Enovos Quits Radioshack-Nissan Team

European energy company Enovos has been a co-sponsor of the Radioshack-Nissan team, starting with Leopard-Trek last year. But it has just announced it is walking away mid-season from the cycling team, publicly dropping its connections to the team. This is very rare in cycling and sport in general.

Here’s the press release translated into English:

In the view of its partnership with the Luxembourg cycling team Leopard Trek, then Radioshack Nissan Trek, Enovos wishes to express its satisfaction with the events of 2011. It is notable that 2011 was, with the sponsorship of the Leopard-Trek team, very satisfying in terms of visbility, brand image and corporate communications for Enovos Group. In addition the results met expectations.

Unfortunately the 2012 season has not brought the expected results. Looking at the sporting side this is part of the risk of sports sponsorship. However, the image given by the Radioshack Nissan Trek team this year is in no way aligned with the image that Enovos wants to communicate. There have been too many negative aspects since the start of the year. Finally the withdrawal of Fränk Schleck from the 2012 Tour de France, following an abnormal result from an anti-doping control, has brought Enovos to reconsider its partnership with Radioshack Nissan Trek.

From now on the sponsorship will end on 1 August 2012. Enovos strongly deplores the happenings in the last months. All the same, as a socially responsible business, Enovos does not want to continue this partnership, given the values representing the brand image of Enovos are not compatible with the scandals linked to Radioshack Nissan Trek.

That’s my translation, you can download the official version in French. Note the firm tone, the sponsor isn’t creeping away. The company slogan is “Energy for today. Caring for tomorrow” and they’re certainly making an energetic display of escaping: they are running away and making a public show of slamming the door, presumably to make sure everyone gets just how far they want to distance themselves from the team. Enovos could look sneaky for fleeing but they’re making a show of taking control.

Testing, testing

What next?
In the immediate short term it means the team needs new clothing and has to get busy on the team vehicles and website to ensure all mention of Enovos is removed by 1 August.

But it’s far more than a logistical headache. It’s a humiliation for the team’s management. As Enovos admits, sometimes sports sponsorship doesn’t work out because the results don’t come. But we’ve had headlines that go well beyond bad luck

  • Team boss Johan Bruyneel is going to an arbitration hearing over the organised doping within the US Postal team. The same for team doctor Pedro Celaya. Now both are innocent for now but a sponsor will be doing more than a face palm.
  • Several riders have gone public with claims of unpaid wages. A big energy company relies on an image of dependability and security, being linked to an outfit that seemingly flicks its staff is very embarrassing.
  • We’ve also seen riders voicing concerns that if they leave the team they won’t get to race for the rest of the year. Again this is not a advantageous story.
  • Sadly the only “positive” story is Schleck’s adverse analytical finding during the Tour de France for a banned substance.

Remember, Enovos is based in Luxembourg where the Schlecks are big names and the team had plenty of resonance. Even relatively small stories like unpaid wages which might not get traction across the mainstream media in Europe are echoed in full in Luxembourg.

Frank Schleck’s positive story

Has this happened before?
I can’t remember the last time a sponsor quit mid-season since Liberty Seguros quit the sport in 2006. This is not as bad, we’re talking a second tier sponsor but it’s bad for the team and bad for the sport as a whole at a time when we want more sponsorship and funding, not less.

A disastrous year for the team, on and off the road. There has been misfortune but some problems cannot be attributed to bad luck alone. Things always looked under pressure since the forced merger between Radioshack and Leopard last year. We’ve had the team prize in the Tour de France but rightly or wrongly this didn’t look like a collective triumph, rather individuals occupying each high placings.

Nevertheless, it’s very rare to see a sponsor quit mid-way in the year. The team probably won’t lose money but it will mean some logistical expense for the team and ironically the exit of the sponsor means another bad headline for the squad. You’d like to say the season can’t end soon enough for the team but there’s the risky story of Bruyneel’s USADA arbitration hearing in November. Sadly this is bad for the team but it’s not reflecting well on the sport as a whole.

49 thoughts on “Enovos Quits Radioshack-Nissan Team”

  1. “this is bad for the sport”. I beg to differ. I this is a real leap forward for the sport If more sponsors took such a position it would place responsibility for a clean sport back firmly with the team owners and managers.

    • Good point and I agree sponsors need to play a role. It’s no good saying “here’s some money, see you in the VIP car for the Tour de France in 8 months’ time”. My idea was that the news of a sponsor fleeing mid-season will probably reach other potential sponsors and people who work in the field and so sponsoring tennis or golf remains a safer alternative.

