New Foundations For Mitchelton-Scott

The Mitchelton-Scott team gets a new sponsor, from today the team is renamed as Manuela Fundación. It’d been whispered for a while the team was in trouble, there had been wage cuts earlier in response to the Covid-19 calendar cancellation, but also doubts over the viability of the team for the long term. Now the team has a new sponsor in the Manuela Fundación, a Spanish charity funded by businessman Francisco Huertas (pictured above wearing the red shirt), and its future is secure. Or is it?

Right away the Manuela Fundación is surprise name, even hardcore Spanish cycling aficionados could be forgiven for asking ¿ que ? The Manuela Fundación is a Spanish charity funded by Francisco Huertas and named after his daughter who died while an infant. It’s not a big charity, it has a website under construction and its Facebook page lists support for a local cycling club and an U23 team, as well as parasport athletes and figure skaters. Think “local benefactor” rather than ONCE.

As such the Manuela Fundación is a means for its backer Francisco Huertas to spend money on preferred projects. As the team press release says “with all its activities supported by his own funds” so we should think of it more as a vehicle through which Huertas can channel his funding rather than a charity which seeks to raise funds from others to spend on good causes. Still there’s a social angle, the press release issued by the team says “The aim of the Manuela Fundación is ‘to help create a more supportive world’” and it will be an “overly ambitious project in aid of social work”.

Fundaciónes in Spain are common, you might know the Fundacion Contador or the Fundacion Euskadi already. They are legal entities and under a 2002 law have to be registered. A search this morning on the central register held by Spain’s ministry of justice didn’t find the Manuela Fundación but this could be user error here, it could be elsewhere on a local register, or maybe the paperwork will be in time for the launch on the 4th October mentioned in the team press release?

Meet the new boss, not the same as the old boss (Photo from Facebook)

It all looks odd. Francisco Huertas is a local businessman from Granada and various reports say he’s in construction, real estate, stock market trading and car dealerships. If he wants to spend his money on cycling then good for him but we’re talking committing to spending millions here, a typical World Tour team budget is €15 million and Huertas is presumably on the hook for most of this now. Only Huertas doesn’t seem to be a big figure, for starters the foundation has been sponsoring a local MTB team then a U23 road team: it vibes local, not World Tour. The regional press in Andalusia hasn’t written much about him, there’s sponsorship of Granada football club by his construction company which ended badly with missed payments, and a story in 2009 when he ordered some floats for a Christmas parade only for the suppliers to go public about unpaid debts and it made the local newspapers but that was at the height of the crisis económica española and to be fair who wasn’t having trouble then? In 2017 he tried to buy a stake in Real Jaen, a football club in Spain’s third division, but it didn’t go through. Put simply if Huertas couldn’t make ends meet to buy a stake – not total ownership – of a club in Spain’s fourth tier of football he’s probably a lot poorer than Mitchelton-Scott owner Gerry Ryan or other multi-millionaires in pro cycling like Sylvan Adams of the Israel team or Jim Ratcliffe at Ineos.

Checking the press release more closely the terms of the deal are unclear. It mentions “the long-term agreement” which implies a sponsorship arrangement and not a takeover, as if the agreement has a duration. But Ideal, the local newspaper in Granada, reports today that Huertas has acquired the team and will move the team’s service course HQ from Varese in Italy to Granada and the article repeats several times throughout the piece that Huertas now owns the team and has acquired the UCI WorldTeam licence.

Andrew Hood of Velonews tweets there’s no takeover and this seems to be the message coming out of the team to other sources too. The new kit features the old Greenedge logo which suggests some continuity while an interview with sees talk of a move to Granada in the future but not for now.

Nevertheless it’s a big change. Presumably the first job will be to secure key riders like Simon Yates and Annemiek van Vleuten, but with the Spanish connection surely the team will want to look more Spanish? How much remains to be seen but if it’s a Spanish charity they’re bound to need to reflect this. The squad has Mikel Nieve for now and he’s close to retirement so Movistar, Caja Rural will find another team fishing in their pond. Ordinarily you’d think a Spanish charity wouldn’t have so much interest in a roster stacked with Australians but one aspect of this deal is continuity, the team has an outside sponsor now so it could encourage existing riders to stick around rather than jump elsewhere because of worries about the team’s continuity. We’ll see if there are management changes, La Gazzetta says ex-pro Stefano Garzelli – now a commentator with RAI, Italy’s state broadcaster and pictured in the first photo above – was behind the negotiations and could become a manager. It’s bound to mean priorities too, the early season goal could be the Vuelta a Andalucia rather than the Tour Down Under.

