Cyclists say sponsor deals not just for Lance, RadioShack

Courtesy Fort Worth Business Press

When professional cyclist Lance Armstrong announced in the middle of the Tour de France last month that he would be joining a new squad, Team RadioShack for the 2010 season, cycling fans immediately started talking.

Who would join the new team? Who would other sponsors be? A RadioShack press release said Armstrong would compete as a cyclist, runner and triathlete – how would that cross training affect his performance?

The coming together of a Plano-raised athlete and a Fort Worth-based company also has locals paying very close attention to the deal. While RadioShack has declined to offer any financial details of the sponsorship, being the primary sponsor of a world-class cycling team is no inexpensive feat.

Luckily, for Tarrant County businesses that want to be a part of the cycling world, some sponsorships come at a lower price. There are many bicycling racing teams in North Texas, many of which compete on a statewide level, and the local racers are open to helping businesses target their more local clients, cyclists say.

“We’re willing advertisers for folks,” said Ed Stephan, president of the Moritz Chevrolet Cycling team. “We tell people, ‘Look, we’re basically rolling your name all through town.’”

The team, made up of about 25 riders who join by invitation only and are required to compete in a certain number of races, will become the ThinkCash Cycling team on Oct. 1. Like many teams, it initially was a group of likeminded cycling friends who then turned to their personal business connections to put a business name on the jerseys of team members and help defray the costs of racing for riders who have talent, Stephan said.

The new sponsorship deal evolved the same way; when Moritz was no longer able to sponsor the team, cycling enthusiast Kevin Dahlstrom, chief marketing officer of locally based ThinkCash, saw the advertising potential of a fleet of riders going across the state with his company’s logo on their backs.

“As a small business owner, it’s a very minor expense,” said Mark Whittier, owner of Broken Films, a local production company.

His company is the title sponsor of Broken Films Racing, another invitation-only cycling team. Whittier also is a cyclist, and the first real investment was printing up jerseys with his company’s logo on them. Locally, sponsorships can vary from team to team, but often include keeping the team’s racing license up to date and helping defray the costs of race entry fees. Races for serious riders cater to a specific kind of audience—one of cyclists—but rallies, which have levels for even the most casual bike owner, expose a jersey and a business to sometimes thousands of people, he said.

Title sponsor logos may cover most of a jersey, but other sponsors, ranging from local professionals like lawyers to global companies like Bell, which makes cycling helmets, are often on the jersey too and support a team. Joe Paugh, president of Broken Films Racing, said most of the national or global cycling-affiliated companies have marketing departments and are willing to support local teams with discounts or free products in exchange for jersey space or public use of the product.

“A lot of it is just in kind. . . . Bell made us what I thought was a very nice deal on a racing helmet, and a lot of our riders took advantage of that,” Paugh said.

It’s not unusual for bike shops to sponsor cycling teams or clubs, either—after all, their target demographic are those who are on bikes. Team Bicycles Inc., sponsored by the local small chain of bike stores, is an open team that’s been around since 1986, said Andrew Hollinger, president of the team and editor in chief of The Racing Post, a monthly cycling magazine.

Hollinger, who also serves on the board of the U.S. Cycling Federation, said while cycling is often seen as a fringe sport, cyclists are the kind of people companies should want to advertise to. Typical readers of his magazine are in their 30s and more than two-thirds are in professional or managerial positions or are business owners, he said, and the average family income is more than $75,000 annually, with about 46 percent earning more than $100,000 in family income annually.

Despite the potential client profile, some businesses may be reluctant to advertise because it can be hard to make a definite relationship between sponsoring a team and an uptick in sales.

“It’s a good demographic; the bad news is the payback is not hard,” he said.

For team presidents or members, finding advertisers can be difficult if you can’t pull on personal connections. Hollinger is organizing the Race Championship Weekend—The Fort Hood Challenge, benefiting the Resiliency Campus at Fort Hood for solider and families, which will be Oct. 10 and 11, and he said getting support from businesses in that area is more difficult because they may already be sponsoring another event, like the Ride for the Cure or the MS 150, other cycling events.

“We have a lot of options, but it’s a lot of footwork and we’re competing with everybody and their brother,” he said.

Where local businesses often are the sponsors of local racers, teams are frequently involved in local event sponsorship. Bicycles Inc. (the store) and Moritz Chevrolet (soon ThinkCash) are the sponsors of the Texas State Criterium Championship, hosted annually in the Cultural District, and that brings in hundreds of riders, making it a valuable advertising opportunity. Stephan said the philanthropic act of sponsoring an event and raising money for a cause—like the Fort Worth Police Bike Patrol Unit, which benefits from the state criterium—is part of what make a team attractive to a sponsor.

Sponsorship isn’t just about advertising. As is evident from the types of businesses and people who sponsor teams, it’s also a way to support one’s sport of choice. Whittier said while his sponsorship of Broken Films Racing hasn’t netted him any specific contracts, it has made his company’s name much more visible, and that’s enough for such an investment.

“There’s a lot of opportunity, and I think unless the media market really, really shifts in the next few years, it seems like smarter money than ever,” he said.

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