The 2018 cross-country World Cup series attracted more viewers than downhill for the first time ever.
Red Bull saw a rise in viewership of 50% across all live mountain bike broadcasts in 2018, but cross-country benefited the most, gaining the most overall viewers.
With shorter races and thrilling battles all year, it’s no surprise that more viewers tuned in to catch the action. There’s also no doubt that cross-country’s viewing figures have benefitted from the introduction of the short track series this year, meaning two broadcasts each race weekend.
Christoph Tritscher, the mountain bike World Cup manager at Red Bull Media House said: “I think this is to do with the development of the sport in cross-country in the past six or seven years. The races have got a little bit shorter, which helps TV, and on the other side we have the new people coming up, especially on the women's side. You have a whole bunch of women who are competing on a high level so this year we had fascinating races.”
There’s a hidden secret to the success of the cross-country too. While downhill is mainly growing in traditional mountain bike markets like North America and Western Europe, cross-country is reaching new markets thanks to the exposure of the Olympics. Christoph said: “One big market is also Brazil, especially last year with the Olympics. Of course, we can't rule out Henrique Avancini who is quite popular in Brazil. I talked to him a lot of time this year and he told me he's not the Neymar, Neymar is a different level of course, he's more of a down-to-earth celebrity in Brazil.”
In response to this news, Martin Whiteley, the teams' rep for World Cup downhill, has asked Red Bull to broadcast the downhill qualifying next year. A rehash of the rules would see the top 60 men and top 10 women run their qualifying in reverse order with one-minute gaps to create a broadcast worthy product. This has not yet been confirmed by Red Bull.
Martin said: "We'll spin the top 60 around so the number 60 comes down first, down to number one. There will be one-minute intervals because at 30-second intervals you could have nine riders on track, which is impossible for the cameras. At least with one-minute gaps you might have three or four on track but you can cross over to where someone had a bit of an issue.
"There's always this stuff, especially on Pinkbike: "why is so and so so far down, what happened in his run?" and I think it's just a lot easier to bring that story live in qualifying. And also, my argument was cross-country ratings had gone up, which was great for cross country but a lot of that was due to the fact that they'd introduced a new event, short track, so they were getting two days of coverage, why aren't we?"
The live broadcast is the biggest draw for sponsors so seeing both series grow is great news for the sport and athletes. Hopefully, this trend will continue in 2019 and beyond.