• duanegran

    I was reading recently in Laurent Fignon’s book (We Were Young and Carefree) about how he and Guimmard effectively pioneered the current form of sponsorship for professional cycling in the mid 80s with Systeme-U. Prior to this the sponsor owned (and operated) the team. While the ownership names were more stable over time the buy-in stakes were much higher in the previous model. The current approach seems easier to get a short term sponsor but it seems rare to find a sponsor like Rabobank who is invested for a long time.

    Why is this? I think its important to figure out why the value proposition of sponsoring a professional team has such a perceived short term value. Oleg Tinkoff alluded some to his decision to end sponsorship that it has diminishing returns year over year. Other former sponsors aren’t as forthcoming but it seems like sponsor fatigue sets in at around the 4th year.

    So if the the fan base is a new pot of pooled money to support pro cycling I suggest the UCI fast track the things that make the sport more entertaining to watch. The on-bike camera footage is a good start, but what would it take to get some of this in real time? They should be working with Dimension Data to extend their real time statistics beyond GPS location to include power, speed, heart rate, cadence etc. I know some professionals want to keep this secret, but it would add a lot of texture to real time video feeds.

  • roddders

    This model relies on the assumption that people support the teams. Many cycling fans are simply fans of the sport. The teams aren’t really worth being fans of. Over the years as fans, we have been constantly let down by dirty teams and dirty riders but we still love the sport. Until the uci cleans up the sport, it will struggle to attract sponsors. I heard last week about a massive financial institution looking at sponsoring a pro tour team but are put off by doping. Until this changes, the sport will struggle to attract money. Most of the current teams need to go and some clean teams take their place.

    • Larry @CycleItalia

      Agreed. Over and over it seems these folks who want to “improve pro cycling” end up with ideas of copying either top-class European football (as outlined here with the supporters clubs, etc,) or copying a North American-style franchise system (NFL, NBA, etc.) as their brilliant, out-of-the-box thinking. Do they ever think we might be fans of pro cycling because it’s NOT like those other sports? Two big problems affect pro cycling at present – the worldwide economic crisis, especially tough in the traditional cycling countries at present and as you well point out, the continued doping scandals. Until those two things improve, people like these and Velon can throw around a ton of ideas which will do pretty much nothing….meanwhile the fight for control of pro cycling between ASO (who holds all the cards at present) and UCI/Velon (who just wants to get their hands on some of ASO’s money) continues, to the detriment of the sport.

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      • ntdevelo

        I agree too. You don’t see people riding a lot in pro kit. And honestly, pro cycling is not charity and they should not expect funding from the fans. I would prefer to donate 100 $ to my town for doing bike lane-bike path than membership to a pro team. And honestly, I think some team/rider had a type of unofficial fan club with merchandise, so it is not a new idea. And Floyd was saying that he hates riding slow with amateur-fans of the postal team…

  • Winky

    There is no need to do anything. The business side will work it out or not. If the whole thing collapses, I’ll still just go and ride my bike. I simply don’t see that we need to worry about how many people are paid to ride their bikes. As much as I get some enjoyment from watching pro-cycling, it will always be a trivial part of the sport.

    • David9482

      You want people to focus on advocacy/support/infrastructure/etc…. but, ahem… how do you pay for all that if the business model collapses?

      For example, if cycling loses all its teams, there’s no biological passport (each team pays well over $100k for the bio passport testing/analysis/etc. per year). If the top riders have no salaries and instead are paid sponsorship deals, but the rest of the riders are forced to ride virtually for free, there won’t be any drug testing and then the top riders go back to taking whatever they can to maintain their advantages… it’ll be the EPO age all over again where you have two speeds, one for the poor domestiques, and a way faster one for the champions/leaders.

      • Winky

        I’m talking about advocacy for cycling in general, not for pro-cycling. Pro-cycling contributes nothing to this at the moment, so that wouldn’t change if it all collapsed.

        • David9482

          Good point – governmental and social advocacy definitely would continue. I incorrectly interpreted your comment on “support for decent infrastructure” as referring to racing infrastructure, my mistake.

          • Winky

            Yes, you’re right in the context of pro-cycling – it needs money to fund races, support and infrastructure (by definition), but cycling in general is pretty disconnected from this. (Over on Ella, a pro-cyclist said that one outcome she was looking for as a pro was to inspire more women to ride bikes. I think it’s a stretch. Pro-cycling awareness barely penetrates recreational and utility cycling, let alone the general population)

  • sps12321

    With few teams lasts more than a few years it is hard to be a fan of a particular team. Even when a team structure lasts longer the name changes and they feel like a different team.
    The big issue is that cycling is still treated as an invidual sport when it is really a team sport. There are 30 players (or so) per team. The team decides who plays at any point. If you compare to ice hockey you have 6 players (including goalie) on ice most of the time but you match up lines against those of other teams. You are sometimes on a power play lay or short handed and have special teams (eg: classics or stages). If the season felt like a continuity and we cheered for teams not riders that might make me support a team.
    I think orica and cannondale have done a pretty good job of getting fans on board for supporting the team. Rule 17 (Team kit is for members of the team) gets in the way of this a bit.

  • Cameron Harris

    While I’ll follow my preferred riders, I also follow the fortunes of GreenEdge (I’m Australian – it’s a requirement). I’m not, however, interested in advertising Orica when I ride.

