Pro Team Sponsors: What Do They Do?

There are 18 World Tour teams and 21 Pro Continental teams. One difference from other sports is that cycling teams come with naming rights and usually they are named after the sponsor. But who are these sponsors and what do they do?

You might know about Garmin or Cannondale but do you know what Qhubeka, Orica or Vacansoleil are about? What’s the link between Frano Pellizotti and Hello Kitty? Why do Ag2r ride in brown shorts? All this and more…

Ag2r La Mondiale: an insurance and savings company. Note the team name is not two sponsors but Ag2r La Mondiale is the name of one company. The firm offers retirement savings, healthcare insurance and other forms of social insurance. And why are the shorts brown? Well the corporate logo is blue and brown but note the company’s Parisian headquarters are located at 35 boulevard Brune. Brown Boulevard.

Astana: not a company but a city, a nation. Astana is the capital city of Kazakhstan and the team is funded by the state to promote the country, a bid to counter the “Borat” image if you like. The jersey features the names of various state-owned companies. Note team manager Vinokourov was on a winning list in the last parliamentary elections, showing the close links between the team and the state.

FDJ: is short for La Française des Jeux or “French Games” and is the French state lottery with regular draws, scratchcards and more. The sponsor has backed a team since 1997 but almost quit in the wake of doping scandals but courageously decided to stay in the sport on the condition the team rode clean. This meant lean years in terms of results although we now know why. The Fondation FDJ also supports other supports like other nations the lottery funding helps cover Olympic sports

BMC Racing: a brand of Swiss bicycles. The team is registered in the US but funded by the Swiss francs of Andy Rihs, a billionaire cycling enthusiast who owns BMC and other bike brands. Registering the team in the US helps the team to tap this giant, lucrative market whilst trading on the image of Swiss quality.

Euskaltel – Euskadi : Euskaltel is a regional telephone operator in the Basque region, known as Euskadi in the Basque language. Euskaltel has had a tough time of late with the Spanish courts imposing a €222 million fine last year but this is being appealed. The region is semi-autonomous and retains a strong separatist movement. The team is one way to affirm the region’s identity.

But is it compatible with Strava?

Garmin – Sharp: Garmin is the US satellite navigation company, well it is from Kansas but registered in Switzerland. It was founded by Gary Burrell and Min Kao which explains the Gar-Min name. Some have questioned the company’s future in a world where smartphones replace many GPS devices but the cycling and sports equipment is proving to be a big new area. Sharp are a Japanese electronics company but the sponsorship is with the European subsidiary as the firm wants to promote its brand in Europe. The team cleverly has a large screen TV incorporated in the side of the team bus.

Orica – Greenedge: Orica is an Australian company that makes explosives and other speciality chemicals for the mining industry. It bought Nobel, the Norweigan dynamite firm several years ago. Australia has been a big part of the global mining boom and the company does not have a great reputation with explosive disasters as well as several fines for environmental damage but sponsoring a cycling team is seen as a way to put something back. Greenedge meanwhile is a holding name as the team searches for a co-sponsor, green as in the Australia but also the environment and edge as cutting edge.

Lampre – Merida: Lampre make rolled, laminated steel. If this sounds unfamiliar take a look at your washing machine or fridge and the white steel around it. The Italian firm supplies the “white good” industry with the white steel and has operations around the world. It’s been in the sport since 1991 with Colnago Lampre and then in 1992 the Lampre team was born with the blue and fuchsia jersey that we still see today. Merida is a Taiwanese bike manufacturer linked to Specialized that’s keen to make a name for itself in the pro peloton.

Cannondale: the bike brand has had its ups and downs. In the 1990s it supplied bikes to the Saeco team in Italy and was famous for its oversized alu tubing. The company moved into motorcycles, offering innovative lightweight offroad bikes but this was a commercial disaster and the brand was bought by Dorel, a Canadian conglomerate that also owns Sugoi, Schwinn and GT as well as a range of brands supplying infant products like Bébéconfort.

Full gas

Argos – Shimano: Argos is a Dutch oil company but don’t think of oil rigs, think gas stations and tanker trucks as the firm sells and distributes diesel, heating oil, petrol and lubricants in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. It was recently bought by a Russian firm but I’m told the takeover changes nothing and the sponsorship continues. Shimano is obvious but note their European base in the Netherlands which explains this Dutch connection.

Lotto Belisol Team : Lotto is the Belgian state lottery and like FDJ in France, has the monopoly in Belgium. Founded in 1934 to raise funds for the sick in the Belgian Congo, the company has continously sponsored a pro team since 1985 although at times it has been the number two name, for example Omega Pharm – Lotto a couple of years ago. It also sponsors the Stanard Liège football team. Belisol make alu and wooden windows and doors and has branched out into domestic renewable energy products like solar energy panels.

