UPDATE: The 2020 Sea Otter Classic has been rescheduled for October 1-4, 2020. There is more information here. The date change makes the best out of a bad situation and may work better for brands interested in releasing new model and product information.
March 9th, 2020: The 2020 Sea Otter Classic, a week-long celebration of bicycling scheduled for April, has pulled the plug due to Coronavirus fears. The thousands of riders who ride or race in the downhill races, cross-country races, E-bike races, circuit races, cyclocross races, gran fondo and tours will be back. These are hardcore riders who live for any excuse to ride their bikes. The event’s bigger challenge will be maintaining bicycle industry support. The postponement of The Sea Otter Classic gives companies the opportunity to assess the event’s impact on their business. That may not be a good thing for Sea Otter’s promoters.
RATING THE EVENTS
I’ve participated at the Sea Otter as a racer, a vendor and as a member of the media. I’ve never attended the event as a spectator.
The event always served the working media well. The press could see a lot of products and make valuable contacts in a small amount of time. The racing took place before the World Cups most years so editorial types had a chance to meet one-on-one with athletes in a somewhat relaxed environment.
The racing itself was always a hit-or-miss deal. The wide-open cross-country mountain bike course lacked any personality. The downhill needs a more-serious elevation drop. The dual-slalom was the best in America. The road racing on the track’s circuit comes off as tedious.
Attending the Sea Otter as a vendor was the toughest to justify. A company pays for the privilege of showing products by renting display space from the promoter. It was either tough to get people’s attention in the three-ring-circus atmosphere during the busy hours or tougher to get people into the display area when things were slow. Factor in all the other costs (employee travel, meals and accommodations, hauling products, setting up displays and taking down displays), and it was not a cheap event to attend.
WILL THEY COME BACK?
The cancellation (or delay) of this year’s event comes at a bad time (would there ever be a good time?). The riders will come back, but the participation by bicycle, component and apparel companies is a big question mark. This delay will give companies a chance to run a serious cost/benefit analysis of the Sea Otter on their sales. And companies are already hedging their bets with increased focus on their digital marketing.
I don’t believe that the Sea Otter will disappear (à la Interbike that relied 100% on selling space to bicycle, component and apparel companies), but I do believe it will be extremely hard to maintain the vendor momentum they have enjoyed for years. The Coronavirus may not kill the Sea Otter, but it will weaken it.