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.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.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.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
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
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.