Look out USA Cycling, you have some new competition.
Citing a long-held dissatisfaction with the job American cycling's national governing body has done in the realm of sanctioning and supporting amateur races and racers in the U.S., an Oregon-based group has launched the North American Bicycle Racing Association, aka NABRA, which can be found online at www.NABRA.us. The website also includes a logo for "USCX: United States Cyclocross" and has the tagline, "Welcome to the place where we have fun."
"Basically we feel like USA Cycling needs to create value for the customer and they have not done that," explained Kenji Sugahara, a member of NABRA's management team who also serves as executive director for the Oregon Bicycling Racing Association, currently the largest non-USAC affiliated sanctioning body in the U.S. "We think we can do a better job than they do."
The new organization plans to offer many of the same products and services USA Cycling provides, but aims to do so with a greater emphasis on reducing costs and increasing customer satisfaction.
Sugahara says that the formation of NABRA is not a direct response to recent events where the UCI, along with USA Cycling, threatened enforcement of a rule that would dole out fines and suspensions to any UCI-license holder, pro or amateur, who competed in non-USAC-sanctioned events. On Thursday, the UCI backed off that hard-line stance, saying it would grant a one-year exception before starting stringent enforcement in 2014.
However, this change did not change NABRA's plans. And though, he would not name specific events or series, NABRA executive director Brad Ross says the new organization already has a large number of verbal commitments from race promoters wanting to work with the new organization, including most of the big west coast cyclocross series from Washington state all the way south to southern California.
"We have been getting requests for years, way before all this controversy came along," explained Ross, who is also a member of the OBRA board of directors and runs the popular Oregon-based Cross Crusade cyclocross series, which does not sanction through USA Cycling. "We've been approached by racers and promoters from all over the northwest, Idaho, Washington, northern California, you name it. They wanted OBRA to provide insurance and scheduling for them. But we always had to say no because it's in the OBRA charter that we only operate in Oregon."
But about a year ago, Ross, Sugahara and the rest of the OBRA team decided to launch the new national sanctioning body in part because of mandates OBRA began receiving from USA Cycling.
"It was basically a reaction to the first time they came to us and said they would no longer allow dual-sanctioned races or permit UCI-licensed pros to compete in our races here in Oregon," explained Sugahara, whose Oregon racing association has more than 5,000 members and sanctions approximately 330 races a year. "At that point we thought about it a lot and said, our membership loves what OBRA does here in Oregon, we create a lot of value for our customer, we have a good product and a good community, and that is something we feel we can produce across the whole country."
Initially, NABRA will limit is operating breadth to well-run events located no further east than Utah, utilizing what Sugahara calls a smart growth strategy. The new organization will offer an array of services to race promoters, including access to reasonably-priced insurance, event management consultation, and operation of a centralized website that will allow for the uploading and tabulation of results and rankings.
"We are concentrating on promoters that we know, and that we know do a good job," explained Ross. "Basically NABRA is just an offshoot of OBRA, same people involved, same insurance company. But for now, unlike with OBRA, NABRA will not rent out equipment nor assign officials. But that's something that could change as we grow and evolve. Right now, the bottom line is to provide a quality product. That is going to be our hallmark. We want people to get what they pay for, which is something that is not happening with USA Cycling."
"The idea is to lower the threshold that people have to jump over to enter the sport," added Mike Murray, another OBRA board member involved with the new project. "The lower that threshold is, the more people will jump in and try bike racing. Oregon is a great example of that. We have a higher density of amateur bike racers per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. because it is so much easier to race bikes here."
As a counter example, the NABRA group pointed to the plight of racers in Colorado, who've seen the cost of their annual license rise dramatically following the formally independent American Cycling Association's decision to realign with USAC in 2012. Prior to that, the cost of an annual ACA racing license, good for road, mountain and cyclocross, was $45. But after rejoining the national federation, that sum jumped to $115 when you factored in the $60 cost of an annual USAC road/cyclocross license, plus the $30 add-on required for the USAC mountain bike license, and an additional $25 member fee for the renamed Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado. (While not required, the BRAC fee avoids a $5-per-race surcharge levied on non-BRAC members at all BRAC races, and supports a group that had ably supported cycling in Colorado prior to the merger.)
By comparison, OBRA's annual racing license is $25, and event promoters pay a $2.35-per-rider fee, which includes insurance and equipment rental. Promoters who operate under USA Cycling sanctioning pay $3 per rider for insurance alone.
It's no surprise then that more and more race organizers are interested in learning more about what NABRA has to offer.
"I just got an email with a link to their website, so I need to learn a little more," said Todd Sadow, who operates the non-USAC-sanctioned Whiskey Off-Road mountain bike race in Prescott, Arizona, which attracts upwards of 2,000 racers a year and in 2013 is offering a $40,000 prize purse.
"But if it makes sense I will definitely work with them," added Sadow "Kenji and his people are not just an enthusiastic group, they are a smart and experienced group that has succeeded in creating a successful model on a statewide level. They are adding value and that's all an event promoter can ask for. At the other end you have USA Cycling who has not brought anything to the table that we couldn't get elsewhere for a better price or a better service."
USA Cycling has consistently rebuffed criticism of its operation, claiming that the higher costs associated with its services are a result of "more robust" insurance, greater concern for athlete-safety issues, its own website that includes a national ranking, and the notion that there is benefit to being part of an overarching national system.
In a recently issued statement, that was in response to heavy criticism for its backing of the controversial UCI rule, the Colorado Springs-based federation claimed that it, "spends more than $4 million per year supporting American athletes in development and international competition programs. Much of that money is generated from the racing activities of our more than 74,000 members racing more than 600,000 racing days each year in sanctioned events. Every time you race in a sanctioned event, a small amount of revenue is generated to support critical athlete programs. Most importantly, virtually every dime USA Cycling generates as a result of your racing activities is reinvested in the sport. However, when you compete in an unsanctioned event, nothing goes to support these important programs that help to maintain our international success and create the heroes and role models that are so important to the sport."
Whether that's enough to keep racers and race promoters from looking for alternative sanctioning solutions remains to be seen.