    I agree with the general premise of the article, and it will be interesting to see what evolves. However it does first imply there are teams that people want to vote with currency to have a relationship with. I think for that to happen, teams need their own distinct brand and identity.

    I’d love to see the teams focussing on their own brand a little more rather than so easily giving up the naming rights – can you imagine Man U being known as “Chevrolet Man U” or “Aon Man U”? (I had to look those up).

    GreenEdge and Slipstream are, to me, the two brands that have a level of brand recognition without their trade sponsors, and could drive some merchandising of kit without sponsor names. I probably haven’t been following pro cycling long enough (less than 10 years) to understand whether the other teams have an underlying brand and identity separate to their trade sponsor name.

    Would I buy a GreenEdge jersey today? No. (I do have their original green and black kit though). Would I buy it without Orica billboards on it? Definitely. Would I buy a Slipstream one too? Possibly. Tinkoff? Oleg’s a douche.

    • Winky

      I think actually selling replica kit is a miniscule part of the equation. Most corporate value is derived from brand exposure so that people buy the sponsors’ actual products, not so they buy the team kit. But let’s be honest, the exposure is pretty trivial, except perhaps for the bike-business brands. Most teams are just hobby projects for rich individuals.

    • ntdevelo

      i think Slipstream CEO is a douche and looks like asshole. The brand was built off lies. Anyway, the team job is to create a positive and rewarding environment for their sponsors. That’s why they are funding the team and also hope to boost their respective sales, marketing strategy. Why you would wonder why no corporation wants to partner with them?

  • Daniel

    The name ASO hasn’t been mentioned here. Through their control of a large number of the premier races on the calendar they control the majority of the income from TV rights and also exert much influence on the make up of the pro peloton.

    It is vital that for the stability and growth of the sport this income be shared with the participants. The league (be that the World Tour or some other structure) must control the media rights with that income shared with the event organisers and the teams to give them alternative revenue streams other than direct sponsorship.

    ASO exert undue and conflicted influence on the sport through their control of revenue and the calendar.

    I like the idea of a club based system. If it is to work the league must control the rights.

    • David9482

      I agree in principle, the issue is ASO controls the market in arguably cycling’s largest region. ASO doesn’t have to give up this control, and to be honest why would they? Therefore, the reality of the situation is that ASO controls cycling.

      It’s an economic reality that must be accepted.

      Any potential solution therefore has to work under this reality. How will this new proposal work under that framework? I actually think it has a lot of promise to act as a secondary income stream for many teams, therefore giving them a bit of financial stability. Plus, it actually might help them continue to get naming sponsors (through the club members, there would have to be some CEO’s, shareholders, Chairmen/women, etc.).

    • ntdevelo

      I read that not all races are profitable ASO. They take their profit from their most profitable event (Tour de France) and help funding other bike races.

    • donncha

      ASO have been in the business of cycling since the 90s, growing their portfolio of events, marketing their events worldwide and adding different revenue streams such as L’Etape. The only reason there is TV money at all is largely because ASO have worked hard to market their event worldwide for 25 years. Even the Giro has really only woken up to worldwide marketing in the last 5 years or so.

      You seriously expect ASO to hand over their major source of income, that they’ve spent decades growing, to the UCI and the teams?

  • Matt

    I think there is something to be said for tying teams to geographic regions like almost all sports do. The only sport I can think of like cycling is motor racing, which seems to have a number of problems not unlike cycling in terms of maintaining long-term stability.

    Looking at the EPL, the fact that teams are associated with a geographic place is what gives them stability. Even if sponsors change it’s what allows them to develop that long-term fan following, even when fans live elsewhere. The fact that most of the players aren’t from there doesn’t matter. I look at the success of the Big Bash League as proof that you can manufacture quite quickly loyal fan followings, so I don’t think it’s impossible that cycling could do the same.

    I can imagine a scenario not hugely dissimilar to EPL where all teams no matter what level of the championships are associated with a real cycling club. There’s no reason all Pro-tour, Pro-Conti and Conti teams couldn’t have under them clubs with amateur and supporter members that reside within that geographic area. It may take a rationalisation of clubs in some areas, which especially in Australia is long overdue.

    Most cycling teams already have some association with an area due to their base or registration, no reason that couldn’t be formalized. I can imagine the likes of “Pamplona – Movistar”, “Team California – BMC”, “South Flanders” – sponsored by etixx-quickstep’, ‘Team Milan – Lampre-Merida’.

  • Craig Muldoon

    Bit of a fluff article yeah, so many words and absolutely no detail.

  • velocite

    When GreenEdge was formed I was half-expecting that they would create some kind of membership opportunity, with benefits, but of course that didn’t transpire. What kind of benefits? Possibilities might include inside information on the team, member only forums, vip opportunities, at a cost of course, at races including the TdF, technical stuff from team staff like coaching and fitness advice, again at a cost. Deals on team bikes and other gear. I really have no idea what the potential is, but a team could move in increments without putting too much money at risk. Although it’s not a job you could give to some clerk, it would need to be done with imagination and flair – as with establishing almost anything successfully.

  • Toon

    You lost me at “consulting firm”. As a wise man once said of consultants – “If you can’t be part of the solution, there’s money to be made in perpetuating the problem”.

  • dscsn

    In other words we should sponsor ourselves. It reminds me a popular slogan:-)


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