In California, two teams are pursuing sponsors as well as wins
MONTEREY, CA (CT) — At the Amgen Tour of California, some teams are searching for more than just wins — they’re searching for title sponsors.
Two American teams at the race, BMC Racing and UnitedHealthcare, will not be wearing their current title sponsors’ logos in 2019. And they’re using the biggest race in the United States to entertain, educate, and entice potential sponsors to come aboard.
After 12 years under title sponsorship from the BMC bike brand, the WorldTour team managed by Santa Rosa-based Continuum Sports partners Jim Ochowicz and Gavin Chilcott is seeking a new title sponsor. Though BMC owner Andy Rihs passed away due to cancer last month, Ochowicz said it was already planned that the Swiss billionaire would not fund the team beyond 2018.
On Sunday in Long Beach, the team entertained VIP guests from TAG Heuer, the Swiss luxury brand whose red-and-green logo took over the sleeve area of the red-and-black BMC jersey starting in 2017.
This year, the team brought on Sophos, a global cybersecurity company, as a new partner. The team’s 2018 kit features the blue Sophos logo on the collar of the jersey and back of the bib short.
Whether one of those two brands might step into a title sponsor role for 2019, or another brand might, is uncertain. It’s also not known whether the team will race BMC bicycles next year or court a new equipment sponsor.
“The future of the team is going to be whatever the future of the team is. We’re working on 2019 and we’ll continue to do that as long as we can still stand on our feet,” Ochowicz said. “It’s not something I would speculate on. Nothing is there until there is a signature on a piece of paper. We have a lot of good contacts, a lot of good activations, but we still don’t have a title for next year.”
Ochowicz said he intends to keep the spirit of the team that Rihs had cultivated alive.
“The idea of keeping the team together is certainly something Andy wanted — not in a commitment fashion, this was as far he wanted to go, 2018, but he and I would have continued on trying together as a group to make the team continue,” he said. “And now it’s on my shoulders to do it, and I’m going to try to make that happen.”
After three stages, BMC Racing’s top rider at the Amgen Tour is American Tejay van Garderen, who sits eighth overall.
At UnitedHealthcare, the search for a title sponsor is equally pressing.
After nine years sponsoring the team owned by Oakland-based Momentum Sports Group, the health care company — the largest in the world — is rolling its sponsorship into the Rally Cycling team, which has long-term ambitions to join the UCI WorldTour ranks; Rally Health is also owned by UnitedHealth Group.
Like Ochowicz, team manager Thierry Attias said he’s known for some time that the title sponsorship would end after 2018.
And like Ochowicz, Attias said that the team is only financially guaranteed through the end of the current season, meaning the search is on.
“We’re solid through the end of 2018,” Attias said. “We are in discussions with several different companies — three — at different levels. As we know, it’s a long way to get to the finish line. We’re in a good spot. We’re in dialogues. We’re not near finding a sponsor yet, but we’re at good places with several of them. We’re actively looking at this point.”
The Momentum Sports team has existed since 2003 under several sponsor iterations. It was HealthNet-Maxxis from 2003 through 2008, OUCH Pro Cycling team in 2009, and UnitedHealthcare starting in 2010.
“UnitedHealthcare is very happy with the relationship, but UnitedHealth Group, as a company, funds two teams, ours and the Rally team, at the same time. Our trajectory, and what we’re doing, isn’t aligning quite as well as what the Rally messaging is. I don’t know exactly what UnitedHealthcare’s overall term is, but they let us know about a year ago that this is it, take your time, we love you, you guys have reaped a tremendous amount of value for us, but go ahead and start looking for a replacement partner. They were very good about it, they gave us tons of runway, and they’re helping in every way possible. We’re planning. We’re looking. We’re actively seeking.”
After three stages, UnitedHealthcare’s top rider at the Amgen Tour is American Gavin Mannion, who sits 19th overall.
There are currently three U.S. registered UCI WorldTour teams — EF Education First-Drapac, Trek-Segafredo, and BMC Racing — and five U.S. registered UCI Pro Continental teams.