SBJ/Aug. 11-17, 2014/Events and Attractions

Cycling race fills sponsor holes, sees slim gains

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Colorado’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge bicycle race will see a small increase in overall sponsorship revenue from 2013, following two consecutive years of major partnership growth. The race, which runs Aug. 18-24, will boast a total sponsorship budget of approximately $7 million for the second consecutive year.

Despite the negligible gain, race management views the sponsorship package as a success. The race was dealt a major setback in the fall of 2013 when founding partners RadioShack and Nissan pulled out of cycling entirely. Beer partner New Belgium brewery departed shortly thereafter.

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge will have a total sponsorship budget of about $7 million for the second straight year.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

Management spent much of 2014 filling the approximately $1.5 million gap with renewals and new deals.

“We had a big hole to fill,” said Shawn Hunter, CEO of the race. “So to be able to fill it and actually go forward with new categories and improvements within existing categories is a victory.”

The race renewed the majority of its founding partnerships, which are valued in the mid-six-figure range. Centura Health, First Bank, Smashburger, UnitedHealthcare, Coca-Cola, the Colorado Tourism Board and Colorado State University all re-upped. It also brought back Sierra Nevada, which was the original beer sponsor in 2011.

Management then signed a handful of new deals at the official partner level — valued in the low six figures — with Redfox headphones, Edward Jones Investments, Certified Angus Beef and the Colorado National Guard.

The cornerstone of the race’s new sponsorship revenue is a two-year founding deal with auto manufacturer Lexus. Auto deals are increasingly important to cycling races, which require a sizable fleet of cars for operations. Some races rent their fleet, which adds substantial costs. As part of its deal, Lexus will supply the entire race caravan with 125 cars.

“The fleet is exclusive to Lexus,” Hunter said. “That is a big deal.”

Will Nicklas, Lexus’ corporate manager of marketing, planning and communications, said the caravan features seven Lexus models. The Lexus IS 250 F-Sport coupe will be the official pace car.

“It’s a giant parade of our cars for seven days across Colorado,” Nicklas said. “It’s an authentic way to be part of the race.”

The deal also gives Lexus ownership of the race’s green jersey, which is awarded to the top sprinter, and allows the brand to award the overall race winner with a free three-year lease on its hybrid model, the CT 200h. The auto manufacturer also will display a 500-square-foot activation zone at the event festival. The activation includes a bicycle valet service for festival attendees, information on Lexus vehicles, and racing statistics for every rider in the event.

The deal adds cycling to Lexus’ portfolio of sports properties, which includes the U.S. Golf Association and U.S. Open. Lexus also will activate at a handful of participatory cycling events in 2015.

Nicklas said cycling represents a shift in strategy away from traditional media-driven partnerships. While the U.S. Pro Challenge broadcasts on NBC Sports in the U.S. and on Eurosport internationally, the race reaches a million or so spectators on the roads of Colorado.

“The [golf] deals are geared toward spectators, and we feel [cycling] is more cutting-edge,” he said. “Cycling plays well with the younger buyer who is into fitness.”

Fred Dreier is a writer in Colorado.

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