Why can’t British teams find sponsors?

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.)

>> Subscribe to Cycling Weekly this Autumn and save 35%. Enjoy the luxury of home delivery and never miss an issue <<

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!