Every January since it began in 1999, the Santos Tour Down Under has turned Victoria Square in the heart of Adelaide into a unique Tour Village. Members of the public can watch every stage live on big screen TV’s, enjoy a range of food and drink offerings, visit the mechanic’s pit area after each stage to watch every team’s bikes being serviced and of course, look at and purchase the latest gear from about two dozen different exhibitors.
The expo area offers free entry and free flowing entrances, so no-one is counting the exact number of attendees, but the strong consensus of exhibitors was that expo visitor numbers were down this year.
Although they were in agreement about the numbers, there was no consensus about why this was the case, with about several theories gaining most currency.
One was the absence of superstar Peter Sagan, who was not in Adelaide this year after staring in recent years.
Another was the dilution of the expo due to an increasing number of pop-up displays around town. There were pop ups at least five locations this year with several having multiple exhibitors. Pop-ups originally resulted from two key policies of TDU organisers. The first was high expo exhibit space prices compared to the cost of renting a vacant nearby building and the second was to give sponsors category exclusivity so that competing products (for example other brands of clothing or helmets) could not exhibit at the expo.
In trying to stem this trend, organisers have relaxed their exclusivity rules. They also lowered their traditionally high prices for exhibit space.
Other exhibitors thought that the attendance downturn was due to the race format itself getting a little too routine and in need of a shake-up. Some are hopeful that this might happen next year when inaugural TDU winner Stuart O’Grady takes over as Race Director. Founding Race Director Mike Turtur is retiring after 22 consecutive years in the role.
But probably the most concerning reason given, from a bicycle industry point of view, was that attendance was down due to an ongoing general weakness in the road cycling market.
The TDU is a tightly road focused event in a market where mountain bikes, ebikes and indoor cycling are currently the strongest growth sectors for most brands.
If this reason is the main cause for lower attendance, that will be a serious concern both for the TDU organisers and the bike industry more broadly, because there are no ‘quick fixes’ to turn this market situation around.
But for those visitors who did attend this year, they enjoyed fantastic unseasonably cooler weather, great racing and great exhibits, both at Victoria Square and the various pop-ups around town.