Are sponsors singing in the rain?

Cycling is a strange sport in that there are no entrance fees to view the professionals do battle. Spectators need not part with their money to view the mountain goats soaring through the Alps and need not reach for their wallets to see the fast men battling it out in a mad dash for the finish line. There are no season ticket sales, corporate suites or director’s box and there are certainly no prawn sandwiches.

No, cycling teams are funded by commercial companies willing to fork out the money required to run a professional outfit. In return, these companies get the privilege of having their corporate logos branded on every one of the riders’ team kit. The idea being that revenue will be generated from the advertising that this provides for the company. Sponsors want exposure, and they want success, because ultimately success leads to more exposure.

Francisco Mancebo winning Stage 1 of the Tour of California. But what team does he ride for?

Francisco Mancebo winning Stage 1 of the Tour of California. But what team does he ride for?

With this in mind, memories were aroused of something I witnessed at the Tour of California back in February. It was a horrible day in around Santa Rosa, the rain was coming down hard and the wind ensured the riders were being pelted relentlessly all day. Accordingly, the riders covered up with the necessary rain gear to get through the stage. However, cover up is most certainly what they did, because the corporate logos adorning their jerseys were no longer visible under their rain gear. There was no obvious indication of which team any of the riders were representing. Even the current race leader Fabian Cancellara had covered up his race leader’s yellow jersey with a black rain coat. Surely, with the millions of euro in sponsorship being poured into teams, they could organise team issue rain gear with the sponsors logos as prominent as they are on a regular kit. Not to mention how difficult all the black and grey clad riders make it for the race commentators.

Sponsors are paying for exposure and one of the major measures of exposure is the success of the team. A point which must have been lost on Rock Racing’s Francisco Mancebo who crossed the line in the rain as winner of Stage 1 of the Tour of California wearing a completely anonymous grey rain jacket. Sponsors love stage wins, the money shot is when one of their riders crosses the line, arms aloft displaying their company’s logo. Surely a rain jacket which looked identical to a team jersey would have served the advertising requirements of Rock Racing a lot better than a blank raincoat.

Despite there being no charge to spectators to watch the sport of cycling, teams do generate some revenue from merchandise sales. This includes jerseys, shorts, bib shorts, mits, socks and caps. While there are plenty of leisure cyclists who buy the pro team gear, there are countless others who view it as a sacrilege.

The Team CSC gear from 2007 that I wear.

The Team CSC gear from 2007 that I wear.

Recalling a conversation I read a few months back on, one poster said that no amateur deserves to wear the pro team gear because the riders who are on the pro teams have worked hard and have made it as a professional cyclist and deserve to wear it. By not actually acheiving anything worthwhile on a bike, amateurs that ride around in the pro gear are insulting the pro riders who actually deserve to wear it. Another poster then replied that it’s no big deal, that sure don’t you see hundreds of amateur footballers up in the 5-a-side in Tallaght running around in Man United and Liverpool jerseys? The original poster pounced and explained that in football, a jersey is just a jersey, but in cycling a jersey is seen as a symbol of stature. The jerseys are the prizes bestowed upon the riders, the green jersey, the yellow jersey, the rainbow jersey, jerseys in cycling are sacred. He went on to comment that wearing pro team gear on a bike is not the same as wearing pro team gear on a football pitch. It is more akin to turning up for a football match with an FA Cup winners medal around your neck and the World Cup in your hand.

Personally, I do wear the pro team gear and depending on your definition of the term, would be described as a ‘Fred’. I can usually be seen cycling around in the 2007 Team CSC gear and here’s why.

Am I not, by buying official team merchandise, directly supporting the sport that I love? Am I not, however small, financially supporting a professional cycling team? Am I not, by parading around in my pro team gear, providing the team sponsors with even more advertising? Does seeing amateur riders in pro team gear not encourage potential sponsors to get involved in cycling?

I would rather parade around in my undeserving CSC gear supporting the sport of cycling than give my money to Mr.Lidl. However, with the winter months looming, I could do with some nice team issue rain gear!

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