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Looking Back: Tour Down Under and the new business model for cycling sponsorship

HTC-Columbia is killing it at the Tour Down Under

As January winds down the first UCI race of the year is almost complete. The Tour Down Under seems to have been tough enough in 2009 for Armstrong to cause him to have a gut check on whether his return to professional racing was a good idea. This year it’s a different story. He’s been in breakaways and mixing it up. His fellow RadioShackers have also been at the front and have been top three in some stage finishes – so far so good. Now if they can score a win this Saturday… Team Sky came in with the plan of making a race day debut splash, which they accomplished with Greg Henderson taking the win at the Cancer Council Helpline Classic. But from there on it has been Andre Greipel of HTC-Columbia putting on a daily sprint clinic. I know it’s way too early to make predictions but damn, HTC-Columbia seems to have picked up where they left off last year, dominating anything that ended with a sprint finish. Once Cav gets his choppers sorted out he’ll once again be racking up the wins as well. One bit of advice for Cav: Resist the urge to go with Team Sky. I can’t put my finger on it but my Spidey senses tingle in a bad way with the thought of him joining Sky. When his contract expires I fully expect him to hear the siren call of racing for a British pro team like any American who wasn’t racing for 7-Eleven in the ’80’s.

While teams like HTC-Columbia, RadioShack and Team Sky seem to be enjoying a healthy budget, other squads don’t seem to be faring as well. Milram, Caisse d Epargne and Saxo Bank as title sponsors are getting out of the cycling game at the conclusion of 2010. Also, Quick Step is cutting back on their racing schedule due to budget constraints. Here in the States races and teams are scaling back. One rider is taking the situation in hand and is becoming the master of his own domain. Burke Swindlehurst, a strong climber on the Bissell squad last year, is going solo in ‘10. He has cobbled together several individual sponsors and is going to be competing in both road and mountain biking. Is this the new cycling sponsorship business model in these tough economic times? In mountain biking teamwork is not a factor, however road racing is another thing all together. In crits and road races he’s going to have to rely on being in the right moves at the right time with no margin of error. That said, in a climbing race it can become mano-a-mano and Swindlehurst can climb with the best of them domestically. I’m always a fan of the underdog, so I’m betting on Burke to pop up here and there on the leader’s board. I have suggestion for Burke: install a PayPal donation widget on your website. There’s fans out there that love to see you race and can appreciate you being a fly in the ointment. Plus your musical insights are priceless, so why not let people throw a couple of bucks your way.

One last comment I have is regarding a Twitter post I read from David Zabriskie and a few Garmin-Transitions riders. It looks like today was Media Training Day for the team. I’ve sat in on a few and if you saw the bio film, “Blood, Sweat and Gears” you can see how much the media is loved by riders and staff alike. I’m curious now that most riders have Twitter accounts as well as Facebook pages, how much random, unfiltered Twittering is going to occur. As a personal plea don’t let the P.R. people completely neuter your thoughts. Those 140 characters offer a tiny glimpse of who you are as a person beyond the rolling billboard you’ve become. And that glimpse behind the curtain causes people to become fans of a sport that could use a few more.

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3 Responses to “Looking Back: Tour Down Under and the new business model for cycling sponsorship”

  1. Anita Franklin January 23, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    Paypal idea would work. Everyone would feel as if they were really a part of the bigger picture. We’d be like stockholders and Burke’s wins would be our dividends! Neil, thanks for saying what our Twitter family is feeling. You’re like the Prime Minister of the Tweetfosi.

  2. Kit Cischke January 23, 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    Unless they muzzle the riders more than they try to control Jonathan Vaughters, there’s not much need to worry. Here’s one of the latest tweets from @Vaughters:
    We’re learning about how Twitter can be a valuable communication tool at camp….hehe…I said “tool”…

  3. Jason Cardillo January 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    Neil, I too am hoping teams let riders run free. For the most part, they’ve been pretty circumspect while still giving us a glimpse of personality. As marketing shifts from in-your-face billboards to personal networks and connections, those glimpses of personality are going to become more important to riders and teams when looking for sponsorship.

    As for Burke’s sponsorship model, while an interesting experiment (to which I would contribute a few bucks to make sure he’s out there mixing it up), I don’t think it’s “the future”. I think it’s more a sensible experiment in tough times. The logistics and sponsor relations management can be quite wearing on an athlete as they run around the country and I don’t think it’s sustainable. Still, best of luck to Burke and I hope it works out really well!

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