Some Thoughts On Sponsorship

Oct 29 2009

Yesterday, Outside editor John Bradley tweeted the message I’ve inserted below. It’s a nice thought, and there’s some good logic behind it—Google’s a smart, agile company, with business all over the world. It’s also been running YouTube at a loss for years, so the company isn’t gun-shy about seeing little-to-no direct monetary return on high-profile investments.

team_google_tweet

The problem is, logic has no place in cycling sponsorships. None. Winningest team in the ProTour? American squad sponsored by an American sportswear company that doesn’t even sell cycling apparel. It’s secondary sponsor? A telephone handset manufacturer that barely produces any phones under it’s own brand in the US. Does any of this make sense? Of course not.

It’s tempting to pin the roots of this nonsense on the old US Postal Service squads, which promoted a domestic American mail service all across Europe for six full years. The squad was then taken over by Discovery Channel, who, other than a few glib commercials, gave zero airtime to the exploits of the team. Money well spent, no doubt.

You’d think things would be better over in Europe, where people at least have a decent grasp of the sport’s nuances. But no: Quick.Step? It’s a flooring company. And nothing sells a smooth, clean, well-laid hardwood kitchen floor like mud-spattered Belgians ricocheting off the hilliest, lumpiest, most mangled cobblestone roads in the world.

Just look at the businesses lining up next season. Footon? First off, the company needs to learn how to use the Internet—the first Google result is from Urban Dictionary, and footon.com, .net and .dk are all similarly unhelpful. If it weren’t for Andrew Hood, I’d have no idea that Footon is (drum roll) a Danish foot-beds manufacturer.

So Denmark + footwear + cycling…what comes to mind? Oh yeah. That’s exactly what a squad that’s trying to shed the image of its dope-laiden past is going for. I’m totally gonna invite these guys to my ProTour race, esepcially when The Chicken himself has said he’s got a top-tier ride for next season, but hasn’t revealed who it is yet.

I don’t want to insist outright that Rasmussen will be riding for Footon-Servetto next season, but a Danish sponsor—when the other big Danish name is spoken for—is pretty compelling evidence.

Then there’s De Rosa/Stac Plastic. In case you don’t read The Economist (article reproduced illegally here), everything in cycling is made in the same East Asian factories, and branding is key to a successful enterprise. So what better name to pair with a high-end classic like De Rosa than “Stac Plastic”. It adds so much to the gravitas, does it not?

Rather than the plastic storage bins or Lego-knockoffs you might imagine a company named “Stac Plastic” producing, it turns out the firm is actually a manufacturer of spray adhesives. I learned this from their totally sweet website (motion gifs? <frame> tags? BALLER.) that—in addition to pointing out their official sponsorship of Team LPR—features not one, not two, but three riders who have failed drug tests in the past two years. Could you ask for better brand representation? I think not.

So on second thought, #TeamGoogle might not be that much of a stretch. The Internet is rife with cycling sites that look like they’ve been optimized for IE 2.0 and that display none of the customization and versatility that’ve become the hallmark of the Modern Internet Venture. If nonsense sponsorship really is the rule in the cycling world, it’s not a matter of if there’ll be a Team Google, but when.

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