Sponsorship Follies

I was looking forward to what would spur a follow up to “What if Cyclists were like NASCAR Drivers and Triathletes?” post. Instead, I was left shaking my head as I heard another perfect example of what NOT to do when you’re a sponsored athlete. Bike races and cycling teams are dependent on sponsorships. These teams are ambassadors for their sponsors. Unfortunately, a lot of riders think showing up and riding their bike is enough. While it may work for a select few of CEOs that are fans of the sport and want have a jersey on their wall, ultimately, companies are looking for a return on their investment — a concept a lot of riders do not grasp.

We were at one of the bigger criterium races in the U.S. with a lot of the prominent cycling teams toeing up to the line. A rider had wheeled his way up to one of the sponsor booths needing one of its products. The booth employees were excited to see him and had a board where they had sponsored athletes autograph. They asked the rider to sign their board. Now, you need to understand, there are fans along the sidewalk, by-standers watching what is going on, and volunteers walking around and standing in line and he proceeded to act like this:

Well, because you guys are sponsors, I guess I’ll sign this. I typically don’t. The one requirement is that you take a picture with this young lady as I sign it

Photo from Hungrytravels.com

You have got to be kidding me. Here’s what’s wrong:

  • -Apathetic and forced response
  • -Elitist mentality
  • -Dictating the terms

The company that provides your team with gear/product/support whether through financial or product means and you’re not being 110% positive in front of fans? I would have to control myself from not revoking sponsorship on the spot. Without that sponsor you may not have been able to participate in that event. Even if I give him the benefit of the doubt, a sarcastic answer is inappropriate.

There are loads of other teams that would be grateful to have a company support them. Thus, here is the problem with some elite and semi-professional cyclists — They have lost perspective. Sponsors lust for events like these — big city, closed course, and easy access to athletes. It’s the riders’ time to shine and put their best foot forward, showing off their sponsors. Their pay depends upon race results and sponsorship funds. Thus, if a sponsor of your team asks you to do something, wouldn’t you do it with a smile on your face, instead of acting like a child in front of customers? An unhappy sponsor can pull the plug. Then, you wouldn’t even have the option to sign a board.

I wish we had more CEOs who were fans of the sport and could afford to support their passion by having a team. It would be a lot easier, but it’s not. There is no infinite money tree. Businesses are investing into these teams to grow their companies. Deciding to act like a punk probably isn’t in their sponsorship agreement.

My advice for riders on these teams? At every juncture, you should be jumping up and down for your sponsors. I’m not talking about being tacky or overly fake about promoting a company’s product. People can see right past that. However, sounding excited to do something in front of fans shouldn’t be asking too much. At the end of the day, any team or rider is replaceable.

What are your thoughts on a situation like this? Do you feel that some cycling teams do not understand what it means to be sponsored?