Pro Team Sponsors: What Do They Do?

With the new season about to start do you know your Soudal from your Sky, your Michelton from your Movistar? Here’s an A-Z primer on the World Tour team sponsors for 2018 and what they do.

Ag2r La Mondiale: an insurance and savings company based in Paris. Note the team name is not two sponsors because Ag2r La Mondiale is the name of one company. The firm sells pension plans, healthcare and other forms of social insurance. The firm has grown in stature in recent years and is about to become one of France’s largest insurance firms by merging with another insurer called Matmut. It is mutually-owned and the team places a matching publicity slant on the collective ahead of the individual. The distinctive kit features those brown shorts but there’s a poetic side as the blue and brown represent terre et ciel, or heaven and earth.

  • Title sponsor since 2000 and the team was founded in 1992 as Chazal

Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan, a gas-rich former Soviet state that’s the size of Western Europe. The team is funded by the state sovereign wealth fund Samruk which sort of translates as “Self Seed” and the team rides to promote the country, a bid to counter the “Borat” image of Kazakhstan and pesky reports about dictatorship and poor press freedom. Has it worked? That depends, repeated doping scandals have given them a dire reputation among many who follow the sport closely but the wider, larger audience will be more familiar with their triumphs.

  • Title sponsor since 2007 when the team was born out of the ashes of the Liberty Seguros team which was engulfed by Operation Puerto

Bahrain-Merida is sponsored by the eponymous island monarchy from the Persian gulf with team owner Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa (pictured) a member of the ruling royal family. It’s got state partners from the oil company, an aluminium smelter and other agencies. Merida is a Taiwanese bike manufacturer listed on the Taiwanese stock exchange and run by the Tseng family, it started out making Raleigh bikes under licence and now owns 49% of Specialized but like many Asian manufacturers it wants to manufacturer and sell its own goods to enjoy higher margins. The team has various other Italian sponsors assembled by Alex Carrera (pictured background), a rider agent now the team’s general manager. On launch, as if to prove the team’s Italian DNA they have a website with an animated home page that plays sounds.

  • New in 2017
  • BMC Racing Team: a brand of Swiss bicycles. Once upon a time, or 1994 to be precise, these initials stood for the plain title of Bicycle Manufacturing Company. The team is registered in the US but funded by the Swiss francs of Andy Rihs, a billionaire cycling enthusiast who owns BMC and furthers the Swiss side with many a Swiss rider from Stefan Küng to Michael Schär plus there’s watch-maker Tag-Heuer as a co-sponsor too. Registering the team in the US helps the team to tap this large, lucrative market while trading on the image of Swiss quality.

    • The team began as BMC Racing in 2007

    Bora-Hansgrohe is a German team sponsored by two manufacturers. Bora makes kitchen extractor fans with their selling point being that the fans are located beside the cooking hob rather than above them. Hansgrohe make plumbing parts like taps and shower heads and if they have a Germany history since being founded by Herr Hans Grohe in 1901 are these days majority owned by US conglomerate Masco. The silent partner is Specialized, the bike brand was instrumental in helping the team secure Peter Sagan and their rise into the World Tour last season.

    • The team started in 2010 as Team NetApp

    EF Education First-Drapac powered by Cannondale is a mouthful and likely to be typed out in full only once this year. EF Education First is the rescue sponsor that stepped in last autumn to keep the team on the road. EF is a language education business that was started in Sweden and now HQ’d in Switzerland. Drapac is Michael Drapac, an Australian real estate investor who is now trying to conquer the West Coast of the USA. Cannondale is a bike brand belonging to Canadian firm Dorel which produces cycles and baby accessories.

