What do team sponsors of the men’s WorldTour actually do?
The yellow bunting is going up across France, the media is working itself into a lather, and the eyes of the world are about to focus on a bike race for the next three weeks. That’s right: it’s almost Tour de France time.
And while that’s exciting for cycling fans and the riders competing, it’s really exciting if you’re a cycling team sponsor. At this one big bike race, due to the disproportionate media attention, all of that marketing investment can finally pay itself off. This is what it was all for: this is the one that counts.
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So who are the sponsors that are counting on a ROI during this prance around France? What are they promoting? Can you even buy it, and if so, would you want to?
Cycling’s a niche sport existing on a more terrestrial plane than football and basketball, and for the teams, it’s a motley assortment of brands and billionaires that keep the lights on. Often it’s as much out of passion for the sport as it is about selling things.
Let’s take a look at the different naming-rights sponsors of the WorldTour and wildcard teams of the 2021 Tour de France – from supermarkets to SIM cards, flooring to 4WDs.
One of the most enduring teams in the peloton is presented by one of the longest-lasting sponsors, AG2R. AG2R – a brand-name that in international markets is synonymous with ‘brown knicks’ – is an insurance company. And not just a little one – it’s one of the biggest in France, with more than 15 million individual customers and 500,000 businesses on its brown-knicked books.
For 2021, after a number of years being co-headlined by ‘La Mondiale’ (a pension company under the AG2R umbrella), the team has brought on Citroën as co-title sponsor.
Citroën is, of course, a French car manufacturer that has been in the biz for more than a century. In the past it has been responsible for the charismatic 2CV and the swooningly handsome DS (be still my beating heart).
Now it produces whimsical hatchbacks with rubber bumpers on the doors, which you can (but shouldn’t) read some awful advertorial copy about from the Daily Mail here.
Astana has been involved in the sport since the end of the Armstrong era, and is owned by Samruk-Kazyna – a collective of state-owned companies in Kazakhstan, effectively making the Kazakh government the team’s naming rights sponsor.
The team is named after the old name of the country’s capital city, which is a bit confusing now that the entire city has rebranded as Nur-Sultan.
In 2021, the Canadian peat-packing firm Premier Tech stepped up to co-title sponsorship, where it has a much larger pulpit from whence it can spout relentless corporate-babble:
Are you planning a house renovation? Do you want a selection of tasteful and reassuringly expensive German fittings? Then Bora-Hansgrohe may just be the team for you!
Bora is a company that manufactures luxury German extractor fans. Its products are futuristic as hell and suck steam down rather than up while simultaneously looking like some sort of alien artefact. I can’t imagine I will ever be able to afford one.
Hansgrohe is the brand that you should turn to if you want a luxury German showerhead with a Peter Sagan logo on it. It loves getting the Bora-Hansgrohe boys to lather up in teal boardshorts and savour the new PowderRain feature.
PowderRain, you ask? Just “the most splendid, sensuous and stylish way to be cocooned by water,” if you can believe what Emanuel Buchmann (allegedly but definitely never) said one time.
Like AG2R, Cofidis has been around for decades, loyally throwing its Euros toward sponsorship of a niche sport. Thanks, Cofidis!
Founded in 1982, Cofidis is a money-lender that specialises in giving consumer loans over the phone or internet. Is that sexy? No, absolutely not, but if you’re A) in France and B) in need of some quick cash to renovate your bathroom, there’s only one number to put in your teledex.
The sport’s most successful Classics squad takes a leaf out of the Bora-Hansgrohe book by getting a couple of complementary sponsors for your renovation needs.
Deceuninck is a PVC window frame manufacturer. The Belgian company is responsible for such hit products as the ‘Elegant’, Deceuninck’s “ultimate window concept … that continues to amaze through its technicality and design and which perfectly matches the team’s values.” Elegant. [music swells, husky whisper at edge of hearing: “Elegant”]
Also on the books are QuickStep, which has been enthusiastically committed to cycling sponsorship since pre-Tom Boonen glory days. QuickStep makes laminate flooring, a vital strategic alliance that you can hear team boss Patrick Lefevere stumblingly trying to articulate in the below video:
Way back in that hazy pre-pandemic time when you could, you know, go anywhere, ‘studying abroad’ was a popular way of learning things about foreign-language nightclubs, cultural cuisines like 3am kebabs, the intersection of ‘debauchery’ and ‘regret’, and what it is to be too hungover to actually go to class the next day.
