Let’s say that cycling sponsorship makes sense for your company. You need a strategy for getting into the sport. For the sake of this post, I’m assuming that the decision is made to take on sponsorship of a ProTour team. I am also deliberately ignoring the dynamic of team owners such as Riis Cycling (CSC) and Tailwind Sports (Discovery Channel) as I think it is easier to bundle teams, sponsors and owners together.
The first decision for entering the sport is build or buy. Building has some advantages by allowing you to put together a team your own way and frees you from any baggage left over from the previous sponsor. The first move is a Director Sportif.
Since you are looking to promote your brand, you want a Director who knows cycling and comes across well with the media. My choice would be Scott Sunderland. He has been Bjarne’s right hand man since 2004 and is ready to take on a new level of responsibility. He has the cycling credentials by his record in the classics up to and including this year’s Paris-Roubaix.
Scott has the charisma and the easy going style that makes him a great front man for your brand.
Once that is taken care of, make sure your team is as international as possible. Talented riders are key but don’t overlook having heroes from key markets in your team.
The downside of building is you lack the all-important ProTour license. ProTour licenses are harder to get than tickets for the Police Reunion Tour. Currently, Unibet has not listed theirs on eBay.
You could also choose a small Continental team like Slipstream and try to build it up to ProTour level. They have a good foundation, run well, strong anti-doping philosophy and a former ProTour rider Jonathan Vaughters at the helm.
Slipstream may be a good choice as a developmental squad as part of a larger Cycling investment. More on that later.
Now, you have a choice to buy. Here you may have a couple options:
Discovery Channel – We all know that Discovery Channel is ending it’s sponsorship after this season. This should be your first phone call. The positives here is that Discovery Channel is one of the strongest teams on the ProTour. It is also American based which gives you access to the American TV market which is enticing to race organizers.
With Discovery Channel you get Johan Bruyneel a fantastic judge of talent. He has assembled a true international team that would give you options in various markets from Eastern Europe, China, Japan, etc. The funny thing is he is a little short on young charismatic American riders that can capture the US market. You also have Lance who can help generate attention to your team. Lance can also be a lighting but I think the pros outweigh the cons by a long shot.
Is their any Basso baggage? Does Johan look at ability first and ethics second? I don’t know but these things need to be in your thoughts.
T-Mobile – T-Mobile has floated the idea of dropping sponsorship in a variety of areas including cycling. The key here is to nab Bob Stapleton as part of the deal. He does not need his job with the corporation and may be open to running the team under new colors. In fact, a fresh start may be welcome given the revelations surrounding the “old” T-Mobile.
Stapleton has put into place a new structure, ethos, and anti-doping policy. He also is evolving the team from a German-centric squad to a global team that would appeal to a global sponsor.
Tinkoff - Russia is an emerging market and of keen interest to most global companies. Clearly, an association with Tinkoff could open some doors within this market. My read is Oleg Tinkov has his own ideas on how a team is run so you will need go in with eyes wide open.
Team CSC – I’m not sure if this is available but it may be worth a phone call. Bjarne Riis has put together a sponsor’s dream. Great charismatic riders who keep you on page one throughout the year. Some of the stars are getting on in years but new riders are filling in behind.
Unibet.com – This could be risky but it might be worth the risk if you get it at the right price. You would need to put some contingencies on the sale to make sure the Grand Tours let you into the big races.
Add on sale. If you really want to maximize the investment in cycling there are other opportunities available for a sponsor. If you look at the more established teams like Rabobank, there is a feeder system that extends the Rabobank sponsorship to smaller developmental teams that harnesses talent at a young age. Therefore, a new sponsor may want to take over both a ProTour team and a young developmental team like Slipstream.
Another option is combining a Elite men’s sponsor with sponsoring a Women’s team ala T-Mobile. For a few dollars more, you extend the brand.
My final thought is to add a race to your investment. Amgen may be facing serious financial troubles as their main product EPO (Epogen, Aranesp) is under significant pressure from regulators who see the product overused. They may need to cut back opening up an opportunity to sponsor the Tour of California. If the ProTour decides to expand, you are well situated. The Tour of Georgia is also an option. Since the ProTour has targeted Asia as well, opportunities will be available to sponsor races in this area of the world.