How do Riders Feel About Discovery's Plans for World Cup Racing? - Pinkbike's State of the Sport Survey

Jan 24, 2023
by Henry Quinney  
Welcome to the 2023 Pinkbike State of the Sport Survey. This anonymous survey is designed to help shed light on key issues affecting the professional field and elite competition. We surveyed the best riders in the world to hear their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and criticisms on mountain biking as we go into 2023, all in an anonymous format. To read the introduction to the survey click here, and to see all the other currently published SOTS articles click here.




When we last conducted our State of the Sport survey elite level competition was in a very different place. When things started to converge in 2018, when the EWS and the UCI began a partnership, perhaps we should have foreseen another incoming level of cross-discipline cohesion. However, I think it's fair that there was a collective and shared feeling of surprise when, in early 2022, it was announced the rights to the UCI World Cups had passed from Red Bull to Discovery.

The second level of this is that the EWS had already been taken into the Discovery group in 2019 meaning that for the first time, one broadcaster would have rights to both the UCI World Cup series and the EWS, or the EDR as it will soon be known.

If understanding the current situation of rights, rules and regulations have at times seemed confusing in the past 12 months, then you're certainly not alone. The information, whilst genuinely quite reassuring when it did get released, was often far behind the snowballing gossip and rumors that spread through the pro field and internet forums throughout the season.

In this year's survey, we asked the riders about the information, or lack thereof, regarding racing in 2023. It should be noted that this questionnaire was conducted in December, just before we received another raft of updates and confirmation on the 21st of December.

Greg Minnaar ran Pierron close but ended up just under a second back.

Over half of pro riders have been nervous about the prospect of Discovery taking over from Red Bull

For riders competing at the very top it's much more than a passion or a hobby - it is their livelihood and often times racing is the central pivot of their lives. It's no surprise to see a large cohort of 55 riders making up, which makes up 38.2% of riders competing in UCI World Cups, answering that they agree with the statement that nerves have followed since it was announced the rights would belong to Discovery. A further 27 riders strongly agreed.
Discovery taking over the broadcast rights has made me nervous
Strongly Agree: 24 (17.2%)
Agree: 53 (38.2%)
Neutral: 44 (31.7%)
Disagree: 16 (11.5%)
Strongly Disagree: 2 (1.4%)

However, it's not all doom and gloom. The second largest cohort felt neutral, and with 31.7% it's not an insubstantial amount of riders.

There could be many contributing or mitigating factors about how strongly a rider may feel about the subject. Something like having a locked-in and watertight contract would, I imagine, help ease the nerves somewhat compared to a rider that is hunting for a deal, with teams reluctant to commit whilst the calender or regulations were not yet locked in.

Discovery also has the task of being compared to Red Bull, which grew into an increasingly slick operation over time. Not only do they sponsor some of the fastest racers to grace the circuit, but they've also done huge amounts to bring World Cup racing, particularly downhill, to a more professional and far more healthy position. Only 0.7% of riders didn't consider Red Bull to be an overall positive for UCI World Cup racing. Compared to that, Discovery is always going to have a hard act to follow

That said, it is somewhat disappointing for the riders that more information couldn't have been given sooner, even if I'm sure the details were released as quickly as they could be. In another question, it transpired that over 63% of riders feel there hasn't been enough communication since the initial announcement. Again, this doesn't paint a great picture for the UCI or new broadcast rights holder. This lack of communication could well have undermined the bigger, better, and more professional operation that Discovery was trying to get the riders on board with.

Your 2022 Canadian Open Elite Podium
With so many riders being open to a move away from UCI-sanctioned events, it's easy to think of a world where Red Bull's Hardline series or Crankworx are exploring options to upscale.

Nearly half of the riders are open to moving away from UCI World Cups

One of the surprises from the survey was that nearly half of the racers were open to moving away from a UCI-sanctioned series entirely. We asked all the riders what would convince them to race a different set of races or events than they do currently. 76.6% wish for greater prize money, 57.7% want more coverage in mainstream media, and 34.3% wanted more input from riders to be considered. Around 30% wanted better and more informative coverage than we currently have.