Movistar Team: Movistar is a mobile telecoms operator owned by Spanish national telecoms firm Telefonica with operations in Spain and Latin America and also in several European countries under the 02 brand. It’s a giant company but the pro team is one of the smallest budget teams in the World Tour. Be sure to pronounce the team name right, it is not “movie star”

Omega Pharma – Quickstep: contrary to the name Omega Pharma is not a pharmaceuticals company. Instead it sells para-pharmaceutical products like wound dressings, vitamin supplements and other products find in pharmacies. Quickstep is a brand of laminated flooring that might seem indissociable from Belgian cycling but in fact it’s owned by US company Mohawk Industries.

Blanco Pro Cycling: “your name here” as the team formerly known as Rabobank is hunting for a sponsor. Rabobank quit the mens’ pro cycling at the end of 2012 but fulfilled its contract by leaving enough money to fund the team. It says something that the sponsor prefers to pay for the team but not have its name linked.

Radioshack – Leopard: Radioshack is a US electronics retailer that came into the sport to support Lance Armstrong’s comeback. Surprisingly they’ve lasted longer than the Texan although the company frequently attracts headlines about being bought out. Leopard is another holding name, supplied by Luxembourg real estate millionaire Flavio Becca. I gather a new sponsor will be announced later this spring.

Team Sky: Sky is a satellite television channel with operations in Britain, Germany and Italy. The brand is ultimately controlled by Newscorp and the cosmopolitan Murdoch family. The team is partly owned by British and Italian Sky which helps to explain the presence of several Italian riders and is surely an additional incentive as Wiggins targets the Giro.

Team Saxo – Tinkoff: Saxo is a currency brokerage from Denmark that offers software platforms to the banking industry. Tinkoff is a Russian bank and credit card issuer that operates online only, copying the model of Capital One in the US.

Vacansoleil – DCM: Vacansoleil is a Dutch operator of holiday camps across Europe and the name is play on vacances and soleil, French for holidays and sunshine. They have camping sites in France and beyond. DCM is a company selling garden products, notably soil and plant food. Note this is big business in the Netherlands where the flower industry is huge and supplies much of Europe.

Pro Continental teams
Accent Jobs – Wanty: Accent is an employment agency in Belgium whilst Wanty is a construction company.

Androni bike

Androni Giocattoli – Venezuela: giocattoli is Italian for toys and Androni makes a range of plastic toys under licence including a Hello Kitty lawnmower. Venezuela is of course the South American nation and the team has recruited several riders from here.

Bardiani Valvolve – CSF Inox: two names but the same company, Bardiani makes steel valves for the food industry. The next time you see TV footage of a food factory with liquids being pumped and poured as products move along conveyor belts it might feature Bardiani’s valves or CSF’s steel piping.

Bretagne – Séché Environnement: Bretagne is the cycling-mad region of north-west France that juts out into the Atlantic whilst Séché is a recycling company that manages waste and other products.

Caja Rural: a Spanish banking brand, it covers over 70 different small banks run on a cooperative basis.

CCC Polsat: CCC is a chain of shoe shops in Poland whilst Polsat is satellite TV channel.

Champion System Pro Cycling: makes custom cycle clothing for clubs and teams.

Cofidis: is a French consumer credit company offering loans in France, Belgium and Spain. It concentrates on the sub-prime segment and has drawn criticism for aggressive tactics.

Colombia: is a quasi-national Colombian team but the funding is diverse with the national government making a contribution via the Coldesportes (Colombia Sports) agency and then a range of co-sponsors chipping in funding and equipment.

Europcar: is a privately-owned vehicle rental company with operations around the world. The green brand is a common sight at airports and beyond and in France you can spot the likes of Thomas Voeckler painted on the side of rental vans.

IAM Cycling: Independent Asset Management is a Swiss fund management company that has focussed on private funds but is moving to sell its funds to the general public.

Crelan – Euphony: Crelan is the new name for Landbouwcrediet (“land-build-credit”) a bank offering savings and mortgages. Euphony is a telecoms reseller offering mobile phones and broadband in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Qhubeka bike
Meets the UCI’s 6.8kg minimum weight rule

NetApp – Endura: NetApp is a Californian company offering data storage and other IT services. Endura is a Scottish cycle clothing manufacturer.

Team MTN Qhubeka: MTN is a mobile phone operator from South Africa with operations across Africa and beyond. The continent often lacks the infrastructure of traditional telecoms and MTN has grabbed a big share of the mobile market. Qhubeka is a charity project in South Africa to get people cycling. It helps rural communities by giving bicycles to children in return for work done to improve their environment and their community, this way the kids can get to school or provide improved access to healthcare.

Bon appetit!

Sojasun: is a French brand of soya-based food products from drinks to snacks to other healthfoods.

Team Novonordisk – Type 1: Novo Nordisk is a Danish pharmaceutical company with a range of insulin products and it is funding a pro team comprised only of diabetic athletes as a way to show the condition need not prevent an active life.

