A Day With The Sponsors

I awoke and padded my way to the bathroom across the Quick Step flooring. A flick of the Hansgrohe thermostatic valve and the shower hissed into life. As I waited for the hot water to arrive I glanced at the tiles fixed in place by the Soudal adhesive and grouting.

As I massaged in the Alpecin shampoo I knew I could afford to linger because I’d switched to Direct Energie so the hot water was cheaper than ever.

Time for breakfast. I’d visited a Jumbo supermarket the other day and began to use some of the supplies. As I sipped a Segafredo coffee the Bora extractor fan sucked the vapours from my cooking faster than a UCI commissaire eliminating a deviant sprinter while in the background Sky news played on television. Over breakfast I opened my mail, a statement from my insurance provider Ag2r La Mondiale the only post of the day.

It was time to go to work. The car is out of action so I can’t drive but I’ve bought the spare parts from Oscaro. After putting on my Katusha clothing it was time to decide which bike would match the outfit? I went for the Merida and left the Scott, Trek and Cannondale behind in the garage. Too many bikes? Never and that new BMC looks nice but I checked my Fortuneo banking app and the lack of cash means I’d need a loan from Cofidis. Maybe I’ll buy a lottery ticket with LottoNL, Lotto or FDJ and hope for the best.

The short commute took me into Belgium where temporary traffic lights held me up, ahead workers from Wanty were spreading Groupe Gobert tarmac in place.

Lunchtime was spent dreaming about a holiday. Spain would be nice later this year, some warm weather in the autumn so maybe I could find a cheap deal with Sunweb which reminded me I should check if that Movistar SIM still works. Maybe I could further, take a flight with Emirates to Abu Dhabi and then connect to another flight.

Enough… more creative readers could find ways to crowbar references from the remaining sponsors into this fictional account:

  • Astana, the Kazakh state and a variety of related companies
  • Bahrain, sponsored by the Bahrain state and ruling royal family
  • Dimension Data, an IT services company from South Africa owned by Japan’s NTT
  • Drapac, a US-Australian real estate investment firm
  • Orica, producer of chemicals for the mining industry such as explosives

The point here is that there are many sponsors trying to appeal to the viewers and followers of the Tour de France but their reach varies. Trek or Scott bikes can be found around the world, the same as Segafredo coffee or Hansgrohe gear for your bathroom. But Belgians can’t buy an FDJ lottery ticket just as the French can’t buy a Belgian lottery ticket so sponsorship here is limited to local audiences.

Other sponsors have different aims. You’re very unlikely to be in the market for some Orica produce and if you were there are cheaper ways to reach this niche purchaser segment. Instead Orica wants to be seen supporting an Australian team as a means to boost its image after several environmental scandals.

Similarly you’re unlikely to sign up for Dimension Data’s software and services but if you’re in the IT industry then sponsorship opens up a lot of VIP access, you can be wined and dined during the Tour de France or go for rides with the team members and things like this help ink deals worth millions. This VIP aspect applies all over the place, Hansgrohe will offer their key clients a visit to the Tour de France or a spring classic. FDJ for example gets their logo in the media in July but the team also sends riders to meet lottery ticket sellers and hosts functions for them. So often a part of sponsorship is not to reach the general public but targeted customers.

You can’t by Bahrain but at least you’ve heard of it now, the team helps link the country to images of sport, action and travel. Astana is similar but perhaps the odd one out? A big reason behind the sponsorship is to make people take a fresh look at this oil-rich central Asian state. But they’ve got lots of Kazakh riders, several Italians and a couple of Danes rather than the United Colors of Benetton approach where teams aim to build a roster from a variety of nations in order to reach into each market. Similarly the team’s image still needs work, it’s been associated with several scandals over the years which doesn’t help that fresh look approach although maybe only the niche cycling audience reads about the UCI auditing them while the general public sees the victory salutes.

Does sponsorship work?
Yes. How much it’s worth is the question, sometimes it can increase sales, other times it generates brand notoriety. When Cervélo sponsored the CSC team the company owner Gerard Vroomen said bike sales didn’t really increase.

Maybe you’ve done your bit, you were in the market for some laminated flooring and went for some Quick Step or if you wanted some Italian coffee in the supermarket maybe you’d reached for the Segafredo over their bitter rival Lavazza because of the cycling connection? But taste and preferences are bound to matter more. One notable point in cycling is the relative lack of rivalry: you can support a team without having loathe all the others and correspondingly you’re open to buying from a range of sponsors rather than boycotting them out of tribal allegiance “your” team.