I am open to racing a series instead of UCI World Cups
Strongly Agree: 10 (7.4%)
Agree: 53 (39.2%)
Neutral: 42 (31.1%)
Disagree: 23 (17.0%)
Strongly Disagree: 3 (2.2%)

It's also worth considering that when was a time when racers weren't open to a new and improved series? I think one of the themes emerging from Discovery's drip-feeding of plans for the 2023 season and beyond is that mountain bike racing at an elite level does need to change. Maybe there is an element of short-term pain for long-term gain. Maybe they're hoping to make the series that riders want to race in 2025, even if that's not what we have right now.

It's also worth noting that 39.4% of racers do have confidence in Discovery to make UCI World Cups better. This shouldn't be a surprise as Chris Ball and his team still command a lot of respect in racing circles, and rightly so. A further 47.4% of riders were neutral to the statement "I have confidence in Discovery, and their plans for racing", which might seem to contradict some of the slightly pessimistic views of many racing fans. However, it seems like racers feel it's probably only fair to approach the new era with an open mind.

If there's anyone with the experience and know-how to make it work - it's probably Chris.

What do riders want to see from Discovery?

From our questioning, we can see there is a clear skew towards riders hoping to make the most of a larger audience making mountain biking a more lucrative prospect. 90% of riders hope to see more coverage in mainstream media, and 85% hoped to see an increase in prize money. The third most popular thing that riders hope to see is an organization that is more open to input from riders.

It's not surprising then that 94% of riders see the need for the riders union, with nearly 80% seeing them as beneficial to their interests and the collective bargaining power they could grant. 80% also agree that each discipline should have its own union to better represent its views.


The riders union is seen as a direct response to changes in World Cup racing

We asked all riders what they wished to see from Discovery, extending the question beyond those who compete in UCI-sanctioned events. Around 70% of them see the union as a direct response to what they see as a lack of communication, support and transparency from the UCI and Discovery. How the new broadcaster will interact with the unionized riders remains to be seen, but whether it was a direct result of the lack of clarity or not - it is what Discovery's team inherits after a year of, at times, thinly veiled confusion, wild rumors, and second guesses.

94% of riders agree with the idea of a riders union.

I agree with the idea of a rider's union

2023
Strongly Agree: 60 (43.7%)
Agree: 71 (50.3%)
Neutral: 5 (4.6%)
Disagree: 2 (1.3%)
Strongly Disagree: 0 (0%)

A union would be beneficial to my interests

2023
Strongly Agree: 38 (27.8%)
Agree: 74 (51.7%)
Neutral: 24 (19.2%)
Disagree: 2 (1.3%)
Strongly Disagree: 0 (0%)

But the union seems to have captured the imagination of riders. With only 1.3% saying that a union wouldn't be beneficial to their interests. Furthermore, over 80% of riders think that each discipline, freeride included, should have its own union to better represent their interests.

Where this leads we can't be sure, but one can't help but wonder what downhill would look like now if there had been a union ten years ago. Maybe there would have been pushback against the lull in track technicality that reached its peak in around 2017, which was the cause of consternation at the time. Whatever happened in the past though, it would seem like the new broadcast holders now have a group of riders who are motivated and very ready to argue their point.