    • The team began as a junior development team in 2003, became a pro team in 2007 whereupon it has changed title sponsor every single year since then

    Groupama-FDJ will take some getting used to after two decades of just FDJ, short for La Française des Jeux. It’s been backed the French state lottery which sponsors this pro team and also various grass roots sports too. The team is a fixture on the French scene and an illustration of how globalisation may be a thing but the Tour de France means a French team can rely on huge domestic publicity every July as a means to exist. The team has now landed Groupama which stands for Groupe des Assurances Mutuelles Agricoles and is another large French mutually-owned social insurance business.

    • The team began in 1997 and has kept the same sponsor all along; in 2012 it was FDJ-BigMat

    Katusha-Alpecin are a Swiss team. A team can register under whatever flag it wants and this switch from a Russian identity sees the team trying to distance itself from its image as Team Kremlin but a flag can only do so much. They’re certainly not Team Heidi, after all Katusha is the diminutive version of Ekaterina, Catherine in English and a famous Soviet wartime folk song in Russia which still gets patriotic hearts stirring today. In English you’d call them Team Kathy but it’s not just a name, they’ve launched a clothing brand too. They’re joined Alpecin, the German brand of caffeinated shampoo.

    • The Katusha name came in 2009 after the team was bought ought from Oleg Tinkov’s Tinkoff Credit systems team which began in 2006

    Lotto NL-Jumbo: another lottery in the shape of the Dutch state lottery. The team uses the “Lotto NL” term to signify the Netherlands lottery but the sponsor is simply Lotto to locals, presumably to differentiate from their Belgian rivals. Lotto has merged with the state lottery, the Staatsloterij which sponsors the Roompot team. Jumbo is a chain of supermarkets in the Netherlands which has, via deal-making, grown to become the country’s second largest retail chain. This is more than a cycling team, it’s a joint venture with a speed skating team coordinated by loyalty card company Brand Loyalty. Skating is very popular in the Netherlands thanks to icy winters and all those canals.

    • The team can trace its origins back to 1984 and it has participated in every Tour de France since

    Lotto-Soudal sees us go from one state lottery to another with Lotto being the Belgian lottery. This sponsorship is the longest single team backing in the pro ranks but increasingly subject to political scrutiny and points-scoring as politicians question the money spent. Soudal is a Belgian business making adhesives and sealants, a staple in DIY stores in Europe and beyond and the team has done some amusing sponsorship videos to highlight this, a means to bring alive otherwise dull products.

    • The team goes back to 1985

    Movistar is a mobile telecoms operator with activities in Spain and Latin America as well as in the UK and Germany under the separate O2 brand. Their rider roster reflects this geographic distribution perfectly with a Spanish core of riders from across the country plus Nairo Quintana of Colombia and Andrey Amador in Costa Rica.

    • This is the longest standing team in the peloton with a lineage going back to 1980 and the Reynolds team with José Miguel Echavarri at the helm for most of the time before handing over to Eusebio Unzué

    Mitchelton-Scott have lose Orica and Mitchelton steps in, a winery and hotel business in Australia owned by team owner Jerry Ryan. Scott is a Swiss-American bike brand, registered in Switzerland but with a US heritage.

    • The team began as Greendge Cycling in 2012

    Quick Step Floors is backed by a brand of laminated flooring. It might seem indissociable from Belgian cycling but it belongs to company founded in Amsterdam… Amsterdam, New York called Mohawk Industries, a giant supplier of commercial and residential flooring and the team a cosmopolitan recruitment policy to spread the sponsor’s name far beyond Belgium. German discount supermarket Lidl appears on the kit again while Belgium’s Latexco make rubber mattresses and the firm’s Maes family have backed team manager Patrick Lefevere since the 1990s.

    • Quick Step’s sponsorship began in 2003 but the team is an assembly of mergers over the years and can be traced back to the 1990s

    Team Dimension Data: is sponsored by a corporate cloud computing and IT outsourcing firm from South African with an international history. “Di Data” used to be traded on London’s stock exchange before it was acquired by Japanese telecoms giant NTT. The team is also backed by blue-chip accountancy firm Deloitte plus, new for 2018, Spar, the chain of retailers. There’s also Oakley sunglasses, the brand belonging to Italian sunglass giant Luxxotica; and Nederberg, a South African winery and the team retains the partnership with bicycle development charity Qhubeka.

