This morning I was reading an article in VeloNews about sponsorship in Professional Cycling (Your name here — improving sponsorship opportunities in pro cycling By Steve Maxwell) as I was watching Stage 12 of the Tour de France. I was also busily texting my brother Mike in California, (as we now do each morning during Tour coverage to discuss news and race tactics), we were discussing upcoming team collapse, mergers, and rider transfers.
Something is missing in the model of cycling sponsorship
The VeloNews article quotes Chris Aronhalt of Medalist Sports as saying, “Everything is up — bike sales, television viewers, amateur licenses, gran fondo registrations, everything — all the signs are positive.” So too is commuting, errand bike trips, cycling clubs, custom jerseys, bike tours, coaching services, tracking gadgets, nutrition cookbooks, replacement drinks, and buying bikes ranged from $600 city bikes to $6000 road bikes.
But that doesn't equate to a growing interest in professional cycling. It equates to a growing interest in doing it yourself.
The missing link
What we are missing is a promised connection between sponsor and fan, and fan back to sponsor.
We are the consumers, not the riders. Riders are the billboards
The product is cycling and all the products and services which help make consumer cycling possible. The secondary products are entertainment, tourism and goods. Team management is the administrative staff, their job is to make sure the product and goods (and billboards) are put in front of the consumers. Team owners are like stock holders or investors, they do not like losses, either monetary or reputation. Sponsors are the bank, they provide the operating cash. Riders, well, they are moving marketeers and create the entertainment (sport).
For some reason professional cycling focuses a lot on the riders. It's as if the administrative staff expects the sponsors to pay for their jobs and the riders' jobs, simply to go race bikes. A lot of us would like to have a sponsor pay for us to race bikes. But that attitude cannot be sustained.
Help me help you
The purpose of riders racing organized events is to spread the word for the sponsors, it always has been, remember the Tour de France was created to increase newspaper sales. I think in modern times, they could do a better job of it. We have a tradition of putting events and riders at the top of the heap, sure they make it happen, but sponsors and fans should be at the top, they make it possible.
Sponsor | Fan | Event | Rider
The Tour de France is the biggest race on earth because they understand this business model (although they do treat the fans as if they are in the way of their bike race at times). For the big three American races to survive, they need to develop more contact between Sponsors and Fans. Not just develop, blow it out of the water regroup and connect.
Concentrate on the partial or broken links
Broken: sponsor to fan, fan to sponsor
Needs Improvement: rider to sponsor, fan to event, event to fan, event to sponsor
Connect the fan to the sponsor
We make heroes of the riders or DSs, when we should make heroes of the sponsors. Only when sponsors see a dollar return, in regards to sales, will professional cycling stop scavenging for sponsors every year. We are stopping short of understanding who really makes this sport happen - consumers.
Event organizers and team managers should create better ways to get sponsor products in front of all fans. Develop better ways for fans to know what, how and where to buy from sponsors, not just contests, and not only for title sponsors, all sponsors.
Create ways for fans to attend events or visit sponsors (and not just expo tents in the heat on race day). How about sponsors nights, educational speaker presentations, pre race demo days, or sponsor/team viewing locations at races where fans can gather under a brand name or team and cheer the race. Perhaps sponsor/fan combo events prior to stage race starts. Along with team presentations and team press conferences, present the sponsors. Let us see the Jaguar or Nissan cars, not just the logo. Event Organizers could do far more than listing a company name as sponsoring a jersey or stage and adding a logo somewhere buried on a website.
The great and powerful do-it-yourself cyclist/fan needs to know how we are going to use these products and how they will make our life better. Forget about exclusivity, I buy for use and purpose. If I like a product I will buy two of them regardless if they are different brands. What family buys two Nissans anyway? And why would we say no to a potential sponsor simply because we don't want them to have competition, they exist in competition.
Who helps to make the connection between the fan and sponsors - the event and riders.
Connect the sponsor with the fan
It is not enough (in return for many thousands) to hand a sponsor a VIP ticket to a tent at the finish line or have him shake the hand of a well-known rider. This isn't really just about about a few people in the company. Those same people need to report how sponsorship advances their company. "Gee I had fun," won't fly back at the office, or in the face of investors. Don't just sell them on how many people visit the website or watch on TV, that is no guarantee that those same viewers will see or buy their product. You have to prove more by giving them more air time.