      • I get to meet some CEOs as part of my job and know two who are cycling addicts. One is a CEO of a major food and drinks company, the other of a major electronics company. Both said they would not touch a cycling team as the risk of negative publicity was just too much for them. One said he would sponsor a cycling race – a lower risk of taint – and the other currently spends all his company’s marketing dollar on golf (arguably I would say this is a similar demographic to cycling in Anglo countries these days). I wonder if someone at the UCI spends some time with these people to get inside their heads as to what they need to do to get the sponsorship required? I guess Vaughters et al must just approach them ad hoc without much structure behind changing entrenched attitudes?

  2. Under what contractual conditions was Enevos allowed to pull the plug? Did they need a doping case to be able to do that? Or did they have to pay to end the contract premature?

    • I don’t suppose we’ll ever know, as confidentiality provisions will undoubtedly prevail.

      It’s a sad demise – PR-wise, it looks like Frank will get the blame as he seems to have been the final straw, but as IR highlights, that press release was damning on many levels. I guess the UCI can demand that riders and teams sign any number of protocols and policies, but they really are toothless when it comes to team(s) behaviours?

      Didn’t the UCI establish a Directeur Sportif Programme a few years ago? Have any top-tier DSs been through it? Perhaps a meaningful DS qualification/licence (which can be revoked, like a driving licence) is the way forward?

      Sadly, once again it is going to be national-laws (civil employment and contract law in this case) which sorts out professional cycling. It took criminal law to even start PEDs being taken semi-seriously….

      • Apparently Brian Holm (OP – Quick Step) has been doing the DS course. He discusses it in the latest edition of Rouleur magazine. Don’t know about anyone else.

  3. I work in motorsport and can assure you almost every sports contract nowadays will have some kind of misconduct get out clause. Sponsors have no wish to be and cannot afford to be associated with any kind of negative publicity especially anything hinting at doping or drug misuse its very bad news at the tills.
    Stephen_M has in my opinion got it spot on, it IS going to be national/civil law that will have the biggest effect on removing the dopers from cycling, Cycling remains the most tested sport in the world as far as I know.
    Yet for some bizarre reason it has allowed the old guard and some of their attitudes to remain despite admissions of previous guilt, teams still hire known dopers and reoffenders that kind of behaviour sends out all the wrong messages and gives hope to dopers and their accomplice’s.
    Whilst the UCI has done a fair job they could do more, I work with governing bodies almost daily and none of them really want to rock the boat.
    Sky Pro Cycling have now set the bar very high, some other team principals are already talking about setting “talent limits” and “pay structures” just maybe if a few more big sponsors decide to take their money (which is now needed more than ever!) elsewhere we might see some change in attitudes in the teams who up to now have stretched the “we had no idea” defence to the limit in my opinion.

    Sorry but real name withheld for work reasons!

    • You raise a good point about how “Traditional” practices and their advocates carry on in the sport, it’s crazy really.

      I wonder if this effect could begin a fracture the sport and lead to a two-tier, clean-n-rich versus dopey-n-poor teams until the latter fizzle out and there is more confidence in the sport.

      Not that I have the money but if I were to sponsor a team I would be much more willing to invest in a new startup than plough cash in to teams riddled with a history or even a suspicion of using PEDs. I’d probably also be investing more for the lesser risk of getting splattered by the EPO hitting the fan.

      I think SKY and OGE way be the beginning of the turn of the tide…

      • Paul Kimmage wouldn’t share your view of SKY and I don’t know if I’d be so quick to proclaim OGE as pure as the driven snow either. Better than some, certainly, but as of present unworthy of being held up as shining examples of CLEAN pro cycling.

        • Don’t know about Sky but regarding OGE, the optics (at least from the outside) raise some questions:

          Matt White – rode for USPS/Discovery in the Armstrong years. Circumstances surrounding his firing from Garmin were strange. His dissmissal seemed to stem from a referral White made to a rider, Trent Lowe, to a doctor that was not approved by the team. Why was this a sackable offence? What was wrong with that doctor? Why weren’t the existing team doctors able to help Lowe?

          Neil Stephens – rode for years for Once with Manolo “Suitcases Full of Cash for Fuentes” Sainz then onto Festina at the height of their team doping programme, was a DS at Caisse DePargne through all of the Val Verde years (including for the period when the team stood by him in the face of overwhelming evidence that he was a blood doper).

          Obviously, this is all very much circumstantial and viewed through the prism of what I read in the press but there are some hard questions that I think should be asked. Having said that, I am a big OGE fan and White strikes me as being both an excellent DS and a good bloke. I truly hope both he and Stephens have no doping skeletons.

