In Search of Sponsors. The Final Chapter

May 29, 2007

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.


In Search of Sponsors (Part 2)

May 27, 2007

There’s gold in them thar hills! Yosemite Sam

Well, hopefully the last post gave you a little hope that sponsors may still want to enter the sport. Given my limited knowledge of various companies Marketing strategies, I’ll press on undaunted. To start off, I am picking companies/brands that have a global exposure. My research consists of the brands I saw in the airports in Belgium and Moscow. The brands must also have a big presencee in the US. This probably should include China but I know little or nothing about the Chinese market. My match up with the demographics are based on where they currently choose to advertise and the message within the ads themselves. Feel free to ad your own in the comments.

You’ll see a common theme here of newly launched brands since these tend to have big budgets and a desire to blanket the market in order to quickly build awareness and equity. The move in Marketing today is to launch globally instead of regionally. This actually works well for cycling since it is a global sport so one investment can pay off in multiple countries.

Gillette Fusion. The recently launched Fusion razor is a natural tie in with cyclists who I think must be one of their biggest customers. Also, Gillette has cultivated a “rugged” image. While I know that a professional cyclist laying on the beach weighing 150 pounds sporting that oh-so-sexy tan may not conjure up a rugged image. You have to admit that when riding through the Alps (sporting the Fusion colors), these men certainly fit the brand image.

Microsoft Vista. Another great global launch. Trying to establish it’s new Operating System as the center of the household entertainment, Microsoft could do a lot with cycling. Just think of the free advertisement Team Vista could do while warming up for a time trial listening to their Zunes instead of the other brand with the white earbuds. Audio/viseo rider diaries, photos, screen savers of the team would highlight Vistas enhanced capabilities as an entertainment hub, not just a computer Operating System.

Sony Blu-Ray. Having lost one format war and watching their PS3 stagnate, Sony can not afford to lose this one. Since Blu-Ray players are still a bit on the high end, the demographics of cycling are perfect. Spill over may help the PS3 and like Microsoft, having cyclists playing the PS3 on the road and plugging it in interviews and diaries as a game/movie studio would be good. Tie ins could include releasing WCP videos in regular and exclusive Blu-Ray. Who wouldn’t want to watch the colorful peloton riding through the Dolomites or sunflowers in HD?

Tylenol. This in my only health care product because there may be some regulations against advertising medicines in some countries. We don’t want another Unibet. Acetaminophen (paracetamol in Europe) has been losing market share steadily over the years to ibuprofen in the area of muscle and body pain. Ibuprofen is seen as the pain reliever of choice for young active adults who over do it a bit. Who other than cyclists know pain? Being associated with a sport such as cycling would help that image.

Neutrogena Men. Staying with Johnson & Johnson, Neutrogena has been trying to establish a men’s line of skin care products. A natural tie in here. Plus the brand Neutrogena should resonate with the female fans. That’s it for J&J. If you want to add Band-Aids, go for it. I mean, the company did coin the term “First Aid.”

Hyatt. While watching cyclists ride through some of the most beautiful vistas on earth, can you be in a better frame of mind to think of travel?

Hershey’s. Strong US brand still swimming upstream against Nestle in Europe. No kits that make the riders look like kisses please.

FedEx.  I always thought they were a better fit than USPS. Plus their employees already wear shorts!

That’s enough for today. We need to head to my parent’s Memorial Day party. My wife is taking the car, I get to ride the 50 miles. Enjoy!


In search of….Sponsors

May 26, 2007

Attention all sponsors! In aisle 4 we have a deal on professional cycling. Why pay above retail prices on NASCAR and Formula 1 we have a great deal for you here get great exposure at post-Lance prices.

The current state of cycling could have multiple sponsors walking away at the end of the season. This could create a large upheaval in the sport. The constraints of the ProTour force teams to field large teams racing all over Europe. In addition, Pat McQuaid’s frequent flier card has racked up tons of miles to other countries looking for more ProTour venues.

It is clear that Pat McQuaid is looking to dilute Europe’s (read ASOs) power base thus creating more power for the UCI. In doing so, he has created the need for global sponsors who are willing to foot the bill for a more global ProTour.

For the sport to survive and ultimately thrive we need to begin to attract sponsors who will benefit from cycling and the audience it draws. In this first post, I’ll outline some of the things a new sponsor should consider. Many of the figures I have are a little dated (2004 and 2005) and a little US centric but you go with what you got.