The Tour de France is particularly important, it was only a quick line in one of the Three Domestiques podcast from Dan Jones, the man behind the Backstage Pass videos, but he said the Tour represents 80% of a team’s annual media exposure. This actual metric varies from team to team, a Belgian team will get extra exposure during the spring classics for example but the point is the Tour is a vital moment. Which is why you have to feel for the managers of Bora-Hansgrohe now that both Peter Sagan and Rafał Majka have left the race although at least they enjoyed a stage win from Sagan.

Participation in the Tour de France can generate a virtuous circle. Wanty-Groupe Gobert have added more names to the jersey, the same for Fortuneo-Oscaro. FDJ’s shorts sport the logo of Le Gaulois, a poultry supplier, this July.

There are plenty more sponsors. All the other bike brands, clothing suppliers, shoes, sunglasses, energy bars and of course those staged Netflix social media mentions from plenty of riders in the peloton. Plus there’s the giant publicity caravan that runs ahead of the race.

Wanty-Groupe Gobert might get lots of airtime but if they’re reaching millions on TV, few will be shopping for their goods and services; perhaps you might notice their Cube bikes and RH helmets. Other brands do use pro cycling and especially the Tour de France to reach the general public and they also use the sport for VIP opportunities to wine and dine key customers, clients and staff. Cycling can reach big audiences, especially in rural parts and sponsorship is rarely divisive, to back one team does rarely generates hostile reactions from fans of other teams. Sponsorship works but it remains local, there few blue-chip multinational sponsors of teams. Instead these sponsor the race instead with the likes of Volkswagen, Nestlé, McCain and Orange sponsoring the Tour de France itself rather than a team.

47 thoughts on “A Day With The Sponsors”

  1. Sorry to be picky, but I don’t think Emirates fly to Abu Dhabi; they go to Dubai. Etihad are the Abu Dhabi carrier. You could probably get a bus to transfer to Abu Dhabi, though, or even to Bahrain.

  2. Most sponsors are unknown in the UK, which adds an air of exotic mystery to the mundane. I got sadly excited when I saw Pelforth beer in France a couple of years ago and their sponsorship dates back to the 60s!

  3. Astana is host of the Expo 2017 which is currently ongoing. And since mining is a big business in Kazakhstan I bet Orica representatives with a bit of chance can be met there. Although Bahrain decided to stay away.

  4. Every year you do a discussion of sponsors, which is always appreciated. But your fictional day lead in today was the best. Very nice! Thank you

  5. when i am abroad, and this means France, Italy, Spain I always try to use current and past cycling sponsors, I shop in Conad, withdraw cash in Caja Rural, rent Europcar , that’s my hommage to all these that contributed to cycling.
    Otherwise I am pretty resistant to ads ( I ‘d like to believe)

    • I feel the same way, but of the 5 sponsors Inrng lists at the end, I am pretty sure there are at 3 I’d rather not support (even if I could). They’re the ones who have no business interest in the sponsorship (just want to improve their image), and also no interest in cycling per se. Seems like there could be a self-fulfilling aspect to cycling’s “bad reputation” if it continues to rely on sponsors with image problems. The goal should be for national lotteries to be the “bottom of the barrel.” But welcome!

  6. interesting note about the lack of supported rivalry in cycling. i think in some sports sponsoring a team could turn out badly unless your market closely matches the teams fan base as supporters of rival teams will be opposed to you. in cycling i think we’re mostly fans of the sport first and foremost rather than any rider/team and will look positively on sponsors of most any cycling team, race or whatever.

    • This stuck out to me – “One notable point in cycling is the relative lack of rivalry: you can support a team without having loathe all the others and correspondingly you’re open to buying from a range of sponsors rather than boycotting them out of tribal allegiance “your” team.”

      In Scottish football, for instance, support of Rangers and Celtic is so strong that sponsors feared boycott by the other supporters if they sponsored only one. So for years in the 90s and 2000s (and maybe still today, I’m lazy) they shared a kit manufacturer and shirt sponsor.

  7. That was the best post opening!

    Thanks from those who don’t live in Europe and sometimes wonder what all those companies do.

    But it is striking that not many big global brands sponsor cycling teams (bike companies aside). I guess it shows that the sport is still very much a niche thing.

    Again, great and informative post.