    • Doubtful. RSNT is the only team in the WorldTour that uses Trek bikes. Losing that kind of visibility for one of the world’s largets bicycle manufacturers would be pretty detrimental for them… unless they can work out a deal in which they stop being a title sponsor while still supplying the team its bikes

      • Don’t believe that Trek would not pull the plug. The last Tour Chats had Gary Fisher on as a guest and he made it very clear that Trek were very unhappy.

        Well worth watching.

      • When does Treks’ deal with RSNT expire? Subject to the terms of their contract with RSNT, nothing would stop them switching to another team. The doping positive for Schleck may already give them an option to terminate their contract.

        I suspect there is still a fair amount of goodwill between Trek and Bruyneel, not to mention the influence of Armstrong behind the scenes.

    • No. They’ve ducked the slings and arrows fired at Armstrong/Bruyneel all these years, why become sensitive now?

      This team looks doomed however.

  4. Its good to see sponsors bare their teeth and pull the plug on teams when positive tests / adverse findings occur with their team’s rider(s). I wonder if Enovos where looking for a way to jump ship after Bruyneel’s USADA case came to light. I think Radioshack will be lucky to complete this season.Bruyneel’s teams structure has been unorthodox since Astana with the Contador and Armstrong head to head @ TDF 2010.
    Maybe all sponsors contracts should have mandatory void clauses (that do not give the option to continue sponsorship) regarding positive doping results. The UCI should revoke licenses for any team whose riders test positive with immediate effect and make guilty dopers pay wages for all their team members. I think at this stage 2 year bans aren’t penal enough for riders, its time to introduce 4 year bans.
    If our sport wants to continue to attract sponsors for the long-term, the sport needs to create a situation where doping will become to big a risk.

  5. the chickens come home to roost …
    a dreadful, lackluster year so far with nothing to put on the mantle …
    high profile personnel, both past and present, under investigation …
    2 star riders not riding much at all, all things considered …
    the available star rider gets popped for a positive result in THE high profile event for the sport …
    2 star riders (allegedly) looking elsewhere to see who they can milk for next years salary …
    present riders not being paid and penalized for complaining (Fulsang) …

    the writing is on the wall in 40 foot high letters … technicians are on the way to pull the plug on life support
    sad for the great riders like Horner, Levi knew enough to get out … Frandy? meh, they’ll be fine, every one likes prima donnas … Trek? onto the next team …

  6. Hmmm, I’m kind of split on this. On one hand I agree with what Enovos did. Lord knows I would not want to be associated with RSNT over the last few months. And, I think this is just step one of many steps leading to the dissolving of RSNT. But on the other hand, I’m not sure how I feel about someone bowing out of a contract half way through. Its one thing to step away at the end of the year, but smack dab in the middle of the season? I wonder if there is any breech of contract issue here. I guess those above are saying there is probably a misconduct clause. I think this sets a bad precedent for other sponsors. Its probably not that big of a deal to have a third or fourth tier sponsor to give the deuces, but what if Lampre or Cofidis decided they had enough mid season?

    As for the position of is this bad for cycling, I have to say that it is. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how cleaning up the sport will bring in more sponsorship because you won’t see as many PR risks. Maybe I’m a pessimist but I’m just not sure. My fear is that you’ll see sponsors leave faster than new ones get in. I’ve said it before, but when the most successful team a year ago, and the team of a grand tour winner can’t secure sponsorship money, and one of the more successful teams (Garmin) has changed sponsors about 5 times in the las year (Cervelo, Barracuda, Sharp) I feel that ANY money leaving the sport is a bad thing.

  7. Have to disagree when you say “A disastrous year for the team”. They did just win the team classification at the Tour and were the only team besides Sky to have the yellow jersey. Considering the form Fabian had early in the season it is not hard to believe RSNT may have been classics and gold medal winners without his two unfortunate crashes. Certainly not a good year, but Sky has made sure most of the other teams have not achieved a great amount of success.

    As a fan of the team it seems to me Johan Bruyneel may be the real issue. From the outside it appears he does not get along with many of the riders (Schlecks, Fuglsang) and the team performed best when he was not around at the TdF.

    • Not a disaster? Those are some very low standards for a team run by the guy who wrote (what was it now?) a book titled WE MAY AS WELL WIN or something like that. I don’t think he was writing about the “coveted” team prize at LeTour….they didn’t care enough for the helmet sponsor to cough up all-yellow brain buckets! This so-called mastermind was supposed to move the Schlecks to the top step on the Tour podium. I wonder about the Radio Shack bigwig who greenlighted the sponsorship of this team? Is HE still employed by the electronics retailer? He oughta be at a retail store asking “do you want batteries with that?”

