Luxembourg Secrecy

Luxembourg can be a secretive place, the OECD’s “grey list” of countries accused the country oof lacking financial transparency and it’s reportedly the country of choice for the North Korean dictatorship to stash its ill-gotten gains.

We are still weeks away from reading anything official on the workings the Luxembourg cycling team. Remember this is effectively the world’s top-rated squad and with potentially last summer’s Tour de France winner as well. Now we can be pretty sure about the funding, a lot of the cash is coming from Flavio Becca, an entrepreneur with real estate activities. There are the known sponsors like Mercedes and Trek and rumoured sponsors like Jabra, LuxAir and the Luxembourg government itself, possibly the post and telecom arm.

Slow news day
But nobody knows that much more. The team is deliberately cultivating an air of mystery. Whilst many rider signings were obvious, the team management sat on them and then slowly released the details, often one by one. It’s good PR, it ensures that on a quiet day the press release about signing, say, Dominic Klemme somehow gets more attention than it might otherwise do. But at the same time it can give an impression of uptight secrecy. Remember, this is a sports team, not a bank.

Nygaard pointing the media in the right direction

The team is directed by a PR professional, Brian Nygaard. The Dane was the press handler at CSC and Saxo and then moved to Team Sky for 2010 in order to head up their media efforts. But along came the chance to manage a team. So it’s no surprise to see the team closely associated with basic marketing tricks like tight control of its message. After all what else is a team but a marketing message for its sponsors?

Yet I can’t help wonder if this team isn’t trying to be too clever. It’s basically a sports team, this isn’t a revolutionary consumer product waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public like an Apple gizmo.

Who cares who the sponsor is?
The mystery here is about a team’s backers. Yet we already know that Andy Schleck will race the Tour de France with support from his brother, Cancellara, Fuglsang, Voigt, Gerdemann and others. Put simply, often the identity and nature of the team doesn’t matter that much to the sporting aspect. Whether the Schlecks are promoting bubblegum or yoghurt doesn’t change the way they ride. In many ways us fans shouldn’t care but regular readers will know The Inner Ring appreciates detail and keeps an eye on the money behind the sport. Plus in the light of the

But what if…?
But what if the team’s name, image and very basis did matter to the fans? What if the marketing guys have gone back to the drawing board and realised that there’s a big gap in the concept of cycling: the team. Right now many fans have loyalty to riders and not teams. Even the casual household viewer in Europe can recognise Contador and Cancellera but they probably have no idea about Astana or Saxo. What if this could be changed?

Imagine a new way that placed a much bigger emphasis on the culture of a team and its association with the riders? Take the daily communications of Team Sky (adjusted to make the team actually sound fun), the fly-on-the-wall Cervélo films and the accessibility of Garmin and then go much further, especially with some attractive clothing and a cohesive branding and design that doesn’t have to promote laminate flooring or bottled gas.  It’s not beyond the marketing guys.

Back on Planet Earth
But that would be a big leap. In the meantime I’m awaiting the team’s launch on 6 January and am particularly interested to know the details of how the team is financed. But I’d also like to see the mystery dropped when it comes to other ideas like training plans, the anti-doping stance and other subjects.

It’s no secret that many fans around the world have time for the likes of Cervélo and Garmin this year because of the way they communicated with fans but it’s also true that these teams have won fans in the media too. Being popular with sections of the media isn’t the essential goal but a means to an end.

Once we get to know the source of the money, the sponsors are named and what the kit looks like, perhaps the bigger question is whether the team opens up to fans and the media on more fundamental issues during the season.

17 thoughts on “Luxembourg Secrecy”

  1. Some interesting points. I guess you are right when you say the secrecy point is ok until the team launch but after that it will be interesting to see if they open up.

  2. Anonymous: Yes, that's what I'm saying. If this is going to be "true racing" then it'll be interesting to see if the branding matches the execution of the project and, for want of a better word, its philosophy. One to watch…

  3. Couldn't agree more about Cervelo's and Garmin's openness winning fans. It's so much easier to root for those teams (now 1 team, I suppose…) because you have a feeling like you know a little bit more about what they're all about, since they told you via films, interviews, in person at a race, etc.

    I think you're right that Team Leopard (?) are taking themselves just a bit too seriously. After all, they're just riding bikes! Why all the coyness?

  4. RE: Team Secrecy. I cheer for and am loyal to the riders, not the team. They riders move around so much, it makes team loyalty difficult. I would cheer for Jens Voigt and Mark Cavendish no matter who they ride for, secrets or no secrets.

    One exception was Cervelo. This was the only team I cheered for as a whole. They went out of their way to try to make you a fan with it's openness and access, which seems to be the opposite of Lux. (Sky is pretty good at this too.) The Beyond the Peloton series was amazing. Cervelo made me feel like I knew the riders and I became invested in them winning or losing and cheered like crazy for every rider. I will miss them.

    Perhaps if Team Lux opens up in the future, they will get some team fans too, instead of just fans of individual riders.

  5. if you were a financial squirrel,
    you'd bury your nuts in Luxembourg…

    Cycling is a sport of passion, emotion & soul.

    "Clever" or clinical Team PR is all very efficient for the bean counters, or amongst fellow PR experts, but wise up brainy people.
    It divides enthusiasts & removes the passion.

    It is the reason why Garmin, Cervelo are popular teams.
    Team Sky missed the point, and anything LA was involved with, was locked down for his benefit not anyone elses.