The deal appears big enough deal to give the Manuela Fundación exclusive naming rights, bike brand Scott drops away from the naming rights. But there’s no mention of the sponsorship amount but that’s normal in most cases, loyal readers will know it’s very hard to come by accurate financial data for the teams. Look closely at the new kit and you can see the Audi and Jeep logos, presumably from Huertas’ car dealerships and a potential source of the funding but you’d have to own muchos garages to fund a World Tour team.

Everyone’s surprised. Normally when a team announces a new sponsor there’s a fanfare but the reaction on social media has been more “who?” than “woo hoo”. Companies like Deceuninck, Sunweb or EF are obvious and visible, while the likes of Israel Cycling and Ineos are funded by well-known billionaires and there had been talk of Huawei sponsoring this team, presumably to polish their image in Australia and Europe alike. Only nobody would have picked the Manuela Fundación to keep the Mitchelton-Scott team on the road, frankly next to nobody outside of Granada had heard of them until now and it’s curious they want worldwide publicity. Perhaps in a storm any port will do and Gerry Ryan and Shane Bannan will have done their homework and must be convinced Huertas has the millions needed so presumably it’s us who need to get used to the name change which is effective immediately. Still Huertas is no Oleg Tinkov, nor is the Manuela Fundación anything like ONCE, it’s a surprise deal. The announcement seems to have come early, in time to show the name change and new jerseys but with few other details. It’ll be interesting to see what plans the foundation has, what it brings next for the team which has long had a distinct Australian identity and the first question will be whether they can retain the Yates brothers.

  • Update – 18 June: the deal with the Manuela Fundacion is off. There’s no sponsorship, no name change, no new kit and the squad will continue as Mitchelton-Scott with a commitment for 2021 as it searches for new sponsors. So back to how things were but there’s now a promise the team will exist in 2021 which was a worry before this started but the question of how all this happened and went public is going to be an interesting tale.

56 thoughts on “New Foundations For Mitchelton-Scott”

      • Pegasus got rumbled by the UCI’s vetting procedure, it trying to launch the team but the licence review struggled to see where the money was coming from etc. The UCI will review this team’s budget, projections etc this autumn too but there’s only so far they and their auditors can check sponsors but I think they’d want to look at the books/accounts of Huertas.

        • Inrg – I agree with Tim Bulger – it sounds exactly like Pegasus. A basic net worth analysis could look at the base structure of Huertas’ organisation structure (without going into much detail at all) and tell you if $15-25M in annual cash flows was reasonable or not.

          • Basic analysis as follows (to save everyone the time reading it – he doesn’t have the cash):
            1. Dealership No. 1 – Audi = Net sponsorship budget per year $500,000 max*

            2. Dealership No. 2 – Jeep = Net sponsorship budget per year $200,000 max

            3. Construction – what are we talking? Large scale land development? Or, residential? If residential, then sponsorship money $10,000 – $1M (but why advertise internationally). If large land scale land development, they don’t spend millions on advertising because cash is tied up in equity – what they do spend money on is wining and dining sales agents to promote their units/homes/commercial properties/etc.

            4. Stock market – everyone goes on stock market, but you don’t advertise your portfolio unless he is a major brokerage house, which he absolutely isn’t.

            * this is being very generous, I mean absolute max

  1. “even hardcore Spanish cycling aficionados could be forgiven for asking ¿ que ?”

    Go read the main spanish cycling forum, they’ve been doing that all day. Mixed with a bunch of Andalucian locals saying Huerta is corrupt.

  2. This could just be a bit of commotion for us to chew on before we get some bike racing on real
    Let’s hope that it’s not the start of a series of teams financial disintegration in the new world order.

  3. With Gerry Ryan, Bannan, Dan Jones, Sam Bewley, Matt Hayman, Matt White and Julian Dean the team had a unique Australian (& NZ) style and apparent enthusiasm. It’s hard to see how that will be retained. Will White want to stay? Will they want him? My advice to riders before signing new contracts: dig deep, be sure, check the finance and your access to it!

    Thanks to Gerry and Orica for the fun years anyway

    • I enjoyed following ‘our’ Aussie team, and now it’s gone. I didn’t like it that they let Gerrans and Ewan and Matthews go, and that they never snaffled Rohan Dennis. I know they were supposed to be embarking on a GC strategy, but still. I wanted an Australian team, but we don’t seem able to support one. Gerry Ryan has done enough, and it seems there’s no-one else. Orica only lasted a year or two. What’s wrong with Qantas, or even a bank. Boo hoo..

      • Orica were main sponsors for six years from the foundation in 2012 to 2017. As for Dennis, he would not have contributed much to the team solidarity and fun.