  8. I am going to go with a slightly different direction with this topic and attack the corporation(s) currently involved with pro cycling. It seems to me that corporate sponsors (and not just those in cycling) love to play this “look how responsible we are” song and dance while pointing the finger at their current team. But ask yourself this, how many of these corporations run a truly responsible business model?

    Sure, it’s easy to say that giving money to a team that is having some issues is bad for marketing and public relations – I won’t disagree with that point. But how many consumers decide to pull their funding from these companies when their corruption is made public? If we did what the sponsors do, companies would fold as quickly as an under-funded cycling team.

    This isn’t good for the sport no matter how you look at it.

    • That’s an attack at consumers as much as an attack at corporations. And I agree, we consumers are the sponsors of companies, and it wouldn’t hurt if we made our money do the talking a bit more.

      On topic, this shows exactly why most sports are not so keen on strict doping controls. Only bad publicity comes from it, so let’s just sweep it under the rug and pretend everything is fine. I’m not an insider at all, but I have the feeling there are still many in cycling that try to stick to that same tactic as much as possible. Let’s hope they die out quickly and cycling can become an example to others.

      • I suppose it is a bit of a dig at the consumer, AK. That wasn’t my intent, however. I just wanted to highlight the hypocrisy that exists at the corporate level.

        Cycling should be seen as an example to others. I have enjoyed the sport for many years as both a spectator and a competitor and have been very upset at the imbalance in doping controls compared to other sports. The sad fact is that as long as there are PEDs and people willing to use them, doping will continue. We can only hope that the sport continues to rid itself of the old guard.

    • Good point. BUT the multi-national corporations (as in Olympic Games sponsors) are the ones who forced the creation of WADA and for me that’s a good thing. They grew tired of constant doping scandals wrecking their efforts to improve their worldwide image. Even if they were somehow great operations with perfectly ethical behavior, they looked bad when their name as associated with the cheating scandals. Maybe we now need a WADA for the banks and hedge fund scumbags?

  9. The main doping problem in sports are the dopes that believe clean sport exists.

    Average people increasingly abuse pharma, so its hypocritical to decrie dirty cyclists. Also, shelves of GNC filled with ephedrine or roud like stuff. It even says on package. If it simulates a banned substance then that is intent to cheat imo.

    Open sport. Let real doctors do their jobs. Push human performance to the absolute limit.

    • This is very true. Other sports get a free pass and cycling gets scrutinized so heavily, it’s laughable. European football, NFL, tennis? I challenge anyone to name a clean sport where there’s money involved. There aren’t any…

      • I would go a step further and challenge anyone to name a sport that punishes its athletes more than cycling. Look at the recent case in NASCAR where AJ tests positive and gets off by agreeing to go into rehab (interestingly enough they have their own NASCAR only rehab program). While Frank tests positive for a rather bizarre substance, considering the time and circumstances, and is facing a 2 year ban. The difference is that other sports governing organizations are concerned with protecting the team sponsors and making sure the sport is as profitable as possible for team owners, while the UCI cares about its personal sponsors and nothing for teams that make up its sport. I am in no way endorsing doping, but I am strongly criticizing how the UCI handles it.

        • Yes, you’re right. Another good point. In other sports doping is a joke. The hang ’em high crowd trawling cycling blogs and forums haven’t a clue.

        • Hiding the truth and “protecting” the sponsors is EXACTLY how we got into this problem. It was pretty much under-the-rug until Festina in 1998. That exposed how corrupt the UCI was and had been for years. Demands to finally clean things up (or at least try) resulted in the formation of WADA.

        • That is why all doping issues should be removed from the different federations and given to WADA. They could then coordinate the effort equally in all different sports, and then the federations could do what they are supposed to dom support the atlethes.

  10. Enovos is an energy company mainly active in Luxembourg and a little bit in Germany. What they care about is the luxembourgish market and their image in Luxembourg.

    The doping story and the non-payment of wages is just one of the problems. One of the big news stories in Luxembourg right now is the Livange/Wickrange scandal, and Flavio Becca, the owner of RSNT, is very close to the center of it. All sorts of information on his finances and his way of doing business is coming out, and it ain’t pretty.

    Once a team only makes the headlines for the wrong reasons and the two national heroes are going to leave it anyway, what is the point of staying for a company like Enovos?

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