BY JASON NORMAN
KETCHUM, ID—What a difference a year can make.
At the 2008 Tour de France Scott was the bicycle sponsor for the ProTour cycling team Saunier Duval. This year Scott was the bicycle sponsor of Columbia-HTC.
“That’s like going from the bottom quarter to one of the best,” said Scott Montgomery, general manager and vice president of Scott USA.
This year Montgomery recalled Tour de France commentator Bob Roll mentioning Columbia-HTC with riders such as George Hincapie and Mark Cavendish in the same breath as Astana and Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador.
“Just to be in that conversation is huge,” Montgomery said. “Now we’re on that big stage.
“I don’t think you can be a premier brand without having ProTour involvement,” Montgomery added.
Perhaps no brand has benefited more from its ProTour sponsorship than Trek with its longstanding relationship with Armstrong and its partnership with Astana and overall winner Contador.
“We feel like we get a good return specifically because of the success of the racing teams we have sponsored,” said Dean Gore, director of marketing for Trek Bicycles. “If Trek had invested the same amount and not had the association with Lance Armstrong and nine Tour victories, obviously we would have a different outlook as to the return on the investment.”
Gore said that Trek benefits from sponsorship in two ways.
“First, being aligned with the best racers in the world has pushed our product development further than we probably would have gone without racing,” Gore said. “Providing a competitive advantage for them has been a challenge that has changed the culture of Trek over the last 11 years—all for the better. I feel we now have industry leading research and development capacity that makes all of our products better.
“Second, the association with Lance reaches all categories of bikes—not just the road category. He is a large enough influence that we feel that he helps sell Trek hybrids, cruisers and kids’ bikes as well.”
Yet at the same time, Gore doesn’t believe there’s any direct correlation between how Astana did this year and how sales will play out the rest of the year.
“It is a good opener to the sales process, it helps brand recognition, but having best-in-class product and the best dealer network are still more important to Trek’s success than if we win the Tour,” Gore said. “Having a great team without great product will not get a brand far.”
Cervélo has done something that hasn’t been done in many years when it comes to ProTour sponsorship—having its own team called the Cervélo Test Team.
“It was not important to have our name attached to the team,” said Gerard Vroomen, co-founder of Cervélo. “It was important for us to have more control. As a bike sponsor, you give money and bikes and then you have to sit back to wait and see what happens. If on a team things happen that you don’t like, you are powerless to do anything about it. Even though it may strongly affect you.”
Vroomen said by owning a team, Cervélo ensures riders selected share its philosophy. “And while it is still possible that something happens that we don’t agree with, at least we would now be in a position to do something about it,” he said.
Vroomen believes other companies will follow Cervélo’s lead. He invites them to contact him if they’re seeking advice on how to go about it. “I think it would be very healthy for cycling if more bike manufacturers would start a team,” he said.
Most companies spend several million dollars to be a team’s bike sponsor, but for Cervélo the cost has come down now that it owns a team. Cervélo previously sponsored CSC.
“In most countries except Denmark, our Test Team is getting similar or more exposure than our old team, so it’s been a great success from that point of view,” Vroomen said. “Plus, when the Test Team is getting exposure, Cervélo is getting exposure. With our old team, it would often get exposure without the bike sponsor benefiting from it.”
It’s not just bike manufacturers getting vast amounts of coverage from ProTour involvement. Component manufacturers such as SRAM, who scored a big get before the season started when Astana signed on to use SRAM Red, are reaping the benefits as well.
Lance Armstrong coming on as an investor gave it an added boost.
“The visibility gained and marketing benefit gained by being on the front of the Tour de France with Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, and of course, Lance Armstrong, was immense,” said Michael Zellmann, U.S. road public relations and media manager for SRAM. “While it is difficult to place a dollar value on it, we certainly have confirmation through our grassroots, dealer and NRS (Neutral Race Suppport) programs that it works.
“We have seen consistent growth with our road groups for the past two years and specifically Red, which won every Grand Tour including the 2009 Tour de France, and has outsold our other gruppos,” Zellmann said.