      • They did well with Gerrans, Ewan and Matthews while they had them but the team’s had budget limits and these riders can signed for double or more elsewhere. At least one of the Yates has said he could elsewhere for more but re-signed because he likes the team and his role but it’d surely take an Aussie GC contender to tempt an Aussie sponsor again?

    • It’s easy to feel that, isn’t it?
      The new outfit seem the most unlikely and stable team owners you could find, like the polar opposite of Ineos or FDJ.

  4. When riders or sport directors sign new contracts they will take into account ambiance and security. When the Yates twins last signed with Greenedge they did so knowing the sport directors, the other riders, and Gerry Ryan, an enthusiastic and trustworthy sponsor. If they or others sign again who will direct, what pressures will there be, who will they ride with, while a two year contract with a team that folds after two months has little value. If the team fails in the coming months will Ryan step back in to take the team to season’s end? That’s maybe today’s most pertinent question.

  5. Yates bros should be asking for wages in advance, purely as an insurance! I can’t see what could possibly go wrong here.

  6. On a practical point, does Gerry Ryan now recover the three month’s salary deposit placed with UCI as security which is replaced by a new deposit supplied by the new owner/sponsor?

    • We don’t know because it’s not clear what his happening with the licence. Is Ryan/Greenedge still the ultimate owner of the team and Manuela Foundation just a sponsor or will Huertas take over as the “paying agent”? It looks like it’s Ryan for now.

  7. Let’s hope Manuela Foundation coming into WT cycling has a better outcome than Rich Energy ( via Haas sponsorship) into F1. Gene Haas allegedly did his due diligence and we assume Ryan has done a thorough investigation into the credibility of Huertas.

    It all feels a bit sketchy…

  8. A follow-up because this piece came out on Friday when the deal was announced and there have been several pieces in the Spanish press (and Andrew Hood who is based in Spain) and nobody is any wiser where the money is coming from. Huertas is also said to work in painting (as in decorating buildings, not art that is) too.

    • Unless Huertas has family money nothing suggests he has the annual cash flows to cover a 15-25M budget. And I mean nothing…. Not even close.

      In comparison Tinkoff was exponentially more able to cover this.

      Huertas doesn’t seem to be able to cover $1M…. Let alone 15.

      • We’ll see, there’s due to be a press conference in early July. Whatever Huertas might say about long term projects, from the Vuelta to social care programs, it boils down to what can he deliver and like you suggest he’s get it all to prove. If he had “old” family money to spare he’d surely be known already, if not then his grandparents, parents-in-law etc etc.

  9. Slightly wondering if this is a staged failure to grab attention for Huertes to boost his brand and also for the team who need a real sponsor but aren’t getting enough interest.

    • It could be but the past format was to link up with a credible brand, like HTC or Columbia for a token rate but get them on the jersey, rather than something nobody has heard of. Here it looks like the team has gone through the phone book of blue chip sponsors and couldn’t get a dollar between them.

  10. Do the riders know any more than we do. Something must leak. Whatever, it’s hardly a solid and motivating basis to prepare for the rest of the season.

    Fearing the worst. Was Gerry Ryan that desperate to have the team taken off his hands? Maybe the new kit will become a rare collectors item!

    • It’s mixed, the riders knew earlier than the public that the team was in trouble and Gerry Ryan couldn’t support the team forever; but they – and crucially their agents – will be wondering what is happening now. There’s due to be a press conference in early July from the team/Huertas and we might get more then. Put simply: is Huertas good for the money? Riders like Simon Yates or Annemiek van Vleuten don’t need to know today but they will need assurance by July or else they’re off elsewhere rather than waiting to find out.

  11. Having looked the article INRNG linked to in his latest tweet it appears that much is still to be decided. Reading between the lines it seems as if the folk in Spain have rather jumped the gun, there are clearly still negotiations going on and other sponsors being sought. The pink and blue kit might yet not make it to an actual race, we shall see.

    • Yes, this piece is required reading. It reads like Ryan is reversing the team bus out from the Manuela finish arch. Still you’d think the news that sponsorship change and kit etc would have to be approved by all before it went out and it included attributed quotes to Gerry Ryan implying he was in on the press release (often these quotes are invented by the PR team but the person involved typically approves the wording prior to publication)

      • It sounds like a relief that Gerry Ryan will stand behind the team for the rest of the season. That should give the riders and staff a base to prepare sensibly. That said, what a mess. How could they possibly have managed to announce and present the kit without, apparently, even understanding what Manuela could reliably provide. The U-turn will be welcome to many including the riders.

  12. This would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. I’m struggling to see any upside for the team, it’s personnel or the sport in general. How many more farcical team losses or corruptions will we endure before the sport’s broken financial model is changed?

