By Les Clarke
After a year that saw his squad record over 80 wins, Team Columbia boss Bob Stapleton has outlined the importance of securing sponsorship for subsequent seasons. Sporting success is integral to this, although the case of Crédit Agricole is a prime example that nothing can be guaranteed in the current environment surrounding funding.
Stapleton told Cyclingnews that despite Columbia's commitment to supporting cycling at the highest level, the days of guarantees for future seasons are over. "I don't think anybody's all that strong. CSC has brought on two sponsors, we've brought on Columbia, Slipstream brought on Garmin... but these are not the sponsorships of a few years ago," he said. "There's no Rabobank or T-Mobile or Discovery Channel [entering the sport]. These are promising sponsors, and they're making good investments, but these are not the big-budget 'super teams' of a few years ago.
"I don't think there's any big money sponsor that has come in; it's just a series of encouraging and good steps for teams," he said. "I think everybody is trying to run a tight ship."
A successful Tour de France was key to securing the future for Stapleton's team, having just signed Columbia as naming rights sponsor ahead of the la grande boucle. Prior to July the team had been funded by Stapleton himself. "I think they [Columbia] were thrilled," he said. "They got the best possible introduction they could get with the exposure they got at the Tour."
Stapleton pointed out that gaining the sponsor's commitment wasn't a simple process, although the high visibility of the Tour de France worked in his favour. "They came on at the Tour and I started talking with them in April," he explained. "It took a good couple of months. I think it was lucky because I had the Tour [as a selling point] and we got to the right people quickly. We also had the lure of the Tour - there was a real deadline.
"Right now I think cycling has a lot of people's attention but there's so much concern about the global economy and it's the off-season so it's really hard to get people to step into cycling until we're back in the Tour," he added.
Five stage wins and plenty of television time later however, Stapleton discovered that sporting success can have a direct correlation to sponsor commitment. He outlined the returns involved for the large outdoor wear company, although he's not complacent about the organisation's ongoing support, and knows what he's up against.
"We had a third party study it, and what was generated for the full year was something like 70 million Euros of value," said Stapleton. "They saw a huge return on their investment. It's still tough out there. I think we're healthy but we're also looking around to try and strengthen ourselves.
"We're competing against some teams with hellacious budgets - I don't know what the budget is for the government of Kazakhstan, but I'm sure it's well-funded," he said. "The Russians are similar; we're kind of up against the industrial sporting complex!"
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for a full feature on Team Columbia.