One of my first tasks was to help support the team in delivering the Tour de Yorkshire in 2020, something I and millions of other people were very excited about. Unfortunately, the race has now been postponed for the last two years.
I have therefore not had the privilege of being part of the spectacle that is the Tour de Yorkshire, but the plan is to bring the event back to the county next spring. However, there is still a lot of work to do to finalise this and I believe it is something worth fighting for. I say fight because not everyone can see the value in the race or what it has achieved and will again. I’ve worked a lot of my life in professional sport so I’m comfortable with people offering their opinion.
The easiest thing in life is to be critical and focus only on the negatives. The Tour de Yorkshire seems to be an event that some people are quick to give their opinion on. It’s more divisive than I could ever have imagined. One thing that is for certain, we must assess whether the costs outweigh the benefits.
The race costs just over £2m to host and is funded via contributions from local authority partners who pay to host a start or a finish along the route. The rest is made up from sponsorship and advertising. However, following a two-year hiatus, it’s understandable that making decisions to spend on such an event isn’t something that can be taken lightly. One thing that always is questioned about the race is its ‘value’ by way of the economic impact it brings to the region.
Admittedly it is hard to quantify but it can be done by the measure of international media coverage it brings, showcasing the county across the globe, the millions of roadside spectators, or the fact that for the four days of racing we see Yorkshire trending on all social media platforms across the world. An economic impact report following the 2018 race suggests that £98m was delivered back into the Yorkshire economy. Any argument for or against the race has to offer an alternative that can deliver the same impact.
Personally I’d like to thank all the staff, volunteers, businesses and stakeholders that have been involved in the race since its conception. Thank you for giving me some wonderful memories with my family and friends. Thank you for giving me a huge sense of pride in being part of the experience and the sense of community it gave to millions of Yorkshire folk all over the world. I can’t put a value on this but as a taxpayer I’d be happy to contribute to see it return.
Cycling mustn’t be, and isn’t, the only thing Yorkshire (and Welcome to Yorkshire) is known for, but there are many regions across the world that would love to have the opportunity to deliver such a high-profile event. I’d love to see Yorkshire help stage a World Cup or Olympic Games, see American football and baseball played in the region or host bigger music, film, food and drink festivals, but none of them come from rubbing two ha’pennies together. They are hard to come by, even harder to retain, and we’d miss the Tour it if it was gone.
Now more than ever we need a focus for economic activity. As the race has seen a two-year hiatus, surely even its fiercest critics have to acknowledge that absence makes the heart grow fonder. So what can we do differently to bring everyone into the equation? What can be done differently to overcome those that don’t see its value?
Firstly the event is so much more than just a bike race. The four-day Tour de Yorkshire can be the conduit for our shared love of food and drink, with packed out cafes and pubs en route, but why not start the build-up now alongside the many food and drink festivals that already exist?
Music is intrinsically linked with big civic pride events, as are arts and culture providing the inspirational and motivational quotes we’re all well versed in.
We have an opportunity over the next nine months to really create a festival of Yorkshire that celebrates the region’s food, drink, arts, heritage, culture diversity, place and people with events all leading up to the culmination of that very special weekend of the May bank holiday.
There is a way to weave in societal values to our sponsorship packages, to demonstrate to the world that Yorkshire takes matters of equality, sustainability, diversity and respect (for ourselves, our mental health and for others) seriously.
The Tour de Yorkshire can demonstrate media value into the millions for any sponsor that aligns with the race. These of course, in recent years, have included Asda, Sky Bet, LNER, Black Sheep Brewery and hopefully they’ll come on-board again.
Not to mention, of course, our local authority partners, which we owe a huge debt of gratitude to for standing by us and Yorkshire in its time of need. Without them the race would certainly not be going ahead next year.
Commercial partners will be offered a platform to thank their staff and customers who have stood by them over the last few years. Perhaps it’s time for the corporate winners (and there have been many throughout the pandemic) to give back.
The race itself may only last four days, but that doesn’t mean the celebrations and events leading up to its return can’t start now. The Grand Festival of Yorkshire can be inclusive, touching all four corners of the county, giving everyone a reason to be part of the build-up.
There are festivals already planned throughout the summer, autumn and winter, by hundreds if not thousands, of large and small organisations across the county, and Welcome to Yorkshire can help pull all these together. Not to compete or duplicate, but to amplify and advertise.
Let’s create our own ‘Tour de Force’.
James Mason is chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.
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