Cultivate a love of the sport of cycling by teaching sponsors about the sport, guide them around a race so they understand everything that goes into it. Get them out in the community with their products. They deserve to shake the hands of all the riders and fans, and vice versa. Put a face to the products and let the consumers get to know them as you would a neighbor or a friend. Why do they support cycling and how does that affect us as consumers?
Riders could do more to promote their sponsor products
It might look cheesy, but product endorsement funds much of sport. If their salaries or expenses are paid by sponsors - they should be required to give back more.
The fans number millions, the peloton numbers 198. A influential group indeed, but they get stuff for free, we pay for it. Fabian Cancellara's real power comes from his ability to sell bikes to the massive numbers of thirty to sixty year-old cyclists, who might not even watch him race but want to harness his power.
Fans need to turnout
Spectating may be free in money, but it should not be free in time. If we want professional cycling to survive we have to go to races, watch races, buy product, and spread the love. I continue to be baffled by how many cyclists I know, who do not bother going to the Tour of California or the USA Pro Challenge. And yet plenty of the fans that do go, do not cycle.
This is the main reason why growth in cycling does not (yet) equate to growth in interest for pro cycling. Because a cyclist in not always a fan, and a fan is not always a cyclist. A spectator might not be a fan, a cyclist, or buy product from current sponsors. I realize this gets confusing, but the fact remains, we need to connect with the people and make them cycling fans, with deep pockets, and then put them in front of the sponsors.
Connect the event with the fan
If you want to bring money to the sponsor or host community, you have to promote tourism and consumerism. You have to make it look like a really big show is in town that shouldn't be missed, where businesses welcome fans by making the fan feel welcome and part of an instant community. Event color (Giro pink, TDF yellow), town decorations, business specials, and fan apparel help a lot. Think of fans crowding into a football game, week after week, and wanting opportunity to buy.
For the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, most cities have 4th of July decorations in storage - the same colors as your race - ask the host cities to hang red, white and blue. Most Fans have red, white or blue shirts, encourage them to dress the part or wear apparel of their favorite teams. In this way fans will be made to feel welcome and can easily identify other fans and support businesses that support the race.
Turn a cyclist into a fan by offering more
Event organizers may brag about their viewership in order to sell to prospective sponsors, but I am telling you, they are not reaching the masses of growing cyclists. They need to think about the do-it-yourself riders more. Teach and make available to them the sport of professional cycling. There is a huge service gap between standing on the roadside and paying $450 for a VIP tent ticket. We need more choices.
At the Amgen Tour of California this past May, I was blown away by the numbers of cyclists who rode to the KOM on Stage 8 in Thousand Oaks. "Wow, I can't get over how many cyclists rode up here," I explained to a local cyclist, "You'd never see this at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado." "Really, I thought there would be a lot more cyclists here," he said. That is because there ARE a lot more cyclists out there, untapped.
Build better relationships with and exposure for sponsors
The hesitation or lack of sponsorship really isn't just about doping. I understand that Americans are not the best at offering second chances, or if we do, it takes years, but in European cultures they often forgive and forget. When it comes to sponsorship of cycling, even if the forgiveness never comes, selling product is a good way to forget.
If we focused more on building faithful money spending fans, those consuming individuals who are less likely to dope and ruin sponsor reputation, this sport would be much better off.
Build a fan, make a sponsor friend for life.
Build a rider, he'll be gone in fifteen years.
Build a team, they'll be gone in three to five. (We need to change this!)
Here is a quiz, off the top of your head, without pulling up logos:
As a fan of the Tour de France, can you name 5 sponsors of the event?
As a fan of Tour of California or USA Pro Challenge, can you name 5 sponsors of the event?
I would say I can name ten or more sponsors of the TDF, but I could not for either of the American races, and I cover them! tisk tisk
How about 5 sponsors of Team Cannondale? nop, no wonder we are loosing sponsors!
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