  13. I heard on the grapevine the announcement came as a shock to most of the team management. They were sort of negotiating with other groups when somebody in the team announced this new deal. Sort of out left field for most of the team management who new nothing of it.
    Gerry Ryan has done enough for this team and I think they were lucky to get his support for even this season. He is not some super rich Russian oligarch stealing money from the people and I think the management was given to much leeway on getting sponsors and were a bit complacent over the years. It would always be hard to get an Australian sponsor for this money. The money required would sponsor a top Australian rules and a rugby league team probably with change. And those sponsorships are about 100X the exposure. So an Australian sponsor is most unlikely. Cycling has no exposure in this country except for the cycling fanatics which are few in the big picture.

    If this deal falls through as seems quite possible the people they were talking too will probably move on and look to other team’s because it all looks a bit mickey mouse. This is a disaster in the making.

    • Practicalities could well come into play too. I saw Australia has announced it intends to operate a closed border policy until at least the end of this year. Given that practically all top level cycling races will be Europe based for the foreseeable future how realistic is it to run an Australian based cycling team in current circumstances, especially one with serious financial challenges?

      • I understand their service course is based in Italy, and most of the riders and key staff live there most of the time?
        If the travel bans continue over the winter break it will surely affect them, but until then, hopefully, it shouldn’t be an insurmountable hurdle.

        Also, as an outsider, it’s hard to know whether the team really is in financial distress. Gerry Ryan has a good amount of his wealth in entertainment, and that part undoubtedly took a hit, but I doubt he’ll be wearing tissue boxes for shoes. If the team is really important to him, I think he’ll find the money, and he seems much more reliable as a team owner than many other big businessmen (see Rick Delaney for the latest example that comes to my mind).

        He did mentioned jokingly in interviews that his kids were complaining about how much money he sank into the team though. (from January 2020)

        • Most of the riders from Australia and NZ live in Catalunya and Andorra.

          Italy is the base for team logistics, and they have a ‘mini service course’ in Catalunya to keep riders supplied with their needs for training.

          • Did the riders stay in Catalonia, Andorra, Italy when the lockdown started, or did they head home? Reassembling the team might still be tricky.

          • My understanding is that most of the men’s riders from Aus/NZ have stayed in Europe (not just MTS but other teams too) but a number of the MTS women’s riders returned to Aus/NZ.

            It should be fairly easy to tick them off based on social media posts, but also a little stalky.

  14. From Cycling News:

    “Potential rifts in the takeover deal between the Manuela Fundación and the Australian
    Mitchelton-Scott team deepened considerably on Wednesday as the Spanish NGO responded sharply to Gerry Ryan’s insistence that he still owned the team licence and that he was still negotiating with other sponsors.”

    “Emilio Rodríguez, the Manuela Fundación’s head of sport, told Spanish state news agency EFE that he was “surprised” and “frozen” by the comments.”

    Sounds like Gerry Ryan should run a mile, and not let the WT licence out of his grip. A best solution would be for Greenedge to take the team to season’s end and, if no solid sponsor or buyer can be found, terminate the structure cleanly. No thanks Manuela!

  15. Unless I missed it there doesn’t appear to be any promises over the longevity of the funding. Could it be that Huertas money is just a stop gap to keep the team going till the end of the season?
    On the face of it there really isn’t enough there to keep a World Tour team afloat, more that Huertas might have enough to get them over the line with all assets remaining in the team I.e. he can cover the teams variable costs.
    Either way it doesn’t sound good. A tough break for a team that has in recent times re-established itself, finally getting a Grand Tour under its belt. You might think that would get you some interest. A tough time for all sports and leisure industry.

    • Reading the various news pieces it seems there’s deal to fund the team until the end of the year according to Marca and possibly another one for the longer term, La Gazzetta Dello Sport has talked about a three year project. But we’re all left scanning sports newspapers, the team and its new backers haven’t presented anything official. There’s supposed to be a presentation in a couple of weeks’ time.

      • I can’t see this as being anymore than an interim arrangement then.
        It seems a bit extreme to change the jersey, but maybe there was some hard bargaining for Huertas money. Though given that the position is not finalised it just seems fanciful. After all, surely it makes sense to have a title sponsor that uses the ‘advertising space’, not a private foundation – I know that the car companies are his businesses, but having Huertas Autos (or whatever) makes sense. It’s not like Barcelona putting UNICEF on their tops.

  16. It’s puzzling how this mess occurred.
    The questions, about this new deal, were arriving before anything was officially, confirmed.
    Ryan & Bannan, didn’t get to this point, in business or running a cycle team, to get caught up in this circus, with an unknown or unsubstantiated, foundation.
    Question is, which ones were the clowns?

Comments are closed.