As part of our series of what goes on behind the scenes of running a women's cycling team, DS Stefan Wyman sits down with a cappuccino and tells the cafe about the challenges of finding team sponsors for Horizon Fitness RT.
So grab as big a latte as possible because Gav's paying and feel free to ask us your questions at the end... that goes to you fans of men's cycling too.
OK, sounds like doom and gloom, and perhaps it is. Sports sponsorship is dominated by 2 things; 'Men' & 'TV Coverage'. When you compare that to the world of women’s cycling, there’s an obvious problem. More importantly to us is that women’s participation number seem to be outgrowing the men….but investment in women’s racing hasn’t taken off at all.
I’ve been involved in women’s cycling for 7 years now and it’s not the easiest of environments. To get a long term agreement with a sponsor isn’t easy and to catch ‘the big one’ is virtually impossible. This makes keeping riders motivated to stay in the sport harder every year. It would be easy to just give up; I’ve considered it many times (Many, Many Many times). But perhaps it’s by staying involved that will create the stability needed for a few riders to actually fulfill their dreams. That is the motivating factor for sure.
For 2011, my team has retained it titled sponsor, Horizon Fitness. This is something of a landmark for us. Every year we have had great support, but for one reason or another sponsorship ends at the end of year one; and with it goes valuable structure, time and plans. But Horizon has really stepped up to the mark and shares our vision for the sport. So we feel very lucky to have them on board. But how do we get sponsor number 2?
Jonathan Vaughters recently wrote on cyclingnews ‘Imagine you're the VP of marketing in a multi-national company and you get a proposal to sponsor a cycling team. My guess is this proposal would be similar to the ones we at Slipstream Sports are constantly pitching. In this proposal, it's clear that your team will participate in all the top races in the world, a few medium-sized ones in key areas for your company, and, of course, Le Tour. After a look at the demographics cycling fans cover, the total television audiences, the number of countries TV coverage goes to, the total volume of "all in" media coverage, you decide investment makes sense. Your CPT (cost per thousand) for viewership crushes any other sport in efficiency - you'll probably get a raise!’
For us in women’s cycling, it’s a different prospect. We do exactly the same as any Professional team to start with; Identify Potential Sponsor, Send Proposal, Show Races, Show Riders….but then we hit TV coverage. Eerrr, there is none! You can watch the World Champs, or the Track, but that’s not our jersey the riders are in. So going back to JV’s point, the head of marketing is actually putting his neck on the line by sponsoring a women’s team, rather than seeking a raise!
So why do sponsors get involved. One major thing is women’s cycling is accessible. You can actually talk to the riders and the team staff. Much of the time they are ‘normal’ people that you can relate to. Many have great stories about how they climbed the ladder to the top of the sport and the sacrifices made along the way. Couple with this is the fact that these ‘normal’ people are riding for very little reward, and an overwhelmingly huge majority doing it without the assistance of performance enhancing drugs. Women’s cycling is an honest game and something people can trust….and therefore relate to.
Another part of being accessible is cost. Women’s cycling is a LOT cheaper to get involved with. I think many people would be shocked at the low budgets in women’s cycling. It’s always been an area I can’t understand as to why the UCI haven’t introduced a rule that ensures all ProTour teams have a women’s team. For 5% of the budget of a men’s team, you could have a sustainable women’s team, with 12 riders earning a small income. Why do all ProTour races not have a women’s race like Fleche Wallonne and Tour of Flanders do. Perhaps the 2 areas go hand in hand. I’m sure as a TV company that has already set up its camera’s next to a course, you’d have no major problem filming the women’s race if it’s on before the men, on the same day….2 birds with one stone.
If this were the case, women’s racing would have 18 true professional team, around 200 paid riders, and TV coverage to allow the introduction of new sponsors. What a wonderful world.
So a lot of my time is spent identifying areas that we really need support. I can’t afford the time to be dreaming of getting a sponsor who’ll give us a 6 figure deal. I spend my time talking to the riders, identifying their needs and then pursuing those needs. Obviously that involves money, as without that we can’t go to races. We have to get a balance of races that includes where we can afford to go to, what the riders would like to do and what is right for the demographic of our sponsors. We have to do exactly the same in terms of racing equipment, striking the balance between what we can afford, what the rider want/need in an ideal world, and what our partners can provide.
These issues obviously don’t help performance and they also don’t help when it comes to providing the best possible return. So we have to be creative and ensure our sponsors are rewarded for their input beyond their expectations. One area where we took the initiative this year was the backing of the Horizon Fitness GP in Stoke on Trent. The home town of our title sponsor was to be home to a Tour Series city centre crit…..for men. A few phone calls later and the wheels were set in motion for a women’s race. The event was success and work is already being done to try to improve things for 2011. This race also attracted TV coverage….again 2 birds with one stone. (Video of Horizon Fitness GP http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0fa3s866L4)
At this point in time Horizon Fitness Racing Team is at a cross roads. We’re really happy with where we are. We’re able to support a good amount of riders and seem to get the balance right in terms of racing and equipment for the riders we select. However we are looking for a 2nd sponsor…a co-sponsor. That would transform things for us. We’ve had discussion with major stars of racing about joining the team, and we know where we could take the team given the chance. More investment would mean more focus on the areas of the team that directly relate to performance. It would also allow more investment in the structure of women’s racing.
Without that 2nd (or 3rd..haha) sponsor, we’ll continue as we are. We’ll be happy to give as many riders as possible a bit of a step up and help lead riders into the world of cycling on the right foot and at the same time reward our partners. Not only with our team, but in our structure of feeder teams and with advise and encouragement along the way.
So all in all it’s not simple. There is no quick fix. It’s going to take time, structure and a few powerful souls to get on the case. But we’re going to keep plugging away, looking for partners that can take us, and more importantly the riders and the sport forward. Fingers crossed they are lurking just around the corner.
All photos have loving pinched with permission from the team's site www.onthedrops.com