By any measure, the Red Bull marketing team really thinks that sponsorship works. It sponsors everything from cliff divers, Paris-Dakar trucks to cyclocross riders. Is there a joined-up strategy here, or is it just a way of moving cash?
Sponsorship in our industry is unique. Cycling was around well before it existed as a sport. Parts of our industry rely on sponsorship through marketing and, right or wrong, parts of our industry ‘love’ cycling sport to such an extent that it becomes easier to justify sponsorship. This latter sentence is one I am guilty of over the years; either in a rush to see young cyclists achieve their dreams or through the lense of associations to the brand.
Therefore, we as an industry need to take an analytical look at sponsorship and try to get to the bottom of its benefits and risks.
Let’s first take a look at the picture as it is today (and I am going to focus on the male road cycling scene and through the prism of the UK cycling industry), firstly starting with the World Tour and some of the sponsors and then some of the British teams for 2021.
If we take a look a few samples (listed right), this might help us understand the strategy here. I would also remind you of my earlier point; some executives and CEOs simply love cycling.
Bora – Hansgrohe – Bora is a ten-year-old cooking extraction system, which took on its first cycling sponsorship in 2015. Hansgrohe is a shower system company. Secondary sponsors include Sportful and Specialized. Deceunnink is a window manufacturer and Quick Step is a flooring specialist, secondary sponsors include Crivit and Lidl. Groupama is an insurance company, and FDJ is a lottery organisation.
British Registered UCI Team
1) Canyon bike manufacturer, DHB cycling clothing, SunGod – sunglasses
2) Ribble – bike manufacturer, Weldtite lubrication
3) Swift bike manufacturer
4) Trinity – sports management agency
5)* Saint Piran – Not in the list above but unusual self-supported organisation
I have focused on men’s teams but it is important to note that sponsorship of women’s teams may actually be preferable due to costs and relative audience size and growth. In summary though, a question needs to be asked; if you consider yourself a cycling fan and do not know what Groupama is or what the function of Quick Step is, then is sponsorship working? There is the argument here that a large majority of advertising is not about immediate sales, quite often it is simply to ensure your position in the market is maintained (stopping others, keeping your brand name at the forefront of your mind). However, there are other factors here:
Cycling is green. Cycle sponsorship can often act as a way of cleaning a brand. INEOS is a great example of this; one of the largest plastic manufacturers in the world is now associated with the greenest of activities and sports.
Cycling is healthy. Cycling is regarded as a healthy activity and in some respects can help a brand that wants to be associated with the outdoors and/or vigour.
Cycling is technical. Cycling is regarded as a scientific and technical sport perfect for a brand like Bora that is a cutting-edge tech brand.
Cycling is cheap. In relative terms to other sports, cycling is incredibly cheap to sponsor and is one of the very few truly global sports. Events are long, TV coverage is live and your brand name is repeated many times – a great tool for reminding your customers that you are still there.
So, is it worth it? Cycling sponsorship will not bring you immediate sales but will position your brand in a strong place over a longer-term period.
The sponsorship should form part of a 360-degree marketing activity; ensure your website is up to date and that you are associating yourself with your team throughout your brand activity. Finally, it is not up to your team/partners to maximise your investment.
If you rely on that you will be disappointed. Be sure to extract every image, story, every result and get your message out there.