Dumped by phone, email or simply ghosted: Specialized's sudden termination of its ambassador contracts

'There was no notice, contracts were ended early’: longtime athletes scramble to find new sponsors

Specialized headquarters in Morgan Hill, California
(Image credit: Anne-Marije Rook)

After months of vagueness or silence, Specialized ambassadors found out late last week that their contracts would not be renewed or, even, terminated early.

These ambassadors are media athletes from around the globe and across cycling disciplines who were responsible for creating content and generating brand awareness rather than race results.

Some were paid in product only, others received significant funding that they're now scrambling to replace. 

“This goes back to October when we were trying to talk about renewing. After being ghosted for ever, we were told that a new person is taking over. And then that person has ghosted us. It’s over complicated,” one of some 40 ambassadors worldwide told Cycling Weekly in confidence.  

“The way it was handled was very unprofessional. That was the biggest bummer.”

Sarah Swallow, a well-known bikepacker, community organizer and director of the Ruta Del Jefe expressed her frustrations in a, now-widely shared, Instagram post.

“Here is the deal. Late last week, [Specialized] terminated all its global brand ambassador contracts, including mine. Before I say anything more, I want to recognize that I have been very privileged to do this work and live this lifestyle for eight years. It’s a dream job, and I don’t take it for granted,” she writes.

“While I am grateful for the many relationships and opportunities I gained through my partnership with Specialized, I am disappointed that there was little to no consideration of this decision's impact on the most loyal and influential promoters of the Specialized brand. 

“There was no notice, contracts were ended early, and the timing of the termination occurred so late in the year that most brands have already established their budgets and contract agreements for the following year, leaving ambassadors little-to-no time to develop new relationships and replace lost income.”

Swallow, who is also a brand ambassador for Zipp and Ride with GPS, points out that ambassadors not only “humanize brands,” they also tend to be event organizers, trail builders, route makers, writers, photographers and advocates. In other words, these are the people that create the places and events for us to ride our bikes, that build our community and tell its stories.

In return,  the financial and material support from brands is what allows them to do their work for the community. 

“As a relatively new field in the industry, we can learn from this situation and advocate for more considerate terms in our future contracts,” Swallow states before asking others to get in touch for new opportunities. 

While Swallow learned about the termination of the program via a phone call, Becky Hair, a British endurance athlete and now-former Specialized ambassador of four years, found out via email. 

“I’m really sad. No it wasn't my choice. Yes it wasn't expected,” she states on social media. “What a tough email to receive.”

She too spoke about the value of the program, but on a personal level.

“It's been fun whilst it lasted and I'm a different person to when I started, because of some of the incredible women I've met,” she pens.

Hair said she’ll continue volunteering while Swallow will leverage her contacts to continue the work she’s been doing. Others meanwhile are going back to the drawing board.

Specialized revealed that while the program is being restructured, it has not been nixed completely.  

An official Specialized-issued statement read: "Our social ambassador program is continuing to change with the needs of the rider, but it definitely is not going away."

Industry news has been nothing but budget- and staff cuts these past few months with Outside, Wahoo, Strava, Rad Power Bikes and Pearl Izumi all facing challenges and/or ‘restructuring’.

Specialized, too, has been making changes all year. Back in March, founder Mike Sinyard stepped down from his CEO role after 48 years at the helm to be replaced by former Dyson executive Scott Maguire. In the summer, the acquisition of Rutland Cycling led to some layoffs, and in the fall, Specialized hired former Nike VP, David Schriber, to lead its marketing team as the brand moves to “serve new riders with new products in new channels at greater scale."

Sarah Swallow's latest content for Specialized:

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Anne-Marije Rook
North American Editor

Cycling Weekly's North American Editor, Anne-Marije Rook is old school. She holds a degree in journalism and started out as a newspaper reporter — in print! She can even be seen bringing a pen and notepad to the press conference.

Originally from The Netherlands, she grew up a bike commuter and didn't find bike racing until her early twenties when living in Seattle, Washington. Strengthened by the many miles spent darting around Seattle's hilly streets on a steel single speed, Rook's progression in the sport was a quick one. As she competed at the elite level, her journalism career followed, and soon she became a full-time cycling journalist.