You can’t get around it: professional cycling is in crisis. The road ahead is definitively steeper and longer then the Mont Ventoux… Recently 5 pro- and continental teams were quitting because their sponsor turned off the money tap. Consequently more than 100 professional cyclists are desperately looking for a new team!
I am wondering why cycling is more hit by this than other sports? For sure the doping hunters are far more tracking down the cheaters in cycling than in any other sport and consequently there is a lot more negative buzz. But also other sports and their sponsors are sometimes facing negative events: why is it that in e.g. soccer a player can break another one’s leg, supporters or players can openly show fascism, full teams can be bribed, etc. without sponsors quitting en masse?
It strikes me that actually the commercial advantage of cycling is at the base of this: in cycling there’s a very intense emotional connection between the teams and their sponsors because the teams are actually named after their sponsors, eg. Omega Pharma – Quick Step or Garmin. This is actually at the heart of the commercial power of cycling and a competitive advantage versus other sports. For this moment we are still talking about Manchester United and Real Madrid and not about Aon United and Real Fly Emirates (although many clubs started naming their stadiums after sponsors). This intense connection had always attracted sponsors looking to play on emotional benefits. And yet, at the same time this intense connection between team and sponsor is triggering sponsors to quit…
So how can cycling climb its own Mont Ventoux? Should it give up that intense connection? No, I don’t think so: a competitive advantage should be cherished and if difficulties in the current way of marketing pop up, other ways of marketing should be considered.
I think cycling should count on the very essence of this intense connection, namely its supporters who are ready to cheer them along the way: crowd funding might offer a way out. Look at what Bart Swings, the Belgian in-line skater champ and Olympic medal hope in ice skating, did: finding it difficult to finance his Olympic dream, he raised 50k in the first week via crowd funding. Being a far more mediatized sport (in Belgium at least), cycling could raise far bigger budgets, especially if they play on the emotional connection e.g. by setting up events for the crowd funders so they can meet –or even ride with- their idols…and from there teams might find it more easy to attract additional sponsors. Yes indeed, this might be the nudge helping them to climb their Mont Ventoux!