In a roundabout way that’s what the Swedish company EF Education offers, but with a lovely visual identity and a lot of nice words about how it “opens the world through language, travel, cultural exchange and academic programs.”
Nippo is a Japanese construction firm that found a scorpion on a construction site in September 2017 and has been too rattled to post on social media ever since.
Did you know that Groupama-FDJ is actually marketing something specific, rather than just the essence of Frenchness? It’s true!
Groupama is a French mutual insurance group that “insures tomorrow with confidence”. It has operations in 12 countries and is apparently the second biggest mutual insurer in the world, which certainly sounds impressive, even if I don’t know what a ‘mutual insurer’ is.
FDJ is a long-time sponsor of the team in incarnations including Francaise de Jeux, fdjeux.com and now FDJ. It is the government-owned French national lottery, because gambling is A) fantastic and non-harmful and B) something that a federal government should be profiting off.
Ineos is a chemicals company owned by billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe, one of Britain’s wealthiest individuals, is an enthusiastic supporter of Brexit and is based in Monaco for tax purposes.
In 2017, Ratcliffe decided to enter the automotive industry with a four-wheel-drive that borrows heavily from the Land Rover Defender’s aesthetic. It is called the ‘Grenadier’ after his favourite pub and has a distinctly British look and feel to it, despite being manufactured in France (because, Brexit).
Everything is going well for Jim, and his derivative car.
The team with the longest name in the game – and one of the busiest jersey designs – is title-sponsored by three different companies.
In first billing is the newest arrival to the team sponsorship, Intermarché, a French supermarket chain owned by an even bigger retail group, Les Mousquetaires.
Wanty has been around the squad since it was an adorable little baby ProTeam; it’s a Belgian engineering firm.
Gobert Matériaux is a Belgian building materials supplier. Its staff is “trained to advise you on your choice of materials, as well as on all the new products available,” which sounds frankly exhausting.
Israel Start-Up Nation
Israel Start-Up Nation is, like Ineos, the passion project of the ultra-wealthy: in this case billionaire co-owners Ron Baron and Sylvan Adams. Ron Baron has maybe the world’s most bonkers house. Sylvan Adams is a Canadian Zionist that wants cycling to make a big splash in Israel.
Originally positioned as a development squad for Israeli riders, the team has morphed over the years to gain a WorldTour berth and attract big name riders like Chris Froome.
The ‘Israel’ part of the team name is pretty self-explanatory, and ‘Start-Up Nation’ comes from a non-profit incubator in Israel that seeks to attract tech startups.
Call me a pedant, but the placement of the team’s hyphen is and will ever remain my waking nightmare.
Lotto and Soudal are kind of like the gin and tonic of the peloton – an enduring pairing that has been going down smoothly for years.
Lotto is the Belgian state lottery – a Belgian FDJ, if you will.
Soudal is an adhesives manufacturer. That probably sells them short a bit, though, because they own the factory that is the biggest global producer of polyurethane foams. Soudal employs – and I quote – “around 3,654 people worldwide”, which strikes me as a fairly specific ballpark figure.
But what the hell do I know; I am not a market leader in sealant.
The team we now know as Movistar has been around since 1980 under guises from Reynolds to Banesto to Caisse d’Epargne. Since 2011, the Spanish and Hispanic-American telecommunications company Movistar has been the name on the jersey.
It’s apparently working out well enough for Movistar that they can justify funding two seasons of a lavish Netflix documentary series that frequently shows the team in a terrible light.
This one kind of does what it says on the tin: the team is sponsored by the government of Bahrain, a resource-rich and human-rights-poor gulf state.
Last year the team was co-sponsored (sort of) by sports car manufacturer McLaren – a company which is also part-owned by the government of Bahrain. This year the team has gone for a more nebulous second half of the name: the hope of a win or two.
The artist formally known as Mitchelton-Scott (and before that, Orica-GreenEdge) has since its inception been sponsored by a shifting cast of companies owned by Australian multi-millionaire Gerry Ryan.
Ryan has been a longstanding supporter of Australian sport – cycling, horseracing, netball and various codes of football included. His cycling team’s current incarnation is under the name of BikeExchange, an online sales platform for bicycles (and former owner of CyclingTips, incidentally).
He is also a key backer of the animatronic production company Walking With Dinosaurs, which is a tantalising prospect for future cycling team title sponsorships.
