In criterium racing, cyclists participate in high speed races through city streets that have been closed to traffic. Because criteriums are historically run on short laps in urban areas, they offer spectators the opportunity to watch the incredible athletes - Olympians and world and national champions up close as they ride at top speeds for up to two hours.
Criterium racing’s ability to combine elements of popular sports with the large-scale appeal of downtown arts and music festivals has made it the most enduring form of cycling in North America and the most spectator-friendly form of cycling, able to often draw more than 30,000 fans per event.
The USA CRITS Series is the premier cycling series in the United States. In addition, starting in 2018, USACRITS.tv , the broadcast channel, has helped widen the global audience for the sport. USA CRITS is headquartered in Athens, Georgia.
Sports Destination Management: USA CRITS puts on cycling races across the country. What is your season?
Ravi Rajcoomar: Everything takes place between March and September. Right now, we’re putting all our energies toward the 2021 season, which will be the 15th year for USA CRITS.
SDM: Events take place on city streets. What specific attributes do you seek out when you’re looking at possible host locations?
Rajcoomar: We’re looking for a place that is a welcoming community, something that has a strong cycling scene or a very active outdoor culture where our sport will thrive.
SDM: How long is the course that people are racing?
Rajcoomar: Ideally a one-kilometer loop. The cyclists do multiple laps on that course through the city.
SDM: That must drive business to the downtown!
Rajcoomar: It does – most of our communities say it is one of their biggest days in terms of business and interest. We create that stadium feel for them. In our hometown race in Athens, Georgia, it’s on a par with an SEC home college football game, which is a pretty big deal.
SDM: Do you tend to return to the same cities?
Rajcoomar: Yes, and we do look for a community that wants to build sustainable something long-term. We will often look at other synergies in a community for a successful event, working with cities that are having another festival around the same time, such as a beer or wine festival, that will already be bringing in guests. It gives us the chance to introduce new people to the sport and brings in more income for the festival.
SDM: What is the economic impact of a criterium event, in general?
Rajcoomar: I will let you individually use your direct spend and economic impact calculator, but our larger events can bring in between 30,000 and 40,000 spectators. Not every market is like that, of course; and our smaller events average between 10,000 and 15,000 people.
SDM: Are there ancillary activities like expos, bike safety demonstrations and so on?
Rajcoomar: Yes – we put on all those activities. We also offer a non-competitive ride for families and for people who just want to get out on their bicycles.
SDM: Is there anything that makes an area not as good a candidate for a criterium race venue?
Rajcoomar: Well, anything with tracks embedded in the roadway, such as those for mass transit, is bad. We try to avoid those because they are dangerous to cyclists. Everything else is wide open and we can configure an exciting course around what a community has to offer.
SDM: What parts of an event are you responsible for, vs. what is the city supposed to do?
Rajcoomar: We like to do what we’re good at and let the cities do what they’re good at. We bring in the athletes, put on the race, provide the scoring, broadcast everything on USACRITS.tv. The city takes care of getting volunteers, permitting and road closures. That’s the business model that has worked well for both sides over the years.
SDM: What kind of athletes participate?
Rajcoomar: Our audience is the entire ecosystem of enthusiasts and competitors - from first-time riders to elite and professional cyclists of all ages.
SDM: Do they drive in? Fly in? Live locally?
Rajcoomar: I would say it’s really a mix, with a third of each of those.
SDM: What kind of business do hotels do?
Rajcoomar: Well, in general, they can see 1,000 people coming in with a two-night stay on average, depending on the location and time of year.
SDM: Do you work with sports commissions and CVBs?
Rajcoomar: Yes all of them. We definitely have. We really want to do what is best for the local DMOs – they’re often the biggest stakeholders. Were very open to community partnerships.