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Privateer Life: Athlete or Influencer?
Right then, am I an athlete or an influencer these days?
Unable to find a pro contract on the road, and too stubborn to go back to racing amateur in France or Spain, I stumbled into the privateer world at the start of this year. It’s the best decision I ever made in my cycling ‘career’. But, what the hell is privateering?
Allow me to explain.
“a rider who races (typically professionally) without the support of a professional or factory team, creating relationships with sponsors independently.” - CyclingTips, 2020
What is Privateering?
As a privateer I’m effectively my own team, a one man band. I’m in control of my own calendar, have to find and manage my own sponsors as well as doing all of my own logistics.
Privateering is relying on local host housing. It’s trying to figure out feedzones. Looking where to best spend money and hoping the big heart of whatever local cycling community you’ve just flown into will save your arse. It’s professionally unprofessional. There is another level of privateering, with $150k RVs and full support crews, “privateer deluxe” as a friend of mine called it, but I’ll cover that another time.
So, athlete or influencer? I am (quite) good at riding a bicycle fast, and therefore brands support me in my quest to win bicycle races. Simples. Well, not exactly. There are a lot of people out there who can ride a bicycle faster than me, so how have I ended up privateering? This is where it starts to get complicated.
Every professional athlete is an influencer, but not every influencer is a professional athlete. The reason that most professional sports teams exist, especially in cycling, is (mostly) due to their marketing value. Through athletic achievement, the masses are encouraged (influenced) to buy the products that those athletes use. It’s not rocket science.
This still doesn’t unlock how I ended up in the privateer world. As I’ve already alluded to, I’m good at bicycle riding, but there are better bicycle riders than me.
There is a lot of distrust between pro-roadies and the media (and vice-versa). I mean, if I was a journalist that had been lied to for two decades about doping then I’d be sceptical too. Thanks for nothing 1990-2010 pro cycling. Personally, I always embraced the media side when I was on the road, something which is paying dividends now.
I’m pretty good at bike racing, nothing special, but good enough to be competitive. Since starting in the sport, I’ve been writing about my experiences. This writing has led to me having more opportunities than perhaps someone with a similar racing ability to me.
While there are people out there that are better than me, perhaps they cannot show that value to partners in ways that I can. Now, none of my contracts would have arrived without being good at pedalling, I’m well aware of that. I’m just saying my media side helps a lot too. Does that make me an influencer. I don’t think so.
Most privateers have a dual riding-media project going on, something that is right up my street.
Let’s take Payson McElveen, I’d hedge my bets that he is one of the best paid in the game. Okay, he’s a world class athlete, wins races and can do a lot of cool shit on a bike BUT he also has a huge podcast. Alexey Vermeulen is one hell of an athlete, but his partnership with videographer Avery Stumm makes his value increase massively - as does having a cute dog.
In pro-road cycling, there is a loose, but relatively standard salary ladder based on your age, achievements and future potential. In the privateer world, it’s very different.
Approximate salary equation in traditional road cycling:
Win Race X = Make Salary Y.
While there is some sort of race winning equation like the above in privateering, it’s not as obvious. Winning Unbound will guarantee you a certain level of income, but there is much much more than goes into it. Being at the front of bike races is attractive to brands, but it’s only attractive if people see and hear about it.
There are multiple pieces of the privateer puzzle, you have to show the world the cool shit you’re doing through your own platforms. If you’re consistently performing in races, but have nothing to show for it, then you’re not really providing value. It is, however, hard to know what your value is to a brand. Once you know your value, you can kinda figure out what you’re worth.
Throughout my whole “career” in cycling, I’ve been known as a rider AND a writer. In fact, I’ve been criticised for doing both on the odd occasion. In the privateer world, you are rewarded for doing more than one thing. It’s a more rounded world. It’s a world that I prefer.
Figuring out the Media
It’s telling that just as many of my conversations these days revolve around media as they do training. When racing Conti, keeping sponsors happy wasn’t really a Joe Problem, it was more of a team problem. These days, providing value for sponsors is a huge Joe Problem.
My current big debate in the media world is where to spend my time? Do I go “all in” on my Substack even though Twitter now impeding anything with a Substack link has now halved my viewing? Do I create a weekly newsletter in the style of a diary to keep people up to date with my training and travel? Or, do I go “all in” on video?
Video is where I should go, especially short form “Reel/TikTok” content, but it’s a whole new world and out of my comfort zone. See, these are the sort of questions which get me thinking just as much, if not more as how many watts I’m doing.
So…athlete or influencer?
I’m definitely an athlete and I’m definitely not a true influencer. The truth lands somewhere in the middle.
Will my contracts increase in value if my social media following increases? Yes.
Will my contracts increase in value if I win races? Yes.
❤️❤️❤️With that first bullet point in mind, pretty please can you subscribe to this Substack page and follow me on the ol’Instagram❤️❤️❤️
We’re just going around in circles now, I suppose I’m kinda both.
I (do not) apologise for the fleeting sarcasm in any Substack post that I write.
When drafting this article, I was chatting to American MTB/Gravel Racer Chris Mehlman. He made me aware that for 2022, the Life Time Grand Prix asked for social media following information on the application
To quote Chris:
“They stated that for 2023 social media would have no impact on whether a rider was accepted in the Grand Prix. That being said, my own opinion is that if I have 500k followers, I would have been accepted. I have friends at a similar level who got in so I think I was close enough that a real social media following would have pushed me over the edge. At the end of the day the Grand Prix is a marketing stunt by Life Time, so the more eyes, the better.”
For 2023, LifeTime removed this social media part to their application.
While you’re here…
I’ve added both paid subscription and a ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ link to this post. As the year progresses, I’m planning on building this blog and putting out articles which I’ve always wanted to write but for whatever reason, haven’t wanted to pitch.
Any money that I make from either my Substack, or BMaC link will go straight back into supporting my 2023 racing project. I am planning on keeping all content on here free to view though.
Project TAG, proudly partnering (both for my athletic and influencing ability) with…
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