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by Shane Stokes
May 1, 2018
Team Sunweb has announced a sponsorship agreement with one unique feature: it has no end date.
Both team and backer have already a contract in place that is set to run until the end of 2019. The new arrangement will then immediately start and will see a long-running commitment from both sides. This will give a financial security and stability which the team believes will help it greatly develop its men’s, women’s and development squads.
The open-ended arrangement could help shape the future of the sport of cycling.
The arrangement is unique in the sport: other such partnerships have a timeline, with little long-term certainty. According to Monday’s announcement, both the team and the sponsor have the presumption and understanding that their arrangement will be continuous. The idea is to have the stability and security to build the best possible team.
In fact, even if the partnership were to end, there is a durability built in.
“If ever the parties decide to terminate the partnership in the far future, the agreement would then still run for nearly three years,” said the team in its announcement. “Two complete years on top of the full remainder of the year of which it was decided to discontinue the partnership.”
The team points out that such an open-ended agreement is ‘unprecedented in terms of offering stability to a team.’ It said that it would allow the squad to ‘roll out big plans and focus on extending their long-term investments.’
Many teams within the sport nervously eye the horizon, knowing that their current backers could walk away once their contract ends. Indeed even the most successful teams have come to an end: the HTC-Highroad squad is one example, stopping at the end of 2011 despite winning countless races.
Other squads such as the Cannondale-Drapac team have been plunged into chaos when presumed backing has fallen apart at the last moment. The team was on the verge of folding, despite the second place it secured in the Tour de France, but was saved by an eleventh-hour agreement with the EF Education First company.
In that light, Team Sunweb CEO Iwan Spekenbrink knows how ground-breaking the new partnership is, and what it promises for the success of the project. “We keep shaping our future with our new Sunweb agreement and that’s a big compliment to the team, which I am extremely proud of,” he said.
“With this stability, our organizational focus can shift to many, many years into the future. It offers us the opportunity to not only think long-term but also to actually shape our future, ultimately becoming a durable elite cycling establishment for both men and women. It has been our dream from the start in 2008 to grow the team, with its vulnerable economics, into a revolutionary, durable cycling establishment.”
Having long-term security that other teams can dream of is one thing, but what are the implications for the squad? In Monday’s announcement, the team listed the important facets of the project which will help shape its future. One is the development programme, which was founded in 2017. Its aim is to help German and international riders grow and to ultimately become WorldTour competitors.
A second is its independent anti-doping programme, as announced in January. It said that it is ‘designed to protect clean athletes and make cycling a better environment for them.’
Some details: the testing is carried out by Dopingautoriteit, the Dutch national anti-doping agency, is fully compliant with WADA standards and is done without prior warning. “They are all tested out of competition, unannounced,” said Dopingautoriteit CEO Herman Ram in January. “Both the men and women athletes are located for testing via the ADAMS systems of which all of the team’s riders submit their whereabouts.”
The team has also announced a new Keep Challenging Centre, named after its motto, which will act as the team’s home and will be based in the Euregio area (Germany and The Netherlands), Limburg.
Finally, it makes reference to the team’s new office and logistical headquarters. This will include what it terms an Experience Center for cycling enthusiasts, and it is due to be completed in Deventer later this year.
What this all means for the team is further consolidation and growth, something which should increase the standard and the success of the various squads in the coming years.
“Several building blocks have now come to fruition, one of which is our Keep Challenging Center for athlete development and team optimization,” Spekenbrink elaborated. “On top, we can concentrate on setting up new innovative projects that we are launching in the upcoming years and beyond, where we’re aiming to set new standards in biomechanics, aerodynamics and equipment.
“To have Sunweb so committed to that dream and our Keep Challenging vision, and so firm on our side whilst exploiting the partnership intelligently in terms of marketing and activation to grow their business, is the very best one could wish for.”
Sunweb has reaped considerable success thus far, including Tom Dumoulin’s Giro d’Italia win, Michael Matthews’ green jersey victory last year, victory in the men’s and women’s world TTT championships in 2017 plus multiple Tour de France stages. Both Dumoulin and Matthews continue as part of the team and should enjoy improved backing in the future as the strength of the squad grows. Ditto for the top riders on the women’s squad like Ellen Van Dijk and Coryn Rivera.
Tim Van den Bergh, Sunweb’s CCO, explained the company’s motivation behind the new agreement, and what it means for cycling. He knows that the agreement may well become a template for other teams to aim for, but sees other benefits.
“We’re extremely pleased with the extension of our partnership, which contributes hugely to our business goal of significant international growth in summer and winter holidays,” he said.
“Rather than being a temporary sponsor, Sunweb aims to build a strong legacy with the team and also as an investor in the sport, taking responsibility in the fields of youth development and anti-doping. The new agreement should not only be good for Sunweb and for the team, it should also be good for the sport of cycling and its future.”