Topsport Vlaanderen – Baloise: Topsport is a Flemish sports foundation funded by the regional government and is helping younger riders in the pro careers. Baloise is a Swiss insurance and savings company.

United Healthcare: a US healthcare insurance provider.

Vini Fantini: a brand of wines from Italy. The same company as Vini Farnese last year, now the team promotes Fantini wines.

Rusvelo: is essentially the Russian track cycling program with a road team to allow the endurance athletes to race on the road and is funded by the Russian government.

Katusha: is the abbreviated version of Ekaterina, the Russian version of Katherine and the name of a famous Soviet wartime folk song in Russia which still gets patriotic hearts stirring today. In English you’d call them Team Kathy but there’s nothing diminutive about the sponsors: Gazprom and Itera are energy giants and Ростехнологии / Rostechnologii is a Russian state agency designed to fund and control various technology and defence companies making this a team funded from the heart of the Kremlin.

48 thoughts on “Pro Team Sponsors: What Do They Do?”

  1. The Euskadi of Euskaltel-Euskadi is different this year. The foundation is the owner of the continental team Euskadi and it was the owner of the world tour license untill 2012:

    Now, Euskaltel is the owner of the license and the name Euskadi refers to the basque region (basque government and smaller regional governments put the money):

  2. well, land equals land and bouw mean to build, but landbouw means agriculture or farming, the french name, used in the Walloon part of Belgium, is Credit Agricole

  3. Great to see all of this in one place! Themes I see regarding types of sponosrs: financial services, communications, state/region, tech / IT, lottery (which could fit under state/region). If Sharp can follow on the heels of Garmin’s success in expanding its brand and sales in Europe, that would be great. At last year’s (then named) Garmin-Cervélo team presentation, a Garmin rep spoke about how they became a sponsor to expand in Europe, and they met their goal. How wonderful it would be for the sport if all sponsors achieved the benefits Garmin has from sponsorship.

  4. Great Post with lots of info . Whilst The Italian Air Force attend the Giro dÌtalia , using it to recruit and giving weather reports for RAI TV , i was unaware that there was an Astana connection ?

    Looking forward to Napoli when i will investigate further .

  5. It is worth noting that Dariusz Milek, the owner of CCC, is an ex cyclist and is still tied very strongly to the sport. He has bankrolled many road and MTB teams for years in the country.

    • One of the wealthiest Pole. There was a good story about him in a series describing how Polish typhoons built their fortunes. In a cycling days we has selling out trophies. He was assessing which trophy had the most market potential and aimed at respective place at the podium. Sometimes trophy won for 3rd place was the best to trade in. Often he had to withdraw from stage races on last day to find time to close all his deals. As he ended his career young there were all typical scenarios afterwards : ton of lollipops to Budapest then back with 200 frying pans, next to Berlin to buy 150 tape recorders etc etc.

  6. Note that Sky operates in Ireland too, a small market compared to the others, but much of it is uncabled, so it has a large market share for pay TV.

    • Thanks Christian. My piece above is not original in that we can all find out these things but they’ve done a good word-for-word translation of my piece, it’s plagiarism. At least a link or credit from their site would be polite.

      Nevermind, this blog gets more visits a month than the entire population of Luxembourg.

  7. While that explains AG2R’s brown shorts, why must they be see through in the sunlight? I wince every time one of the riders gets out of the saddle!

  8. Vini Fantini: a brand of wines from Italy.

    That’s old school, a throwback to the days it was very usual for sports teams to be sponsored by alcohol and tobacco companies. I remember a Belgian cycling team that was sponsored by Duvel, the strong beer. When I looked them up it turned out to be even better: Duvel was a co-sponsor, the main sponsor was La William mayonaise!

    • A great combination. They could link up with Farm Frites who were sponsoring a decade ago.

      Note wine on the back of the Orica-Greenedge shorts, it’s not a named sponsor but the team has Michelton Wineries as a co-sponsor.

  9. What struck me the most about this piece is that scary video clip at the very end! The audience act like someone has a gun behind their backs or is holding their children hostage. Smile! Sing! Clap along or else…

  10. Nice to see that the African team is really trying to make a difference to people’s lives at grass roots level and improving quality of life in ways that most USA/European cycling followers take for granted. Hopefully it will also give more African cyclists a route in to professional cycling – it could be exciting to see in decades to come what could happen if tallented African endurance athletes turned to cycling…

  11. Katusha (Team Kathy) – true, there’s nothing diminutive about the name. And anyone who undesrstands the Eastern European spirit knows how powerful the name is.

  12. great piece, thanks much.

    re Argos-Shimano, this often confuses people (outside the sport) here in the UK.

    The oil distribution firm doesn’t operate here; instead we have a popular catalogue-shopping firm of the same name, with shops in every high street. Very well known, hence the confusion.

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