Int’l Cycling Union (UCI) President Brian Cookson said that cycling has to do something about its very poor economic model. The sport has been hit hard by the withdrawal of long-time team sponsors such as Rabobank and Deutsche Telekom, as well as the recent demise of the Euskaltel-Euskadi pro cycling team. Deutsche Telekom and Rabobank both ended their cycling sponsorships because of the sport’s numerous doping scandals. The Euskaltel-Euskadi team fell victim to Spain’s economic situation and had to close shop after 20 years, as it was unable to find another major backer. Cookson told SBD Global that he is "very concerned" about these developments. "I think we’ve underdeveloped the commercial potential of our sport." Cookson is already working on ways to improve the sport’s economic situation. The UCI has set up a working group and is working with Tour de France organizer ASO, teams, riders, national federations and event promoters, among others, to put the sport on a more viable economic path. "I think the potential is great out there, but we have underdeveloped it massively in the past and we are going to do something about that," Cookson said. "We don’t argue so much about who’s going to have the biggest slice of the cake, which is getting smaller and smaller. We want a bigger cake altogether, so that everyone gets a bigger slice. I’m confident that we can do that." To make this vision a reality, cycling has to find ways to improve its product and restore its damaged reputation. If it is able to do those things, Cookson is certain that more sponsors will join the sport because of its links with health, environment and transportation.
THRILL RIDE: One of the areas Cookson believes has a huge growth potential is broadcasting. TV broadcasts of road cycling races have not really changed a lot in the last 20-30 years. There have been some technological improvements such as HD, but it basically is still the same sort of coverage. Cookson: "I’m very keen to start looking at things like cameras on bikes and that kind of thing. What would be more exciting than having a camera on Mark Cavendish’s handlebars when he’s sprinting down the Champs-Élysées at the finish of the Tour de France, or on a rider coming down an Alpine descent during the Tour or in a world championship?" Those and other technological advances could make a six-hour Alpine stage during the Tour de France a viewing spectacle. Cookson said that people who love sports sometimes do not like to talk about the value of these kinds of things. However, sports actually depend on commercial and economic aspects at the professional level. "There’s a clue in the name, it’s professional sports. Therefore it needs finance to survive, and we’ve got to look at ways of doing that much more effectively than we’ve done in the past." Making the sport more viewer-friendly could also bring back networks, which have decided to eliminate cycling from their programs due to its doping culture.
CULTURAL SHIFT: German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF did not only pull the plug on its viewers during the 2007 Tour de France due to several doping scandals, they also have not aired the most important cycling race in the world since ’11. While Cookson is not happy that ARD and ZDF took such harsh measures, he thinks that it has been one of the things that influenced a change in behavior in recent years. "I think nothing hurts people more than hitting them in the pocket. Finally, individuals, teams and certain perpetrators have realized that actually doping is damaging the financial aspects of the sport," Cookson said. Cycling’s doping culture has hurt the sport economically as it lost sponsors and broadcasters. However, Cookson is convinced that the sport, helped by things like the biological passport and better testing, has seen a cultural turnaround over the last few years. The UCI’s task is now to take advantage of this shift by making sure that people once again have confidence in the integrity of the sport. The governing body is already seeing some promising signs. "I do think we are seeing a much cleaner sport in cycling now, and sponsors are starting to return," Cookson said.
Global bank HSBC has one year "left on the sponsorship contract with the popular Abu Dhabi event on the European Tour," according to Steve Elling of THE NATIONAL. HSBC "also stages a co-sanctioned World Golf Championships tournament called the HSBC Champions, an event on the LPGA, a tournament in Brazil and also underwrites the Open Championship. All five deals expire at some point next year." That "was by design." The bank "will take a long look at whether it will continue with golf sponsorship at current, higher or lower levels." Last weekend, HSBC Head of Global Sponsorship & Events Giles Morgan said, "Whether we continue them all or not, that will all be busy with lawyers and contracts and the rest of it" (THE NATIONAL, 1/20).
EPL side West Brom is in talks with some leading Indian companies after its current sponsor, London-based property company Zoopla, "decided to pull the plug in the wake of striker Nicolas Anelka's controversial racism-linked goal celebration in an EPL match," according to the PTI. West Brom Sales & Marketing Dir Adrian Wright said that he would meet some top corporates in India "for a possible deal for the main sponsor of the club." Wright: "We are going to meet some top corporate houses in India which have shown interest in becoming a sponsor. It's in a preliminary stage but if an Indian company becomes our sponsor it would be a great development for us." Companies West Brom is going to meet include "Airtel, Reliance, Tata and JCB and the meetings have been arranged through the FICCI and CII." A meeting with Reliance company "assumes significance" as West Brom is reportedly interested in buying a franchise of the Indian Super League proposed to be organized by IMG-Reliance in September. West Brom may be interested in having an Indian company as a main sponsor "as it has a large Asian population in its surroundings." West Brom is located just a few kilometers from Birmingham, which is one of Britain's most Asian-populated cities (PTI, 1/21).
Super League rugby "will have a title sponsor once more" after officials unveiled a three-year agreement with independent energy supplier First Utility, according to Ian Laybourn of the PA. Rugby league’s elite competition has been without a main backer "since clubs decided to pull the plug on the controversial, cash-less, deal" with Stobart two years ago. Although no figures were announced, it is thought to be a seven-figure deal worth around £750,000 ($1.2M) a year, "which is in line with the old Engage sponsorship" which ran for six years up to '11. The game’s governing body, the Rugby Football League, "came under fire from leading Super League clubs over its marketing and commercial strategies as the dispute over the proposed re-structuring escalated" before the World Cup kicked off in October. Yet the RFL "managed to fill its sponsorship portfolio for the World Cup," which also generated bumper crowds and large TV audiences. It is thought the success of the 14-team competition "helped find fresh backers for the domestic game" (PA, 1/21). First Utility will also obtain naming rights for the newly named First Utility Super League. The league is watched by almost 2 million people annually and is televised on Sky Sports and the BBC in the U.K. First Utility will receive significant TV exposure (Super League).
Super Rugby side Western Province Rugby announced that "Land Rover will be the official associate and exclusive vehicle partner of the union for the next three years." The Land Rover brand "will be represented on the kit of the Stormers and Western Province in Super Rugby, the Currie Cup and the Vodacom Cup tournaments, respectively" (SPORT 24, 1/21). ... ProSports Int'l, the exclusive Middle East distributor of FootJoy, "has been confirmed as the Official Apparel of the 17th Commercial Bank Qatar Masters." Dubai-based ProSports has been the tournament’s Official Apparel since '11 "and will mark its fourth successive year of sponsorship by outfitting all tournament organisers in FootJoy clothing" (GULF TIMES, 1/20). ... The Geneva Marathon for Unicef announced its partnership with Harmony, a leading chain of gyms in Geneva and the state of Vaud in Switzerland. Harmony will become the presenting sponsor to the event in a three-year deal (Geneva Marathon).