    Learn or Lose – unless we're talking Luxembourg "nuts" in which case its a great way to distribute erm, zwart erm, nuts…

  6. People: I thought I'd take a minute to comment, since the discussion is somewhat mislead. The riders on our team are NOT under contract with us until 1/1-2011. They are commercially and legally committed elsewhere – all the way down to the fact that their salary is not paid by us. That restricts our ability to embed journalists, film crews, bloggers in the process we're in the middle of right now. Our team presentation is on 6/1-2011. I'm sorry for giving you the impression that we're being cagey about the team, but we start next year and apart from duly announcing riders and being fortunate enough to bring everyone together last week for meetings and socializing, 1/1-2011 is when we roll out. All the work we've done so far, is to get everything ready for that. With regards to the "lacking financial transparency", alluding to our team, I'm left a little puzzled and slightly offended. As you know from the Pegasus debaccle, you need to have your stuff in order to be an approved team – even more so to get a ProTeam license. Here you need proper contracts, insurances, bank guarantee etc, ect. This process is run by the UCI, controlled by Ernst&Young and then, the final approval is granted by an Independent License Commission. We have received our license for 4 years, which is the maximum length available. If you have any doubts about the strictness of that process, you're counter-factual. If you have doubts about our openness and availability to the press, you're disregarding the fact that we open our team presentation to everyone (for free) – albeit with the limited amount of around 4500 people. Still pretty good and fairly un-cagey I think. Oh, and by the way, my Brand and Marketing Manager, the brilliant Ken Sommer used to work at Cervelo where he was in charge of the fan access. All good things come to those wait – even during the so-called silly season (which clearly peaks right now!) of professional cycling. Kind regards. Brian Nygaard

  7. There you go, Mr Nygaard's comments have cleared that little hysteria up nicely. In the same way you say most fans don't care about who sponsors a team most fans also don't care for the constant "one-up-man-ship" of the press which seems to now be creeping into this blog.

  8. Hi Brian, top marks for responding in this way. Good to hear your entire response rather than a snippet of what the press choose to include in an article.

    Was Ken Sommer behind the brilliant Beyond The Peleton videos? Something similar would be ideal from Team Whatdyacallem.

  9. I've been travelling all day and discover plenty of interesting comments. Thanks to everyone so far…

    T. Booker: yes, the Cervélo films were interesting. Especially as they weren't too heavy on the marketing, it was more documentary than info-mercial.

    Flashing Pedals: the teams you cite have a busy PR element but tend to let the riders speak for themselves. Having anglophone riders helps explain plenty but they are able to (be seen) joke and express themselves on and off the bike.

    Bryan: thanks for the input. As for the "lack of financial transparency", no offence was intended, it's simply because you've assembled the biggest team in the world but without explaining where the money comes from (although some can guess). To cite the Pegasus story myself, I suppose people want reassurance that the money is in place. I'm familiar with the UCI process so I wasn't raising that sort of question, more a matter of identity: not whether you have a sustainable team but how this has happened. Like I say, the team launch is the thing and frankly we'll all forget the "mystery" component come February.

    LAMB: Any feedback is useful and I suspect you intend something negative but I'm not sure what you mean by the "one-up-man-ship" bit. Consequently it's hard to give a response. Sorry.

    Dave Hamill: I suppose another thing about Cervélo was that it was a cycling sponsor and therefore very interested in reaching passionate cycling fans, as opposed to housewives or retired folk. So the films were a great way to do that.

  10. Fascinating to see how thirsty cycling fans are for any bit of news, gossip, access, etc. Should the industry figure out a way to fully monetize this lust, cycling's currency will be HUGE!

  11. I mean that the more I read the cycling press these days there is a growing trend to find the negative constantly and a trend from writers to focus on that negative, to assert a moral high ground and to suggest that anyone involved in PRO cycling is in some way mysteriously concealing of the truth. I think what we have with the Lux team is professional people going about their business in a professional manner. Mr Nygaard's response answers that for me and is why I left a comment. It is good to question, but when the questions only set out to try and prove the writer's superiority then I think it is misplaced. I find that more and more when reading your articles.

  12. Anonymous: it's December. As soon as the Tour Down Under begins then I suspect the race-related stuff will take over. Still, I hope to cover the background stuff as well although hopefully with more analysis rather than gossip.

    Lamb: I got you now. I don't even know who I could try and get one up on if I wanted? Sorry if I give off the wrong vibes that's not the tone and feel free to let me know today or tomorrow if you feel the same. The Luxembourg team might be going about things in a professional way but that's half the interest in mid-December, this is a team doing things in a very different way and with, potentially, a very different model.

  13. Notwithstanding Mr Nygaaard's comments, we'll wait to see if this team changes its apparently secretive habits.

    After all, we know that a Leopard doesn't change its spots 😛


  14. I wonder – I can still get almost everyday photos from all the rest of the teams yet ' true ' some of the riders wear still their previous kit …..
    more – why is it taking so much time to get such an answer that Mr.Nygaaard eventually gave ,why couldn't representative from such a stable and well organized team come out and say few words about their planes ?!

  15. Lamb – nearly everything that comes out of your mouth is negative. your 'trend' is to focus on the negative. I quote you – 'to suggest that anyone involved in PRO cycling is in some way mysteriously concealing of the truth' – take a look back at your own comments sometime…

  16. Gadi: as I say it would be nice to know but we will have to wait a couple more weeks. Perhaps we should note that we don't know much about other teams either, for example I know nothing about Europcar's plans and things are very quiet over at, say Geox.

    Anonymous: Sometimes it's best not too be personal. I can look after myself!

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