Hispanic insurance and financial planning outfit Liberty Seguros announced recently that it was to withdraw from cycling sponsorship. The company is a subsidiary of Boston-based Liberty Mutual.
We can almost salute this company’s persistence. It was the sponsor of Manolo Saiz’s team when the Puerto scandal erupted and promptly several riders were suspended from the sport and in time, many got banned. Liberty got out quickly here too, dumping the team on the shoulders of Alexander Vinokourov who created the Astana team out of the wreckage.
But oddly this didn’t scare the company. It came back in Portugal with a Pro Continental squad, only to dump the venture in 2009 when three riders were caught doping. And then more recently it had been planning to venture back into the sport with a new Portuguese team, with ambitions to grow into a full-size squad into Spain as well.
I have to admit to finding all this rather comical. The company has backed some terrible teams, run by some of the most shady people around. Yet it was still talking about coming back. It’s appalling yet slightly amusing, a triumph of hope over experience.
But the US parent company finally put its foot down. A corporate order sent from Boston to Portugal laid down the law: the board had agreed to veto all involvement in cycling. The final straw was Alberto Contador’s association with scandal. Contador is a former Liberty rider and no doubt the idea that the top rider in the sport being dragged into a major dispute convinced this large US company to stay away.
There’s a sombre lesson here, that even the most willing sponsor has limits. The ongoing sagas are causing big name sponsors to stay away, companies that might want to put money into cycling prefer the likes of tennis, soccer or sailing to promote their brands. When Liberty Seguros walks away, imagine just how many other companies are willing to stay clear.