Attracting sponsors into professional cycling became a harder task after 2012, according to BMC Racing team manager Jim Ochowicz.
The American recently announced that BMC had committed to the team for at least another season and that he and BMC’s owner, Andy Rihs, were actively courting third parties with the aim of adding more sponsors and backers to the team.
However, when asked if attracting new sponsors had become a tougher task since 2012, the year in which Lance Armstrong was banned for life by USADA, Ochowicz said it has.
“It’s never an easy sell. It never has been. It is [ed. a harder sell after 2012] because you have to answer the question. I was done in 1996 so I wasn’t pitching to anyone until 2010 at this level. A real pitch with a corporate board they can ask you any question that they want and there’s questions there that are difficultly answered.”
The question of whether or how a team can guarantee clean success is an impossible promise. BMC have their own internal testing and a strict policy, according to Ochowicz, but even that can’t close every eventuality – on his team or any others.
When that question pops up: “We say we’re a sport that tests all the time. We get tested all the time, it’s done by a third party source and we cooperate. We have our own internal policy and testing and we have a zero tolerance. We have to live by those rules and regulations and we do the best we can. We can’t guarantee that it won't happen because we don’t live with our riders and we don’t see them every day.
“One of the dilemmas that we have as a pro cycling team is that we’re not the Green Bay Packers. All the players don’t live in Green Bay all through the season. They can have a meeting five days a week but we might not see anyone for two or three weeks or even a month.”
The sponsorship model
BMC Racing have developed into the one of the richest and most successful teams in the WorldTour, having risen from the Pro Continental ranks. Ochowicz has worked with several of North America’s biggest teams in the past, 7-Eleven and Motorola – the latter closing their team at the end of the 1996 season. He’s well versed in selling the prospect of sponsoring a team to potential suitors but is well aware of how precarious the sport can be at times.
“I’ve been doing this with 7-Eleven, then Motorola and now with BMC. It’s never a situation where you’re sure about a long term commitment from anybody. You’re going from day-to-day, and year-to-year. I’ve never had a contract for more than two years with anyone, even with 7-Eleven when they were there for 10 years. The contract was never more than a year or two.
“Unfortunately that’s how we operate. Some people have been able to get three-year contracts but they’re rare. Therefore, you’re always on the hunt for partnerships. All the teams are in the same boat with that.”
Ochowicz believes the cycling industry provides the foundations from which teams can flourish. BMC are not the only major manufacturer funding a team, with Cannondale, Trek and Merida [a co-sponsor at Lampre] all propping up WorldTour squads.
“The industry helps a lot and that makes sense so they can help sell their bikes, tires, and wheels, and they do a good job and put a lot of resources behind the teams. That’s significant and without that we can’t operate.
“We need foundations and the foundations is the industry because they give support us. If we’re able to find money, they’ll back us up always. That keeps us somewhat grounded.”
If one area is to improve when it comes to the sponsorship model in professional cycling, it’s from the cooperate world, according to Ochowicz.
“It’s an on going process. Even in Paolo Alto where I live, there are giant companies that have an interest in cycling on a recreational level, so I see CEOs of large corporations out riding all the time and I ride with some of them myself. There’s a process to this and if you can persuade them that cycling is a good place to invest where we can fit into their pattern then we might find some resources from them.
“I feel we’re on pretty solid ground and this is sport is pretty inexpensive compared to other sports that have this sort of dynamics. The television that this brings in is more than any other sport in Europe. The cooperate side needs to pick up but we’re at least actively talking to quite a few people with the view of coming on board for 2017.
“But this takes quite a long time to find a client. It’s a process and it takes two or three years before someone trusts you enough to have you manage some of their assets. You may get a few lucky punches with someone just walking in and saying they want to do this but that’s rare.”