It was confirmed last Wednesday [November 27] that the long-standing IG-Sigma Sport team will fold at the end of the season, just weeks after 2013 Pearl Izumi Tour Series winners UK Youth suffered a similar fate.

Both teams will end for the same reason: failure to find a new title sponsor. Former racing driver Nigel Mansell, president of the UK Youth charity and team bankroller, withdrew support, as did IG-Sigma Sport’s 
backer, the London-based financial trading company IG.

Given that any new investor would have taken over a fully functional squad with guaranteed exposure – most notably Tour Series and Tour of Britain television coverage – it seems surprising that neither team will grace the peloton next year. But would sponsoring one of these teams provide value for money?

It costs in excess of £100,000 to be a title sponsor of a UCI Continental (third division) team. Not a fortune, perhaps, but problems arise when sponsors seek to recoup that money.

“Even a lot of the biggest teams aren’t set up to make a return for the business that’s funding them,” one sponsorship expert told Cycling Weekly. “Many teams are basically funded by one rich person. [This applied to] Sky – through James Murdoch – to begin with, but they’ve really pushed a strategy built around participation, which is good sponsorship activation [creating brand awareness].

“Many other teams don’t follow through on that activation, so after two or three years, their backers realise they haven’t seen a return and they decide to pull out.”

Given that this happens at the top of the sport, you can imagine the greater problems at domestic level. As IG’s commercial manager Chris Alfred said: “The UK scene isn’t a great proposition, especially for those non-cycling companies. There’s some widespread TV exposure, but that’s not massively sustained throughout a season.”

Perhaps this is why the four UCI-registered teams in 2014 are all backed by companies within the sport. Madison distributes cycling equipment and owns the Genesis bike brand. (Coincidentally, the team have unsuccessfully searched for a title sponsor to help fund a Continental programme.)

Year of Sigma Sport’s first Premier Calendar victory,

courtesy of Matt Stephens at the Manx International. Joe Perrett took

their last, at this year’s Ryedale GP

The fledgling NFTO team stems out of a bike shop in Herefordshire, Raleigh has a long-standing heritage of manufacturing bicycles, while the primary two sponsors of Rapha-Condor-JLT produce clothing and bikes. Interestingly, the outsider there, JLT, one of the world’s largest insurance providers, has pushed an internal cycling activation campaign using the team as ambassadors to get employees into cycling.

Ironically, Sigma Sport did their sponsorship activation very well. They held events with riders in their flagship south-west London store, which created attention for the company and therefore customer awareness and also loyalty.

Given the increasing popularity of the mass-participation market, would bicycle manufacturers and clothing companies be better off targeting those cyclists directly, as opposed to through a team?

“If you back an event like a London to Paris or Haute Route – those in which most people taking part will happily spend £5,000 on a bike and clothing – there could be a good return on your investment,” said Alfred.

As we went to press, Yellow, the holding company of Node4-Giordana, another 
British UCI-registered 
team, still hadn’t decided whether it would be sponsoring a team in 2014.

If the Node4 team were to fold, no doubt the debate as to why British 
teams cannot find sponsors will arise once more.

Related links:
Rapha to cease sponsorship

This article was first published in the November November 28 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!

  • Mark Jones

    Things look very grim indeed and it sounds like things are only going to get worse. The Tour Series seems to inject some cash into our domestic teams, but this only seemed like a short-term gain and 10pm coverage is not ideal. Is there a way out of this slump? Probably not which is ironic considering GB’s success at the top level! It sounds like good business sense therefore that BC are asking even smaller teams to cough up extra money – is their plan to kill off domestic cycling in this country once and for all?

  • Steven

    when someone funds a team out of their own pocket like Nigel Mansell its hard to fault them when they decide enough is enough but i was very surprised UK Youth couldn’t find new sponsors because as long as Nigel was still involved with the team (as i read he was going to be) i’d have thought alot of British businesses would have paid good money just to be associated with Nigel Mansell.
    i hope Node4 continue in 2014 and Rapha Condor JLT hopefully find a co sponsor to help continue from 2015 onwards aswell as Sigma Sport returning with a new co sponsor. KTM seem to have gone very quiet, a couple of months ago they were in the press saying they wanted to create a new British team in 2014 but have since gone very quiet.