    Sergio (a Brazilian in the US)

    • It has nothing to do with living overseas. If you live in Germany, you normally also have no clue what Wanty, Ag2R. QuickStep, Fortuneo etc. do. They are on local markets or very specialised business fields most people never come in touch with.. I learn about most of them also only from INRNG.

  8. Off-topic but I’m still in abject shock that there was a period where the team now known as Lotto NL-Jumbo was, of all things, Team WordPerfect

  9. I wonder why some american teams are racing in Europe when their sponsors dont have any stakes in European Market. Perhaps it’s not just about the sponsors?

    • Any particular team in mind. United Healthcare might have ambitions to get a slice of healthcare in Europe but the bike sponsor and other backers can enjoy the publicity plus the team can test themselves against different opposition, race on more narrow roads etc.

  10. I looked at several specialty beer import stores for Kwaremont after their association with the Tour of Flanders, but was unsuccessful.

    I did notice a lot of roadside fans wearing Direct Energie shirts on the Mont du Chat the other day, so clearly the publicity caravan had done its work there.

    • It’s always interesting how people are thrown the clothing and wear it, see how many people in the finish line have yellow LCL hats for example. I suspect if someone came up to you in a mall or a market with a yellow hat you might not even take it, let alone wear it but in the atmosphere of the Tour everyone seems happy to take part in the marketing.

    • I found it in a branch of Plus in Maastricht when I was over there last september. Was excellent drinking for the Classics Season, and the glass is lovely too.

  11. As someone who is easily distracted. Team kit is always what attracts me to following A rider especially on a mad breakaway day. From Lucho In Cafe Colombia kit and beautiful riding style, but more so of Fabio Parra and his all round grinta, it was foremost the team kit that drew me. When on the odd occasion I drink coffee. It has to be Colombian blends. I miss the carrots in the bunch, but these days I try and ridevin the Basque as often as I can. I treasure my collection of Orange tees. I was drawn to UHC I like the way they race. Then I was out in the bike one day, chewing things over like you do, and thought why are they so keen to be at a race like the Tour of Britain. Obvious not being that bright, the penny dropped. On Astana, for me i bear them no I’ll wind. I’m sure if they were given more airtime behind the scenes in the Anglo world you’d be surprised how helpful and decent the guys working on the team are. A few years ago me and a French lad were riding the stages very early in the mornings and as you’d know, it’s nightmare trying to get anywhere near the final km let alone ride over the finish line. I forgot which year let alone what stage it was up round St. Malo way, but there was no way we were getting through. When one of the Astana team car drivers got us thru, gave us some real food and bottles. It was a genuine moment of re-evaluating my perception of how much we judge people onlybon certain issues. Now if you don’t mind I need to use up my voucher fir a baguette and make a Fleury Michon sandwich

  12. “I opened my mail, a statement from my insurance provider Ag2r La Mondiale the only post of the day”
    No corporate circulars, no social media updates, no lolcat mail? Heaven!

  13. I am sad to say that sponsorship clearly does work on me. I’ve already been admiring the lovely Cube bike on display by team Wanty and have previously bought a Rapha top, only being aware of the brand after seeing Sky on the tour. Until I read this blog I didn’t know that Segafredo was a coffee producer, I will now, in all likelihood, try and purchase a cup of their coffee to see if it is actually better than Lavazza.

    I am utterly shameless.

    • It was being wowed by a Lapierre in FDJ colours parked up at the start of Paris Roubaix that rekindled my interest in road riding as a participant rather than just a spectator (having spent ~20 years just mountain biking).

      I bought and 6 years later still have a Lapierre Xelius…

  14. Yes, great lead-in, bravo! Note, though, instead of spare parts from Oscaro (I’d wondered about them), you might have simply purchased a new car from Astana Motors (worldwide sales are up now that the tour is on?). Maybe the oil business means that Emirates will get you there.

    • Would be nice if Jumb sent a box of stroopwafels or BMC offered a frame… but alas.

      For what it’s worth every day emails pour in from companies, brands, PR agencies and spammers asking to include links, product reviews, mentions, keywords and other nonsense and it’s all turned away. It’s been eye-opening to see how relentless this hidden industry is.

  15. Wondering how many of the sponsors are in reality doing it because the founder/CEO /owner loves cycling.

    My hunch is it’s at least 70% primarily ego or love of the sport. Which I find if not a more noble, but at least a more romantic notion.

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