86 Comments

  • 122 16
 What?! Survey Results?!?! I hate this website.
  • 143 8
 Lol. Give a mouse a cookie and he’ll ask for a glass of milk. Give a pink bike commenter a free article and they’ll bitch about everything.
  • 29 0
 Apt username.
  • 12 0
 @blinglespeed: i want to be a mouse in your house...
  • 13 0
 Everything sucks, @everythingsucks .. Everything.
  • 14 0
 I feel like Henry has been using chatGTP a little to much lately..
  • 2 0
 @CSP: LOL
  • 8 0
 Better than Advent Calendar results
  • 4 0
 @iduckett: I've still got my fingers crossed, I know I'm going to win something this year!
  • 3 0
 @CSP: We're all winners already. Big Grin
  • 1 0
 Knowing PB, I'm surprised this isn't an autoplay video
  • 73 3
 Can someone enlighten me on survey question best-practices? Seems like the first survey question is leading the witness a bit. "Discovery taking over the broadcast rights has made me nervous" - I see a question like that and my initial thought is "how nervous am I?" Wouldn't a more neutral question be "How do you feel about Discover taking over broadcast rights" with responses ranging anywhere from excited, neutral and very nervous? I know that its inherently difficult to eliminate all bias but I'm genuinely curios.
  • 54 1
 It's very clear from the reader surveys that no one at pinkbike is a professional statistician. However, I think that is too much to ask. This is entertainment not science.
  • 31 5
 @plustiresaintdead: Ah, but it's entertainment trying to pass itself off as science, which deserves some criticism. My kids learn better statistics in high school than is being used here, so I think bmar's criticism is valid.
  • 6 0
 The order they are presented in isn't necessarily the order the questions were asked in. But it's probably just that pb is infotainment, not an academic journal.
  • 7 7
 @pixelguru: No it's not, it's silly to assume that people riding on two wheeled unicycles down hills is worthy of *science*. Anyone who has a baseline understanding of anything remotely scientific can see that this is just for fun.
  • 7 1
 Stats background?
  • 4 0
 It's a pretty common approach to statistically valid surveys to have a statement and then a scale of agree/disagree. It is intended to be leading... "I am nervous" Agree/Disagree
  • 4 0
 to be fair they did say they were going to "to try and potentially do some real journalism which is a bit of a stretch for us"
  • 1 0
 @pixelguru: you must have missed the disclaimer at the start: "to try and potentially do some real journalism which is a bit of a stretch for us"
  • 3 0
 @plustiresaintdead @ShreddieMercury That's fair. And also, even more so the reason to poke it and learn more. Even if it is just for entertainment or taking a first stab at at it, I think we can still learn from it.

It sounds like maybe the way the question was worded in the article is a fair approach according to some. I feel good about that response. My intention isn't to be critical but if there is some constructive criticism that comes out of all of this, isn't it a good thing?
  • 40 5
 Haha I’m guessing the 2 riders who disagreed with most of these questions were Myriam Nicole and Greg Minnaar
  • 1 1
 Isn’t Minaar the representative for the riders union?!
  • 1 0
 @trickland: No, he was a riders representative to the UCI. Sort the same, but also different. Riders union was formed because they felt the UCI wasn't hearing them - and I guess Greg couldn't get the UCI to listen to him / he had his own race to consider.
  • 35 0
 I am strongly nervous
  • 18 1
 Bigger quetion, Who are the 15% that don't want more prize money? Must be the trust fund riders?
  • 25 2
 Riders who never make the podium who'd rather have it spent elsewhere improving the event?
  • 18 5
 If there's anyone with the experience and know-how to make it work - it's probably Chris........ The same guy that just sold out to the UCI?
  • 17 0
 Poacher turned gamekeeper as they say.
  • 8 1
 The guy who wants to cut the field to 30 riders even though he would've only qualified for a handful of races if this was in place when he was racing. Gotta love him.
  • 8 2
 Curious what kind of salary he is earning for creating this shit show.
  • 12 1
 I'm no union expert, but from my unionized experience the idea of 4 to 6 different rider unions to represent each discipline is a money suck and needlessly admin heavy. Ensure that the union bylaws stipulate representation by a spokesperson from each discipline at official talks/organizational meetings/negotiations and you'll have 4 to 6 times less redundancy and money spent. No sense unionizing, having more money awarded after successful negotiations and then burning it all on filing, admin and payroll via membership fees.
  • 2 0
 A unions strength is its numbers. UCI aren't going to be too worried if a bunch of 4X guys won't race. If the whole of MTB supports them it's a different story.
  • 13 0
 1.3% saying that a union wouldn't be beneficial to their interests
Yeah these two people are Minnaar and Nicole I guess
  • 2 0
 What did I miss here?
  • 9 1
 I have nothing to back this up, but my instinct tells me Aaron Gwin may be one of those.
  • 4 0
 $100 says Gwin and Minnaar.
  • 17 3
 I was gonna say it was 100% two Americans. we have a very different cultural bias towards unions in the land of "screeching bald eagles screaming out the sky to drop bombs on commies."
  • 6 2
 Minnaar didn't participate in the survey.
  • 1 0
 Why Nicole especially?
  • 1 0
 @P1fp4f: because "Greg Minnaar, who serves alongside Myriam Nicole on the UCI Athletes' Commission, said that he believes the changes will be relatively subtle and positive, and he trusts that ESO has the experience in mountain bike racing to successfully take over World Cup downhill racing." (m.pinkbike.com/news/video-and-story-world-cup-dh-riders-on-the-developing-union-effort.html)
  • 10 0
 Results:

