University of Pennsylvania Wins Gatorade Contest

You may have read in last month's Update about the 2010 Collegiate Membership Contest: the first team to surpass its 2009 membership by at least 15 members would win an absurd amount of Gatorade products, courtesy of USA Cycling. Well, the University of Pennsylvania cycling team managed to jump from 2009's 31 members to 49 within a few weeks, and we caught up with club officer Matthew Furlow, who spearheaded the effort to recruit the new members, to ask him a few questions about just how they grew the team so much so quickly.

Give us a little bit of background and history for your team. Penn Cycling has a long standing history as a club sport here at The University of Pennsylvania.  The team has always been successful at nurturing a great group of racers in all categories. There was only a very small group of dedicated racers two years ago, yet there were many members of the team who participated in training and recreational rides.  Our previous president made a conscious effort to shift the focus of the club towards fielding a competitive, race-oriented team. Last year we improved dramatically in terms of the number of active racers, which contributed to our success in the ECCC.  The increase in membership as well as a boost in general enthusiasm for racing left us well prepared for this year's season. 

What level of support do you receive from your school? We receive limited funding from the undergraduate student activities organization (SAC), as well as the graduate and professional student organization (GAPSA).  Total school funding comprises about 25% of our total budget.  For the rest, we rely heavily on sponsorship, clothing sales to alumni, and membership dues.

Was your membership growing already before you heard about the contest, or did the spurt not begin until you began actively recruiting? This year the club nearly doubled in size.  We are now at over 115 members, and we have maintained our focus on racing.  We currently have nearly 50 people prepped for road racing season.  When we found out about the contest, we stepped up our efforts to get people interested in racing, and to get them licensed.  For those people who were on the fence about racing, the contest was certainly a shove in the right direction.

How did you recruit so many new members? The leaders in the club work really well together, which allowed us to be very active in the fall when it came time to recruit new members. Our pro-deals with manufacturers, discounts at our sponsor shop, ability to cover ALL costs associated with racing (thanks to our sponsors), and access to training tools here on campus certainly attracted a lot of attention.  In terms of getting our members ready to race, we ran many info sessions about racing, organized group rides to get people comfortable riding together, and had our more experienced members run clinics on cornering, race tactics, and other critical skills.  We tried hard to get people comfortable riding fast in a group of aggressive riders.  We have emphasized team unity and participation not only within race categories, but also with the whole team.

Describe the atmosphere around cycling in general on campus and especially in regards to your team. Would you say most students know about the team? With over 115 people sporting Penn kits on rides around campus, people are bound to catch a glimpse of a Penn rider decked out in their spandex at some point.  Whenever we have a team ride or clinic, we always meet at a central location on campus and ride out en masse, which definitely catches the attention of many students and people walking on and around campus.  Being in a large urban environment such as Philly really increases our exposure not only as a collegiate team, but also for our sponsors, who have plenty of advertising riding all over the city. 

What do you think the club’s potential is, in terms of size, success, or any other criteria you may have? Two years ago, the highlight of our team was a single victory in men's C with a few top 10's scattered throughout the season.  Last year, we had dominant riders in Men's B, C, and D as well as several women becoming involved in women's intro and B's.  We are returning all of our top riders from last year who raced in USCF races all summer and have gained quite a bit of experience. Our goals for the season are to qualify for nationals with points being scored consistently by both men's A and women's A riders, as well as improving new riders' skills so that they can upgrade during the season.  We believe that after qualifying for nationals and fielding strong, consistently scoring teams in every category, we can continue to have a steady influx of new riders, who will become experienced riders, for many years to come.

Besides the Gatorade, what benefits do you see coming from this larger body of racers? More racers increase exposure for our sponsors and also provide more opportunities for others to become involved and race as a true team.  More members and improved race results can lead to better recruiting and an ever growing wealth of cycling knowledge and experience.  This can also promote greater sponsorship opportunities and therefore more resources to help improve our cycling team and lessen the burden of a sport that can often be cost-prohibitive.
Do you think many of the new recruits will stick around? Renewed membership is critical.  We have a great group of new riders. Sometimes it's tough to get to know everyone on a personal level when there are so many members, but we try hard to welcome everyone and get people excited.  It seems like the new recruits are very motivated to stick with the team. Beyond that, however, we don't just want the recruits to stick with the team, we want them to help with recruiting in the future and ideally, to bestow the knowledge they have gained to future Penn Cycling racers.

How can you make this growth sustainable? Continued, strong leadership within the club is imperative to sustain this growth. Our dramatic increase in members and racers this year would not have been possible without the hard work of the previous club officers. Keeping the “young blood” involved and interested in leadership positions will make the growth cycle sustainable. Also, we try to make the sport as affordable as possible for college students, and as long as we can do that, we will continue to attract new members.  With a larger number of members, we will need to expend greater efforts raising money from the school and through sponsorship arrangements so that we can continue to provide for our members like we have in the past.

This Article Updated February 9, 2012 @ 05:02 PM For more information contact: