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E-racing hits the big leagues with ESPN all-star ride

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In the absence of televised sport, replays only go so far, and broadcasters are having to get creative. That’s led to such prime-time innovations as mini-golf tournaments, obstacle course competitions, competitive ‘tag’ and NBA players shooting hoops at home for TV.

Now, cycling is set to get its turn in the limelight … sort of.

On Saturday, ESPN will be screening an All-Star Peloton ride, featuring a line-up of sports stars and minor celebrities. Two divisions – one male, one female – of eight riders apiece will pedal as hard as they can to go nowhere, with the winner being the athlete who scores the highest ‘output’ number (which is described as wattage in some parts of Peloton’s website, but also seems to be measured in kilojoules sometimes.) If the combined output of the athletes hits 3,000 units of whatever it is, Peloton will donate a million meals to a New York City food bank. Nice!

Peloton, an indoor training juggernaut valued in the billions of dollars, has attracted a claimed “millions of members” to its workout platform with a US$39 monthly subscription and the four-figure purchase of an exercise bike. It’s also become a legit cultural phenomenon that’s made international headlines with its advertising campaigns, been parodied on Saturday Night Live, and turned its instructors into household names.*

*In a certain type of upwardly-mobile household.

But as effective as Peloton has shown itself to be as a marketing phenomenon and work-out tool, this jump to live-televised competition is an interesting wrinkle, particularly because of the stacked line-up of competitors from mainstream sports outside of cycling.

The men’s race features leading golfers, including world number-one Rory McIlroy, world number-four Justin Thomas, and Bubba Watson. There’s also a grab-bag of NFL stars like All-Star Gordon Hayward, the magnificently named Booger McFarland and six-time Olympic swimming medallist, Matt Grevers.

In the women’s race, dual Australian Open-winning tennis star Victoria Azarenka will line up against track runner and six-time Olympic gold medallist Allyson Felix, gold medal-winning gymnast Kyla Ross, gold medal-winning tennis player Monica Puig, as well as professional golfers, softball players, and cross country runners.

The races are called by Peloton celeb Ally Love (pictured above), and instructed by Peloton heavy-hitters, Alex Toussaint and Robin Arzon, which might mean something to you but doesn’t to me. ESPN promises the two 20-minute races will be both “epic” and “all-out”.

Televised e-cycling is not a new phenomenon, especially in Europe and online. The virtual Tour of Flanders, raced on the Bkool platform, was one of the first cabs off the rank, and since then there have been efforts from Zwift, Rouvy, Fulgaz and Garmin.

Whilst they’ve all had varying levels of success at scratching the cycling itch, what makes ESPN and Peloton’s collaboration particularly interesting is that it has the potential to draw a far broader audience from across a swathe of sports, on a major network, in a timeslot that mainstream viewers would expect to tune in to watch sports.

So while a cycling audience might not necessarily see the appeal of this particular cycling race, raced by non-cyclists, it may yet prove a ratings smash, just like when NFL legend Tom Brady played golf against Tiger Woods last weekend and snagged 5.8 million viewers.

Tune in at 12pm ET Saturday and find out for yourself, just before the ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ lacrosse quarter finals.

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