    • Dimension Data came on board for 2016 and the team can trace itself back 2008 as MTN, named after the South African telecoms operator

    Team Sky is owned by the British TV and telecoms company Sky, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox. The firm has operations in Britain and recently took full control of its businesses in Germany and Italy too where the Sky name is a thing as well. At the moment 21st Century Fox/the Murdoch family are trying buy the 60% of Sky they do not own while simultaneously Disney is trying to buy 21st Century Fox, the result of this takeover chain will likely see team founder James Murdoch exit the surviving business.

    • The team began in 2010

    Team Sunweb are backed by a European holiday tour operator that is part of the Swiss-Dutch Sundio Group, essentially a Dutch company but with its HQ in Switzerland. If you follow them on social media you’ll see their hashtag “CreatingMemories”, a way to sell the sizzle rather than the steak of holidays. Giant remains the bike sponsor and is visible on the team kit even if it has stepped down from naming rights. The team has BMW’s Mini brand as a vehicle supplier and Belgian steel shutter and blinds company Renson appears on the shorts.

    • A quiet story of growth that goes back to Shimano–Memory Corp in 2005. It’s been a Dutch team for most of its years but now rides under a German flag

    Trek-Segafredo is the combination of US bike brand Trek and Italian coffee Segafredo. Trek should be familiar while Segafredo literally means “cold saw” in Italian but it’s an Italian coffee giant controlled by founder Massimo Zanetti that floated on the stock exchange in 2016.

    • Formally the team began in 2011 as Leopard-Trek

    UAE-Team Emirates is backed by the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates or kingdoms with Abu Dhabi as the capital and it also includes the city of Dubai, both cities with their own World Tour events. They were the lowest budget team in the World Tour thanks to their in extremis rescue after Chinese sponsorship fell through but Emirates, the regional airline, has come onboard and brought millions allowing them to sign a brace of riders on seven figure contracts riders like Alexander Kristoff, Fabio Aru and Dan Martin.

    • The team can be traced back to 1990 when it was Colnago-Lampre. Merida has left the squad and things have gone full circle with Colnago back as the team’s bike supplier

    Notes: notice the themes?

    • There’s a nexus of authoritarian, energy states craving validation. Funding a pro team is a way to make them look sporty and open doors in Europe
    • The bike industry is present with the likes of Cannondale, Merida, Scott and Trek as named sponsors.
    • Lotteries are present too with a Batavian arc across France, the Netherlands and Belgium
    • Thinking of refurbishing your kitchen or bathroom? Go for it with Bora and Hansgrohe for the fittings then finish off with some Soudal for the sealants and Quick Step flooring. Why not buy some Segafredo coffee for the kitchen from a Jumbo store and get some Alpecin shampoo for the bathroom
    • Note the longevity of many teams. For all the howls of crisis there’s a strong survivorship bias

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

    1. i was thinking of those longevity trends last night, re-watching to 2010 tour of flanders. the announcers were discussing the TdF decision to not extend a wildcard invite to Skil-Shimano and now, just eight years later, the decedent of that team is fronting a a real podium contender.

      these quasi-franchises are bizarre.

      • They’ve really created the textbook example of how to create pro team and gradually build your way up. It could all have been different when Argos pulled out to make way for a US sponsor that never was but they survived and became the Sunweb team we know today (which still operates on a modest budget).

        • I was thinking about what defines the term “team” in the conventional sense that we are familiar with, such as a football team, and there are more similarities with its cycling counterpart than you first imagine – their geographical home can change, their strips change every season, sponsors change, owners change, their legal identity can even change (go bust and re-emerge) but the football team lives on; why is that?
          Perhaps more than anything the football team is ultimately the fans and supporters?

