Watching the Olympic cycling road race last week, I was struck by how unadulterated the cyclists’ uniforms were. They had essentially no sponsors at all, which is in stark contrast to the teams in which the cyclists ride.
One of the strange/charming things about professional cycling teams are that they are named for their sponsors. This would be a bit like Manchester United being called ‘Team Chevrolet’, or the England cricket team being called ‘Waitrose Pro Cricketeers’. Except pro cycling is such a fringe sport, oftentimes these teams are sponsored by companies who probably aren’t widely heard of in their native countries, let alone on the world stage.
The whole thing got me wondering – what if UCI WorldTeams were simplified to what the sponsors’ companies actually do?
I thought these team names were strange before I set out on this quest, but things only got stranger as I dug deeper!
AG2R La Mondiale turns out to be a pensions and investments company. I have no idea if AG2R and La Mondiale are two separate companies, but either way it’s a mouthful. Their brown and blue colour scheme reminds me of wiring plugs.
Astana is surprisingly straightforward. Astana is not actually a company or service, but the capital city of Eurasian country Kazakhstan. The country appears to be investing in professional sports as a way of reminding the rest of the world that the place exists. Good for them for thinking outside of the box I guess! Other sponsors appear to be other Kazakhstani state-owned companies, including Raimbek, which produces milk.
BMC makes bicycles. The cyclists on the team ride BMC bicycles. The professional cycling audience probably includes aspirational cyclists. This makes sense!
Cannondale Drapac is a similar case – Cannondale makes bicycles that the cyclists ride, but the team has recently been appended with Drapac, which appears to be, uh, some kind of property investment company? More interesting is smaller shirt-sponsor Holowesko, a Bahamas-based investment company. Maybe the 2017 tour will see the entrance of a Team Mossack Fonseca?
Dimension Data call themselves Africa’s team, which made a lot more sense in 2015, when they were known as MTN (an African mobile phone service provider) Qhubeka (an African cycling charity). Now their title sponsor is an IT services company owned by Japan’s NTT.
Etixx Quick-Step is the perfectly logical (?) combination of sports supplements and flooring. Other sponsors include Lidl, a discount supermarket that continues to grow internationally, and Latexco, who I wrongly assumed to be some kind of latex industry body. Turns out they make mattresses out of their latex.
FDJ is the French lottery, and the first of three teams in the top tier of pro cycling to be headlined by a national lottery. I understand lotteries sponsoring cycling teams because the British lottery invests a lot of money into sport too, albeit not as transparently.
IAM Cycling, I am sitting. IAM appears to be another vague investment company. Special mention to smaller shirt sponsor ‘Au Club Alpin’, a hotel that isn’t even going to open until 2018.
Giant Alpecin makes a relative amount of sense. Again, Giant makes bicycles. Alpecin is a premium caffeinated shampoo, which is mad, but is at least a consumer product that the audience may be inclined to try. My hair doesn’t need any extra stimulation though, so it’s not for me. Stranger sponsors of this team include Airflow, who make air vents, and DSM, a company so vague about what ‘science’ they do, I just put them down as ‘chemicals’ and moved on with my life.
Katusha turns out to not be a random Russian city following in the same motion as Astana, but a Russian cycling clothing company. I had no idea!
We start getting into the weeds with Lampre Merida. Merida makes bicycles, so we don’t have to give that much thought, but Lampre appears to specialise in producing coated steel, and has smaller shirt sponsorships that provide derivatives of said coated steel. It’s all about shoulder-sponsor CEIFFE though – next time I need an industrial furnace, I’ll be sure to think of this professional cycling team.
Lotto Jumbo is lottery sponsor number two, this time from The Netherlands. Like this team’s lotto, Jumbo is also Dutch, and is a supermarket with a great name. More puzzling here is ‘Brand Loyalty’, another typically vague company that appears to run loyalty card schemes for retailers?
Lottery number three comes from the Belgians, as the headline sponsor of Lotto Soudal. Soudal, however, makes adhesives for sticking tiles to your walls. I did find some Soudal products in my local DIY shop once, so I guess the international advertising works for them? I like the shoulder sponsors of a fuel card that I presume could only ever be useful to people in Belgium.
Movistar is a mobile phone service provider in Spain. They are owned by Telefonica, who owns O2, a mobile phone service provider that operates in several other large European markets, but who does not grace this shirt as a sponsor for some reason.
Now we’re talking – I had no idea Orica makes mining explosives and provides other mining services, beside sponsoring an international top-tier cycling team. Bike Exchange appears to be an Australian cycling online-swap-meet kind of affair.
Team Sky is a canny sponsorship by the Murdoch family, because not only is Sky operational in several large European markets, but professional cycling is usually shown on non-sky-branded channels in the UK, which gets their name in front of people who may not necessarily be customers already.
Oleg Tinkoff wants you to know he is sponsoring Team Tinkoff by way of his Russian online bank, because their shirts say his name nine times on the front alone. Or maybe nobody else would share in sponsoring his team in its twilight year.
Last up is Trek Segafredo, an American bicycle company who has recently added an Italian coffee brand as a co-sponsor. Most of the smaller sponsors are sub-brands owned by Trek, including the slightly baffling ‘People For Bikes’, which seems to be some kind of cyclist’s lobbying outfit.
Things only get stranger the further down the professional cycling leagues you get (Team Baby Dump, anyone?). I’m surprised that at this top tier, though, there aren’t more household multinationals sponsoring the teams. It’s not like doping scandals are just a cycling problem, and you probably get pretty good bang for your buck compared to other sporting sponsorships. The numbers do appear to be a bit sketchy, but some sponsors believe the Tour De France alone to have a viewership measured in billions!