by Sean Hess, Team Rider and Manager for Strackacobra. Visit me on Google+ and Facebook.
So you want to sponsor a bicycle team?
I am a partner and owner in a real estate brokerage in St. Augustine, Florida, and I sponsor my own race team. I am currently the only member of this race team. It’s called (and it’s a mouthful): Strackacobra powered by St. Augustine Team Realty, Sean Hess, PA. On the jerseys the “PA” is replaced by “Broker” for semantic reasons.
I also own the company Strackacobra, which is a graphic arts firm that sells mountain bike themed T-shirts online.
The primary purpose of the team is to train, and not to race.
Kit logo for the team.
It’s actually written up that way in the sponsorship agreement.
The Primary Purpose is to Train, Not to Race
Strackacobra/St. Augustine Team Realty is a mountain bike racing team, and nearest mountain bike race is about 90 miles away. In fact, the majority of races involve an eight hour drive, and about the only hills you’ll find around town are the two bridges over the Intracoastal Waterway.
But to race you need to train, hundreds of training hours in fact, all put in on local roads. And each and every one of those training hours…sometimes eight or nine hours a week…includes the blue and yellow oval and the big blue “SA” of St. Augustine Team Realty. Actual racing time, in comparison, may only involve 25 hours in an entire season.
And since the typical training ride is done on busy roads during morning drive time, the result is that my company gets in front of a lot of eyes and gets a lot of advertising exposure.
To me it’s a like a daily billboard that builds local brand awareness. And though it can be expensive (think $350 for a PowerTap refit, $160 for a derailleur and hanger combo, $175 for shifters, plus mileage and lodging…which is part of my particular sponsorship agreement), it’s not nearly as expensive as a billboard (which can run $1500 to $3500 or more a month with a 12 month commitment).
Plus it has these benefits:
It shows my company promoting a healty lifestyle.
It puts a name with the logo, a face with the brand.
Best of all I can pick and choose where I ride and when I ride to maximize brand visibility. You can’t do that with a billboard unless you pay some very extreme dollars.
I can’t tell you how many times I go to a business function and someone will tell me, “Hey, I saw you out riding.” Or how many people that have never worked with our company recognize our logo and brand when I introduce myself.
And it helps that it’s such a bright and easy-to-read logo. In fact in the next version of the kit, the “SA” will take an even bigger stage to make it even more visible.
So Where Does Racing Come In?
Here’s where the racing comes in.
You can’t train in a vacuum. As a broker I simply could not go out and ride every day in all weather conditions just for brand exposure. I needed a goal.
Racing is that goal.
It motivates me to get out and train hard and to put in the hours. With such long drives to races, for me it’s important to not just show up but to race as well as possible. This drives the training, and the result is that it benefits my company with exposure.
I’m Not Even Allowed to Wear My Road Kit to Mountain Races
In my sponsorship agreement I am expressly prohibited from wearing my “SA” kit in mountain bike races unless it’s a retired kit or the race is held in this county.
So the kit is always in pristine shape for training and brand exposure here in St. Augustine.
For mountain bike races and practices I wear a fully branded Strackacobra kit. This benefits Strackacobra’s branding and t-shirt sales where it matters most, at events where there are large numbers of mountain bike riders.
The only time I’ve ever worn the “SA” in a race was during a crit held in our local downtown. The only other time I pull it out for races is for post-race promotional photos at mountain bike races, but never actually in the race.
For me it is a really perfect combination of team and sponsor.
So You Want to Sponsor A Team
You should have some goals if you want to sponsor a team.
Is it brand awareness? Is it to sell widgets? How do you measure your return on investment?
How and where, and under what circumstances will your team display your logo? Is your logo too small to see clearly on a uniform?
And you have to think about the riders that will be on your team, because they will represent your brand to other cyclists and passing motorists. Make sure they aren’t the type of riders who blow through red lights or flip the bird to passing cars.
Your cycling team may be the first or only way a consumer is aware of your brand…make sure it’s a positive experience for them.
It’s Up To You As the Small Business Owner To Make the Sponsorship Work
Yep, it’s up to you to promote the team, not the other way around.
In other words, it’s up to you to package the team for the image you want to present, as it relates to your business.
For example, I actually think my team is going to grow in coming years. And I want to keep the the same goal: brand awareness.
I’m thinking lots and lots of road hours on local roads. More and more opportunity for past and potential customers to see my brand everyday in a non-threatening, non-invasive way.
But selling real estate is my role, not my rider’s role.
About the only time I would ever want them to interact with the public would be in a situation where we’re helping out at a bicycle rodeo or other good works function. And sometimes I’ll write a presser highlighting the team’s accomplishments as a another way to expose the brand.
Otherwise I just want them to ride and get the brand seen by as many eyes as possible.
And on race weekends it’s about the graphics side selling t-shirts.
Have a Written Sponsorship Agreement
Even though I own or am part-owner in both companies, I still have a written sponsorship agreement which delineates exactly who pays for what.
It also outlines (as I mentioned above) exactly which uniform kit is to be worn and when. If you are the sole sponsor or the dominant sponsor of a team you’ll be buying the kits, so make sure you have that kind of veto power.
You’ll also want to have…if not veto power…an absolute and clear understanding of where your logo will be placed if you are a co-sponsor.
There may be no point in sponsoring a team (in my opinion) if your logo isn’t visible enough. On the other hand, it’s up to you to make the sponsorship work. So if you can be a co-sponsor for a realatively low price, and if you’re good about writing pressers, and good about having images of the team in your office or store and website, and tying yourself to them, it may work afterall.
For example, you may own a health club and decide to be a minor co-sponsor of a bike team. So at every opportunity let your customers know you sponsor a bike team and that it promotes a healthy lifestyle. And then your customers will start looking for the bike team, and identifying you with the bike team, and it will dovetail nicely.
Just don’t expect the team to drive traffic to you.
You Want to Know When and Where they Train
For safety reasons you don’t want to dictate the when and where of training…leave that to the riders.
But you do need to know how much exposure you’re getting.
I can pull up my TrainingPeaks logs and see exactly how much exposure time I am getting. And since I am the team at this point, I know the exact when and where as well.
You are going to want to see something similar.
For example, how many riders were training this week and for how many hours and on what roads?
If you had five riders who each totalled 8 hours of road time in a week, that’s about 40 hours worth of exposure. Based on how your business is doing as you approach renewal of the sponsorship agreement, this type of data can really help you determine your return on investment.
If you are Bob’s Window Blinds and you’ve been pitched a bike team sponsorship because you participate in someone’s group ride, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of hard questions, and don’t be afraid to say no.
Will the bike team get your name and logo out consistently in front of the right people?
Will the cost and responsibility of the sponsorship produce a greater return on investment than you could get for the same cost in a different medium?
How much space will you get on a uniform? Will you be competing with other brands for the same space?
Does the team, and do the riders on the team, have a good reputation? Are you aware that your reputation rides with them?
Lots to think about!
But if done right, like any advertising medium, it will pay dividends.
I would love to hear your questions or comments, just email me at Sean@Strackacobra.com .
See Strackacobra’s mountain themed T’s at Strackacobra.com .