          Is there a factor/s that you can pinpoint in the longevity of these cycling teams that you’ve noted (a single owner, of course, but some of the lineage seems quite tenuous)?

          • Are talking football=soccer or US football? Here in NL, and most of Europe, football (soccer) teams do not move geographical homes. These teams are often seen as an essential ingredient of their city by the fans.

            • And a lot of them have been playing at the same ground every other week for the best part of 100 years, longer in some cases. Helps to build a following.

      • VDL Nedcar wouldn’t benefit from advertising in a public forum like a bike race. The racing fans can buy a bmw but they can’t go to VDL and ask for a car.

        • @ CA, VdL will benefit if BMW sells a lot of Mini cars. They don’t make any other cars for BMW. So it would make sense for them to try to convince whoever decides on the Mini advertising budget to invest in more sponsoring. And of course, they are in the cycling hotbed of a country that is a cycling hotbed itself and the nation’s TdF hopeful lives a 30 min bike ride (at his pace, not mine!) away. I would not be surprised if they had something to do with it.

    2. On a controversial note: is calling Kazakhstan a “former Soviet country” on the same level as labeling Germany a “former Nazi country” or Australia a “former British colony”?

      Asking for a friend, not from Kazakhstan, but in Eastern Europe. Do not see as an offence but a different perspective.

      • I’d say it’s still relevant, the country has just changed from the cyrillic to the latin alphabet, they host the Russian space station in Baikonour and there are ongoing debates about the country’s role, its links to Russia and more, it’s not disant history but often present day.

        • I had to think twice about this also but I agree it’s still relevant, most especially when you look at the context:
          – It’s a sport with a strong focus on Western Europe
          – Astana is state backed
          – The team is a means to change the country’s image in the eyes of the western audience.

          From that perspective, calling Kazakhstan a ‘former Soviet country’ highlights the cultural and political differences between it and the team’s target audience.

      • Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union. It helps describe both where it is and its cultural background and isn’t offensive. The Nazi’s were just the ruling party of Germany a long time ago (and also obviously have nasty overtones), its not relevant.

    3. “Movistar is a mobile telecoms operator with activities in Spain and Latin America as well as in the UK and Germany under the separate O2 brand. Their rider roster reflects this geographic distribution perfectly with a Spanish core of riders from across the country plus Nairo Quintana of Colombia and Andrey Amador in Costa Rica as well as British rider and a German too”

      Who is the British Movistar rider in 2018 now Dowsett has left?

    4. While you’re tracing the roots of the teams, you should update Astana, as Liberty Seguros was a replacement sponsor for ONCE, so their history is much, much longer.

    5. Looking forward to the North Korea-sponsored team – hard to see how cycling could descend further, otherwise, in terms of ethics. Breitbart? Saudi Arabia?
      With the leniency shown towards doping it’s not surprising that so many sponsors of teams are those with little to lose in terms of PR.

    6. The Segafreda means “cold saw” is a bit weird, as though they chose that name. It’s actually just the name of the family that founded the company, which, as you say, is now owned by Zanetti.

        • From my time in Italy, I learnt that other meaning, and didn’t know that sega meant saw. I guess I hung out with the wrong crowd! However, I see the similarities: the repetitive ‘in and out’ movement with the hand… 🙂

    7. Is there not UCI a rule on a maximum of two title sponsors per team?

      How does EF Education First-Drapac powered by Cannondale get around that?

    8. That covers team sponsors.

      How about race sponsors, next?

      How many others are interesting in the way Amgen Tour of California is interesting etc?

    9. Icy winters in The Netherlands? It’s January 17, dead winter. For the next 10 days the temperature in Amsterdam varies between 5°C and 11°C. For canal that possibly has some salt water (?) to freeze so that you can skate on it, I guess it would take quite a low temperature. Does it actually happen?

      • I’ve done some quick research. Last time they froze was 6 years ago. Then you have to go back another decade. I think they don’t get much practice.

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