1) Consider the Market. In the US for 2005, Cycling is an untapped gold mine. Here are some basic figures. I’ve been told that the Tour viewers were off 15% in 2006.

  • 12M cycling fans in US
  • 500,000 daily viewers of the Tour de France on Versus/Outdoor Life Network (OLN)
  • 300,000 viewers of most cycling programs on Versus/OLN
  • $90,000 Average Annual Household Income for the 12M cycling fans
  • 4.3 Million Recreational Cyclists
  • 48 Million Adults
  • Male/Female 45% – 50%
  • Median age 32
  • Median Household Income $60K
  • 70% College Graduates
  • Cycling is the #1 fitness activity of doctors and lawyers over 40

Not a bad place to start.

2) Know your venue for advertising. The Grand Tours. The Grandest is Le Tour.

  • #1 International cycling event where 1,000,000,000 plus people read, watch or hear about the Tour de France each day of the race
  • 20 million live spectators annually
  • Third most broadly televised sporting event worldwide behind World Cup soccer and the Olympics
  • Eurosport has over 1 million viewers daily
  • More than 555,000,000 television viewers in more than 170 countries
  • 170 Countries carry coverage . (1489 hours in Europe, 508 hours in US, 354 hours in Asia)
  • 16 million page views and 2.5 million unique visitors to letour.com

3) What’s the ROI?

More Than $52M in Domestic Real Value (Foote Cone & Belding Worldwide)

  • Television Race Programming, News Coverage and Talk Shows
  • Print and Internet Editorial Coverage
  • Outdoor Signage and Vehicle
  • Television Documentary
  • Book Publishing
  • Personal and Team Appearances

This figure does not include the ROI from the Sponsor tent at a major race. Trust me, a lot of business goes on in the sponsor tent. Also keep in mind that the sponsor name is synonymous with the team. In auto racing,the driver or team owner is the only identification of the team. For example, who sponsors Scott Dixon for the Indy 500? The web site lists his name, his team owner and his car. No sponsor. It took me about 5 minutes of looking to find the answer. Target. You never hear “Team Target Scott Dixon” mentioned. Just Scott Dixon.

Something to think about. In a later post, I’ll list some ideas on potential sponsors. I’d love to hear yours.


Cycling takes the brunt of our frustration

May 26, 2007

Man may penetrate the outer reaches of the universe, he may solve the very secret of eternity itself but for me, the ultimate human experience is to witness the flawless execution of the hit-and-run. Branch Rickey

No other sport in America comes close to baseball in achieving hallowed status. When you talk baseball, you must show reverence for the sport. No one is allowed to in any way bring dishonor to the sport. In fact, the following six words have given the Commissioner of Baseball virtually unlimited power over the years. “In the best interest of baseball.”

What I don’t get is why sports writers are so outraged at the doping problem in cycling while at the same time chronicling Barry Bond’s assault on the most sacred of baseball’s records. The all time home run record. Why does Sports Illustrated write an article called “The circus formerly known as cycling.” in the aftermath of baseball’s senate hearings that were a circus in a bigger tent? Why the hypocracy?

I’ll tell you why. In my opinion, sports fans of every ilk are angry at the rampant doping in sports. All this anger has been building over time and is at a boiling point. Instead of attacking the sport they all love, like baseball, they need to vent their ire somewhere else. Enter cycling stage left.

Here we have a perfect storm. A sport known by all, loved by some and beloved by few. A sport run by arrogant and egotistical people who seem hell bent on killing the sport. What an easy target to vent your doping frustrations without attacking your own sport. Cycling has made its doping problem public. It has done this for many good reasons and some self serving ones. This openness has also allowed other sports to draw a bead on cycling. They have done so with deadly precision.

Do not get me wrong. Cycling has problems. Big problems. Here is the dirty little secret. So do all the other sports. You would think that since the popularity of our past time is exponentially greater than that of cycling, the amount of news print  devoted to doping in baseball should also exceed that of cycling by a significant amount.

What if the same effort was put into looking for proof that Barry Bonds was a cheat than is being put into trying to find evidence on Lance Armstrong? Has anyone searched the San Francisco Giant’s garbage during a road trip? Doubt it.

