greater momentum that is making a genuine difference in women’s cycling. Let’s now imagine that there are other knowledgeable, passionate, committed people out there like me (perhaps it’s you) that just need to meet someone like Amber, read Sarah’s and Dan’s blog or hear their podcasts, or meet any of the multitude of influential women’s cycling supporters; and that could be the catalyst for developing that person into someone who can make a significant difference.

    #ClickThruThurs has so many rewards for such a ridiculously simple effort that we would essentially be depriving women’s cycling, the sport itself and the women who have the potential to develop themselves and others into better athletes and people, of an outstanding opportunity to grow if we didn’t participate. I know that some of the outcomes I discussed might seem very idealistic, but in honesty, everything I said is indeed very realistic especially when considering that #ClickThruThurs is only one of many things people are doing to improve the sport. We’ll never know if we don’t try, so let’s all do this together. You alone can’t do everything, but you can do something. Just think, if we all do something . . .

    1. Chris, first let me offer my heartfelt thanks for this wonderful comment. I sincerely appreciate the kind words, and more, your passion and support of women’s cycling. You’re absolutely right: by mobilizing this community of fans we will do more than just increase click-thru rates, we can also fundamentally change how fans relate with the sport, and with one another. Folks, every little bit helps – a few minutes every Thursday is all we need to create critical momentum in this movement forward. Please help spread the word!

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