DSM is a Dutch multinational corporation that was founded in 1902 to mine coal. In the decades since, it has diversified its portfolio considerably, and now operates in three distinct areas: nutrition (vitamins, yeast extracts, etc.), materials (food packaging, resins, plastics, and Dyneema fabric) and innovation (‘Emerging Businesses’, such as advanced solar technologies).
They also make their own sunscreen, which Michael Storer seems quite pleased about below:
Having ripped through a number of sponsors since its halcyon days as Rabobank, this squad has found long-term stability (and a very yellow and black vibe) in its current sponsors.
Jumbo is the second-largest Dutch supermarket chain after market-behemoth Albert Heijn, a feat that’s doubly impressive seeing as Jumbo doesn’t even seem to have a functioning website at time of writing.
Visma is a Norwegian software company that could probably help Jumbo with its tech issues if it asked nicely.
One of the good news stories of the peloton, the perpetual underdog that used to be known as NTT and Dimension Data is now sponsored by the South African bicycle charity, Qhubeka.
At the extreme opposite end of the financial spectrum is their co-sponsor, Assos – a luxury Swiss cycling kit manufacturer that recently launched a US$725 jacket.
Also, they have this guy:
Trek is the only bike-manufacturer in the peloton that has currently got its name on a team, having sponsored various incarnations of the squad since 2011.
Segafredo is a coffee company from Italy that is a sub-brand of Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group – a Bologna-based firm that apparently sells 120,000 tons of coffee each year.
Sadly, it’s Segafredo that got the cycling sponsorship call-up and not another of Zanetti’s sub-brands, Chock Full o’ Nuts. We can but dream of a funnier future in 2022.
UAE Team Emirates
Like nearby Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates is a wealthy, resource-rich country with a few red flags with regards to human rights.
On the plus side, it has bike infrastructure through scenic places just made for cycling:
The country itself is the sponsor of UAE Team Emirates, under a few different banners of state-owned entities including Emirates, the Dubai-based flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, and assorted banks.
Making its Tour de France debut, Alpecin-Fenix comes into the Tour de France with the Dutch superstar Mathieu van der Poel as the team’s figurehead. On that figurehead’s head is an immaculately coiffed hair-do. That hair is shampooed with Alpecin caffeine shampoo, which has given Mathieu “New energy for [his] hair and scalp”.
Enjoying the peripheral glow of Van der Poel’s caffeinated scalp is Fenix. It’s an Italian interior design materials company, manufacturing surfaces for things like benchtops, splashbacks, and bookshelves.
B&B Hotels p/b KTM
This team has a particularly exciting start to the 2021 Tour de France – the Grand Départ in its home region of Brittany, where naming-rights sponsor B&B Hotels also got its own, uh, Grand Départ. It’s a budget hotel chain with more than 400 thrifty locations across Europe, although sadly, the team does not seem to have any social media assets showcasing the quality of the accommodation.
In lieu of this, please have this edgy picture of Cyril Gautier:
In 2021, the cheap hotel chain was joined by KTM as a sponsor. KTM, an Austrian motorcycle, sports car, and bicycle manufacturer, is also the team’s bike sponsor. It is synonymous with an orange colour scheme that fortunately does not make an appearance on the cycling team’s glaz-coloured kit.
What is ‘glaz’, you ask? Oh, I’ve got you:
Glaz is a colour, indeed. The same colour as the sea in Brittany. Between green and blue, depending on the weather, the season, the time of the day. Glaz is our jersey’s colour, obviously. A proper English translation would be … ‘Glaz’ 😉
– B&B Hotels p/b KTM’s very nice media contact.
Like B&B Hotels, Arkéa Samsic will have extra motivation at the start of this year’s Tour de France. The race begins in Brest, home of the Arkéa head office, where cooperative and collaborative banking is a way of life. Not a scintillating way of life, I’ll grant you, but a way of life nonetheless.
Samsic is a family-owned human resources company with a website that has a whole lot of words on it; some of them even good.
Until last week, this team was called Direct Energie and had a much nicer kit. Alas, just in time for the Tour the squad’s corporate overlords have handed down a corporate rebrand (because “Energy is reinventing itself”, naturally).
The team is now 100% less Direct and has a lot more colours, something that the riders – having eyes – have noticed. Niki Terpstra (definitely never) said that “There are also beautiful colours which perfectly represent the new logo and the image of TotalEnergies,” while French rider Fabien Doubey more truthfully conceded “I am surprised with the result”.
On the plus side, TotalEnergies claims to have bold targets for renewable energy and a chirpy little website with autoplay music, so, I guess you win some and lose some?