I believe that cycling fans are willing to do what is necessary to clean up their sport. Are baseball fans willing to do the same? If so, why is Jason Giambi still playing? If not, that’s fine, just get off your high horse and shut up, we have work to do.


Riis admits to EPO use

May 25, 2007

Bjarne Riis admitted today to using EPO, a lot of EPO, over the majority of his career. I can’t say I’m too surprised at the news as the rumors have been following Riis for many years now. His critics will call him “Mr. 60 percent” in reference to a reported test that put his hematocrit level at 64% during his racing days. Given that and all the revelations coming out of the old Telecom/T-Mobile camps, no one can say they are shocked.

What does surprise me is the utter completeness of his confession. No “I did it once or twice.” or “I only doped in races I didn’t win.” or even “The team made me do it.” He admitted to systematic doping from 1993 to 1998 including doping his 1996 tour win. He took complete responsibility for his actions. Riis even admits that he is not worthy of a Tour de France victory.

What confuses me is what to do with this information. Should/can I separate Riis the rider from Riis the Director? CSC currently has one of the best anti-doping programs in the sport ironically rivalling that of T-Mobile. Can we say that the ’90s were a different time and we should judge a man by his actions today?

OK, what do we do about the 1996 Tour. Will Bjarne be the first Tour winner stripped of his title? This honor the French press has gleefully saved for Floyd Landis. If we do, does the jersey go to the second place finisher? Wait, remember, that person is Jan Ullrich. OK, let’s give it to the third place finisher. Wait, that’s Richard Virenque. Fourth? Laurent Dufaux. Forget that line of thought. If they don’t take it away, can you take Floyd’s? I don’t remember hearing about a statute of limitations on Tour victories.

Can this situation be likened to the parent who did a lot of drugs in college trying to raise their kids drug free? I know quite a few of them and I have to say most of them are great parents. Should they continue to carry the label fashioned during that period of their life?

For me, I think Bjarne the rider should be treated as such. Do what you need to do with the 1996 Tour. Take Riis’ name off and replace it with an asterisk if that is the proper thing to do. Treat Riis the Director by his actions as Director. If he has also ran afoul of the law then throw him out for good. If not, let him continue to manage one of the best teams in the world. I’m sure the board of CSC is currently wrestling with this question.

Riis’ full statement.


Covers pulled off T-Mobile

May 24, 2007

In recent days, a lot has been revealed about the “old” T-Mobile.  Allegations of widespread doping coordinated by the team and administered by the team doctors.  Up until now, the “new” T-Mobile has remained relatively unscathed.  Bob Stapleton’s clean program continues to stand tall.

Now, a small chink in the armor is exposed.  Current Director Rolf Aldag, who straddles the “old” and “new,” is calling a press confrence to admit he participated in the T-Mobile doping program while a rider. 

As of now, Bob Stapleton is sticking behind his Director.

“I think that Rolf is very committed and very much supports what we are doing now. He simply had a moment of weakness and now we have to see that we all come out of it and continue on with him.”

I’m not sure how long sponsor T-Mobile will continue to stand by cycling.  With a recent change in CEO along with tough financial times ahead for the telecommunications company, reports are circling that all forms of sponsorship are being examined.  Not a good time to have all this bad news come out.


Why Cycle Wednesday – Sunrise

May 23, 2007

Chris over at Suitcase of Courage has a great feature each week. It is titled “Why Cycle Wednesday.” Here is my attempt to pay tribute to this feature.

It’s hard to have a bad day when you get a chance to watch the sunrise. So, this morning, I took my camera on one of my favorite early morning rides. In Hunterdon county, is a state park housing the Round Valley Reservoir.

round-valley.jpg

How can you have a bad day when it starts out like this.

rv2.jpg

I can organize my thoughts for the day and get things moving on the right track.

rv3.jpg

Yes, this is New Jersey and for those of you who have not made it here, I am approximately 30 miles west of Manhattan (as the crow flies). Speaking of crows, this morning was fairly typical. I saw deer, a fox, deer, wild turkeys, and deer.

What I did not see was the turnpike, our Governor doing 91mph on the turnpike, refineries, our contrite Governor promising never to put himself above the law doing 70mph on his way home from the hospital, and Tony Soprano.

Take your camera out on your ride. I’d love to see it.