Strongly Agree: 24 (17.2%)
Agree: 53 (38.2%)
Neutral: 44 (31.7%)
Disagree: 16 (11.5%)
Strongly Disagree: 2 (1.4%)

PB analysis: "38.2% of riders competing in UCI World Cups, answering that they agree with the statement that nerves have followed since it was announced the rights would belong to Discovery.
However, it's not all doom and gloom. The second largest cohort felt neutral, and with 31.7% it's not an insubstantial amount of riders."

That's a way of putting it.
Another is that 55.4% of the riders agree (how is strongly agreeing not agreeing?) and 12.9% disagreeing. Seems pretty doom and gloom to me.
  • 2 0
 Woah. Had to re-read that section. That data is clearly being misrepresented.
  • 2 0
 @Mac1987 Lol, perfect! You just summed up how modern science works, haha.
  • 9 0
 I am sure Discovery has a big audience but for me Red Bull was free to view. Now i am looking at buying a TV package to watch the DH season, not something i particularly want to do!
  • 1 3
 no need to, everything will be on GMBN
  • 4 0
 @elyari: Live and free to view? Dream on.
  • 1 1
 @commental: not saying is free, just saying no need to get any TV package if you don't want to, just get GMBN and off you go, plus, if you like cycling in general then you could watch some more racing in there too. I don't even have TV, nor any subscription, just Youtube premium, and seems I'll need to get GMBN too.
  • 7 0
 Since Nearly half of the riders are open to moving away from UCI World Cups...

What about a series/ organization that has the same offerings but is organized and run by athletes? If you race Enduro and want to have a say in how things are implemented you can be on a board or "union" of athletes, team managers, etc who meet quarterly or something like that, and then as a unified voice implement changes and vote on things (hire people, funding, etc). And there'd be something like this for each discipline. Maybe racing licenses wouldn't be licenses at all but member dues that give you the ability to attend meetings. Essentially a riders-supporting racing run organization.

Just a thought bouncing around in my head.
  • 16 0
 The year is 2012 , you are Chris Ball and dream of creating your own race series...
  • 5 0
 @Maxcommencemal: Touche....But isn't that kind of around the time NORBA really took off before it merged with USAC? Maybe a NORBA resurgence (without the USAC) is not a horrible idea. Minus my idea above.
  • 5 0
 @animalrkent: I think that mountain bikers taking control of MTB race organisation can only be a good thing, even better if they can then take control of the worldwide organisation of those races.
The fact that the UCI has given the keys to a group of riders can't be ignored. They may not be the riders you wanted to run the show, but the first race is still several months away.
  • 6 0
 It's unlikely to happen (as I assume it would have been done by now if it was), but a follow-up to these questions in light of the announcements from UCI/ESO/whoever-you-want-to-blame for how things are going to run for 2023 would be really interesting.

Seeing as prize money is unsurprisingly a big issue for riders, the fact there's been no change on that front might skew things, let alone the changes in format, protected status for DH, etc... There was more confidence in Discovery than I was expecting, especially given the lack of info and transparency at the time this survey was done, so getting a snapshot now of where riders are at with that would be quite revealing.
  • 3 1
 Maybe the riders received more information than us mere spectators?
  • 2 1
 The honest announcement from ESO would go sometime like "We got paid so now you have to pay to watch world cup racing."
  • 6 0
 "If there's anyone with the experience and know-how to make it work - it's probably Chris"

Are the EWS recaps working? They ve been more of an involution during the years... Do you tube views agree? ( facts )
  • 3 0
 They announced nearly 2 years ago that they would be providing live coverage of EWS stages. Have some patience man!
  • 2 0
 @commental: now it's confirmed it won't be live...
  • 7 0
 I'm surprised pb didn't ask racers if they supported discovery putting coverage behind a paywall or not.
  • 7 0
 umm, so how exactly has Discovery made EWS more popular? Anyone following EWS at all?
  • 3 0
 could this new rule be used to punish a decision by the riders union - if the team members decided a race was unsafe?

