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Your Name Here: Sponsoring a Pro Cycling Team

Posted by on May 16, 2017
As any cyclists knows, the Tour of California is in full swing.  Or it's over.  Or it's about to start.  Or it's been cancelled due to lack of sponsorship.

Just admit it, you're not paying attention, which is why you may be surprised that Cannondale-Drapac manager Jonathan Vaughters says that "pro cycling is the best sponsorship deal in sports:"



Indeed, according to Vaughters, Cannondale-Drapac could have been Team Netflix:

But this time I was waiting for a call from Netflix. We had put together a plan to kick off its European-branding campaign in a way nothing else could. We were in talks to announce a naming-rights sponsorship of our top-level cycling team just before the start of the Tour de France, the world's largest annual sporting event.

If only the streaming giant wasn't so short-sighted:

"We can't promote that," I was told. Which was too bad, for Netflix. They’d missed out on the best deal in sports sponsorship, especially when it comes to the younger generation.


Did they really miss out on a fabulous marketing opportunity though?  Taylor Phinney has been the next big thing in cycling for the past eight years now, and Toms Skujins's recent crash underscores how quickly even a top-tier bike race can devolve into a rolling shitshow:



Skujins immediately tried to get back up as a neutral service mechanic picked his bike up, but struggled to stand after appearing to hit his head.

He then tried to mount his bike but then crashed on his left-hand side as he continued to look dazed.

Appearing to try to retrieve his Garmin which had fallen off in the second crash, Skujins then almost collided with riders chasing on as they came past and he tried to cross the road back to where his bike was.

...

Meanwhile, there were floods of messages across social media from shocked viewers who were clear the Skujins shouldn’t have been allowed to continue the race.

Unfortunately his team car was some way behind with Skujins in the breakaway, and phone and TV signal wasn’t allowing the team back at the buses to see what was happening on the road.
In no way is this to blame anybody for what happened, nor is it to suggest frightening injuries don't occur in other sports, but I also doubt the marketing people at Netflix are exactly kicking themselves right now for not putting their logo on that torn jersey.

I'm also not sure cycling has some magical pull for "millennials:"

Traditional team sports do not have the same appeal to millennials that they did to older generations; millennials want to participate in sports and their orbiting cultures, not simply sit in recliners with their remotes and consume them. This tech-savvy generation is finding ways around traditional broadcasting avenues, streaming huge amounts of content, sports included.

It's really time we stopped talking about millennials as though they're a different form of human.  They're not.  Trust me, I live right next to a college, and I can assure you that the dumb traditional sports bro is in no way a dying breed.  By the same token, the Europhile streaming "alt-sports" such as cycling is just as likely to be an aging Fred as a so-called millennial.  In fact, they're probably more likely to be older, since they have office doors they can close.

And sure, young people seem to like riding bikes in cities, but does that really translate into wanting to watch bike racing on TV?

Go to any major city, and you’ll see millennials cruising around on their bicycles, and there are bike lanes popping up everywhere. In no other sport is there a line that connects the kids out learning to ride bikes and bike commuters to amateur racers and world-class professional cyclists. They all experience a similar thing.

I absolutely agree that adult cycling fans are much more likely to be riders themselves than, say, adult baseball fans are to be baseball players.  However, I'm not sure the average urban "millennial" commuting in one of those new protected bike lanes gives a shit about pro cycling.  I also think the thing about cycling being the only sport in which there's "a line that connects the kids...to amateur racers and world-class professional cyclists" is totally untrue.  What do you call Little League?  You can plug your kid into traditional sports right out of the womb, but good luck entering your grade-schooler into a bicycle race.  In fact, good luck finding a grade-schooler who even knows how to ride a bicycle.

Of course, one way in which cycling is different from many other sports is that the sponsor's name becomes the team name, and so the spectators effectively become fans of that company:

Sponsors of teams usurp those ad buys because they’re woven into the stories of the athletes and the race itself. Most of us tune out ads during a football game, but it’s impossible to ignore sponsors in cycling. They’re on the clothing, but they’re also on the air for hours each race, and then in the media all day, as commentators announce the team names and myriad publications cover every race. Sponsors become part of a team’s identity. That’s just not for sale in any another sport.



However, there's only one problem with that: they're still just team names.  See, people tend to take names for granted, and therefore it's incredibly easy to not give a shit what these companies actually do, even if you're a fan of the teams they sponsor.  For example, I've seen the name "Cannondale-Drapac" every day for months, and while obviously I know what Cannondale is it wasn't until I started writing this very blog post that I even bothered to look up Drapac--and in case you're wondering, here's what I came up with:

Drapac Capital Partners is a property funds management business that identifies value through unorthodox means.

With Australian origins and an established track record, we set up operations in the US in 2011 to capitalize on the unprecedented investment opportunities following the financial crisis. Our core investment focus is on land, and we never take a short term view allowing us to do what others cannot – make logical and rational investment decisions.

Yes, millennials love property funds management.

Given all this, it's harder and harder to imagine Netflix wanting to sponsor a cycling team:

For Netflix, this would have been the perfect move because it captures the already established massive audience of Tour de France viewers without paying a media competitor to be ignored during a commercial placed in the race. By putting its brand name on one of the main actors in the content people were viewing, Netflix would have used the efforts and money of competitors to promote their own channel. Genius pirate swashbuckling!

Would it really have, though?  Does a content creator really want to put its name on content it can't control?  Netflix can control the plot twists in "House of Cards," but they can't control the doping scandals in the Tour de France.

Of course, there certainly are companies that do benefit from cycling sponsorship, such as Garmin:

Garmin, a company that was involved with cycling on a title-level for seven years, saw its market share, brand recognition, and overall revenues soar in the fitness sector after launching its products through a named team: Team Garmin. It was the exception that had enough lateral thinkers in corporate headquarters to figure out that the real bottom line is sometimes better when you take a few risks. And with risks come rewards.

Which makes total sense, since they make a product for cyclists.  Indeed, since cycling fans are so likely to be cyclists themselves you'd think there would be more bike and component companies sponsoring cycling teams...until you consider it's really expensive to do so and the fundamentals are terrible due to the sport's exhausting scandal cycle.

If anything, the future of the sport lies in sponsorship from the Persian Gulf countries:



If I only had a Bahrain...

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