The typical bike team sponsorship cycle goes something like this:
- Dude who owns company also bikes, gets into racing.
- Dude joins a club, gets asked to sponsor the team.
- Dude kicks in some money, gets his company’s name on the jersey.
- After a few years, Dude loses interest in racing.
- Sponsorship ends.
The only sponsors who stick around local racing for the long haul tend to be those with a day-to-day stake in the bike business. Bike shops, the mainstay of team sponsorship, also come and go, however. Their trajectory looks like this:
- Shop sponsors team.
- Riders all swarm to team “deal” from the shop.
- Shop runs the numbers at year’s end, learns that it is losing all its profit margin on team sales but not making those margins up in new business steered to the shop as a result of the team.
- Shop pulls the plug.
What’s interesting to me is looking at the way bike racers view sponsorships and comparing it to the way that sponsors view their investment.
It’s not about winning
I have yet to hear a sponsor say, “My sponsorship is dependent on race results.” I’ve never even heard a sponsor mention it. Yet the thing that racers can’t talk enough about — these are the guys and and gals who wear the clothes and represent the product — is their race results.
I get it, of course. Men and women who orient their lives around bike racing are filled with excitement and pride when they win a race. But do sponsors really care? Most don’t, and they don’t care for a lot of reasons. First off is because only a handful of people actually win the local races. Second, the “big win” is only big to the winner. Outside the niche-within-a-microfissure of amateur bike racing, few people know, fewer people care, and fewer still remember. Third, winning a bike race and tying your product to an industrial park crit victory is unlikely to bring you any new business.
So what matters for a sponsor?
Well, it’s pretty simple. Most sponsors who spend money on bike racing teams understand that it’s not going to have the ROI of an ad spend on, say, a winning NASCAR driver. Instead, they look at it in more general terms. “Do more people know about my business?”
Given the way that bike racers “promote” their sponsors, the answer is a resounding “No.”
Word of mouth is king
When it’s all said and done, word of mouth is what sponsors are paying for. Did the sponsor’s investment in your team increase the number of people who know about their product or service? Yes? Then it’s a success. No? Then they probably won’t be around to subsidize your hobby next year.
Posting long encomiums about your great victory, along with blow-by-blow accounts of how you muscled through the pain and up the climb and out of the pain cave and onto the podium thanks to #sponsorsnamehere is not what most sponsors look for. They look for something much more basic and under the radar. They want to know that when you’re on the group ride, you’re talking about their product. They want to see comments and posts and tweets that mention the day-to-day value of their service. They want to hear that YOU are telling OTHER PEOPLE about what they sell.
It’s not that hard, but it’s really hard. Sharing the benefits of your sponsored products with other people will keep your sponsors happy. Sharing your awesomeness and incredible wattage on the Big Climb … not so much. By helping the people who help your team, everyone wins. So as the ad says, “Just do it.”