4.13.019 UCI elite MTB teams have the obligation to participate with minimum 1 rider at all UCI
world cup events. If this is not the case the UCI elite MTB status is removed immediately
and the team is not able to register as a UCI elite MTB team for the following season.
In this case there is no refund of the registration fees.
(text modified on 1.07.12).
  • 2 0
 Sounds like the general feeling is pretty negative. I wonder why the likeminded riders don't all get together and make a point to the UCI/Discovery and express their concerns or push harder for change? Yes I'm talking about a strike of sorts. Might seem extreme but at the end of the day, the riders are the product and without them or their buy in, the UCI and broadcasters have nothing. Sure it would get complicated with teams etc but clearly things need to change on multiple fronts. If they cant rely on these riders representatives as they don't seem impartial, then they should take matters into their own hands.
  • 4 2
 I am baffled that more riders agree that a union is beneficial to them than support the idea of it. Why not support something that is working to make sure you have a voice in decision making?
  • 5 0
 Some probably feel that it'll have a benefit but it'll be small and not worth their time. i.e. marginal cost greater than marginal benefit for them.
  • 3 0
 94% think it’s beneficial and 89% think it’s beneficial , those %’s are quite close !
  • 3 0
 I forgot how to count , 80% is still a high number
  • 2 0
 Or, they like the idea but have reservations about what the final product might look like. Having worked in a unionized environment as a union member, yes the cheese can be good but the bread and wine it comes with isn't always top shelf. As with everything, pros and cons, and I can see where the top riders with good sponsorship intact may not need the actual prize money from wins as much as someone clawing at the bottom of the leaderboard.
  • 3 0
 Solidarity, comrade!
  • 3 0
 I'd like to know what percentage of riders surveyed were XC vs. DH. Since Red Bull covers both and this article never explicitly specifies.
  • 4 0
 This information is in the intro article from the other day that Henry got lambasted for.
  • 1 0
 @drbino: Oh, thanks. Smile
  • 2 1
 A freeride union? A union for riders in competitions like rampage and slopestyle could be a benefit. But a union for people that just make edits (MacAskill for example), what's that supposed to accomplish?
  • 1 0
 Am I making this up in my head or was the last survey presented with nice graphs and a clearer structure, while this in comparison feels... cheap?

It also seems no one has proofread the article.
  • 1 0
 Mtb fans, riders and athletes: We want more coverage, better purses, better salaries, more protection vs injuries. Oh and we also want cheaper bikes.
  • 1 0
 prize money will only go to the very top riders , for most of the also rans better prize money it means nothing
  • 1 0
 Union brings carpetbaggers Ultra-specialized in the start gate Next up semi-giant
  • 1 0
 Discovery replacing RedBull is almost as bad as Outside controlling PinkBike.
  • 1 0
 New and different errie and odd. If there unknowns they must be bad. Survey says 86.3452% human nature.
  • 1 1
 Racing is more accessible than ever, more people are living what's on TV than ever!
  • 1 0
 Is this all disciplines? Dh, xc...
  • 3 0
 From the first article
"Of the 152 riders who responded to the survey, 58.6% were male and 41.4% were female. The majority of riders were from Europe (59.2%), with 25% from North America, 11.8% from Oceania, 2.6% from South America and 1.3% from Asia. There was an even split between EWS and XC riders at 32.2% of the overall responses each coming from those two disciplines. 27% were from Downhill riders and the remaining responses were from a mix of slopestyle, freeride and media athletes."
  • 2 0
 @watchtower: Thank God someone was paying attention!
  • 1 1
 its brillant doing all this surveying of the state of the sport but thinking about it how does this affect the average joe
  • 1 0
 Anti Everything !!!!!!!
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