While the pandemic has brought a bike boom with it, few in the industry are cracking out the champagne just yet. Sure, things are going well now, but the shipping backlog is keeping more than a few people awake at night, much of public-facing industry, including racing, is stuck in limbo and nobody knows how things are going to evolve next. Do you order more stock, hoping that sales will carry on at their current level? What if the boom is followed by a crash? Do you reinvest your rewards in new ideas or start building a warchest in case things get bad?
With this as a background, things have never been harder for sponsored athletes, and that is before you start to account for lockdowns and social distancing. These days only a fortunate few have contracts that list their goal as just "winning races." Put yourself in the shoes of a marketing manager as we head into a second uncertain year. Ok, it was expensive paying your racer all last year, but if that contract is up for renewal now, could you risk that expenditure for a second year? A third? Without the races, there is a lot more time to think about what value that racer is bringing to your brand away from the racing. This isn't a new trend, the idea that a racer cannot be just a racer is one that has been gaining traction for many years now, but the pandemic has pushed it into overdrive. Of course that word 'value' can be an ugly one, without a definition it is just nonsense business-talk, so we grabbed a range of people whose job involves sponsoring athletes to see if we could find consensus on what this elusive value really is.
What Constitutes Value From a Sponsored Athlete?John Oldale, Marin Bikes
Andy Waterman, Tracksmith
Sarah Leishman, SRAM
Riders who want to make a meaningful living riding their bikes have to hustle these days. Those who are the best at it manage to find a magic sweet spot between performing at the highest level in their sport, being a good human being and finding ways to positively impact their community, all while telling relatable stories along the way. Of course, not everyone does this equally well, but I think the riders who are excelling at this formula are rewarded with sponsorships, exposure, and bigger opportunities.
I spent 2020 (my first year on the job at SRAM) gaining a firsthand appreciation for the work our brand and sports marketing team is faced with as we adapt to constant changes and challenges around the world. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t re-imagining the ideal balance between performance, invention, advocacy and inclusion when we build our partnerships with the riders who represent us. SRAM, RockShox and ZIPP are just as excited about setting our riders up for success as we are about benefitting from their wins, no matter what those wins look like.
Steven Matthews, Rocky Mountain
Claus Wachsman, Sports Partner, Cube
Friso Lorscheider, DT Swiss
Benno Willeit, Team Manager, Specialized Global Racing