Comment: What’s in a team name?

In Luxembourg today Team Leopard-Trek was revealed to the world. With the demise of Pegasus racing, the Luxembourg based team has been the most hotly anticipated launch for 2011.

No surprise, seeing as they signed Andy Schleck and Fabian Cancellara.

The team management did a good job of keeping many of the details out of the press towards the end of last year, and almost kept the name a secret. So keen were they to maintain a veil of secrecy they even went so far as to deny the team would be called Leopard when it was revealed back in December.

Although Trek has stepped up to be second sponsor, the team having its own name has been hyped as a cool new start, and the hyperbole about ‘shaping the future of cycling’ has already begun. But we’ve heard that from other teams, and neither are Leopard the first to have a non-sponsor-lead name.

Jonathan Vaughters’ Slipstream squad – initially an American under-23 development team – was the first to have a general team name rather a sponsor on their jersey. Team Highroad followed that trend, now Astana and Katusha do the same.

Vaughters’ Slipstream team was bank rolled by businessman Doug Ellis while Highroad was initially funded by T-Mobile’s severance pay. Both teams dropped their names when sponsors came along with enough cash (Highroad has reappeared below HTC now the Columbia deal has come to an end).

Astana is funded by a variety of Kazakh businesses with the name taken from the country’s capital city, and Katusha is funded in a similar way. The name is taken from an old Russian folk song (that a Russian rocket was also named after).

The funding behind Leopard-Trek (Trek’s input is believed to be €3m, although it’s not clear whether or not this is cash, or, more likely, cash and equipment) has been credited to Luxembourg businessman Flavio Becca.

According to internet reports Becca made his money in real estate, but it seems he has no company name to give the team, only cash. It’s a little strange that a businessman would pass up the opportunity to promote his business to the world. Doug Ellis did it before, but his involvement with Slipstream was when it was a small budget US team, he wasn’t ploughing millions in to one of the biggest teams in the sport who are guaranteed worldwide exposure.

Cycling Weekly has however heard rumours suggesting an Astana style funding package for Leopard. According to a source in the industry the team’s money is predominantly coming from the state of Luxembourg – the reason the team has been given a strong Luxembourg identity.

With the money secure, the team’s management apparently looked for a sponsor to pay a peppercorn deal in order to have their name on the jersey.

So is Leopard a cool new name for a team that’s about to shape the future of cycling? Or is the name purely a result of a lack of sponsor?

Unless the team’s management reveals exactly where the money is coming from, we may never know.