HTC-Highroad searching for a sponsor

Bob Stapleton and his team HTC-Highroad have joined the list of those with sponsor problems. The US-based team may well have to close down after this season if no new sponsor comes forward, Stapleton said.

"If we haven't secured a sponsor by the end of the Tour de France, we will have to sit down and start considering how to wind down operations," Stapleton told the AFP news agency.

"The world's best team, a leader in the sport for the past several years, needs a title partner."

Since 2008, the HTC mens' and womens' teams have brought in a total of 460 wins, including nearly 50 stage victories in the three Grand Tours.

The team started the 2008 season under the name Highroad, after the management company. Sportswear producer Columbia joined as a title sponsor the middle of that season, with telecommunications company HTC joining in 2009. Columbia dropped out after last season, and HTC's sponsorship deal expires at the end of this year.

Negotiations with HTC for an extension are underway, but Stapleton said that he still has “many sleepless nights” over the sponsorship issue.

Stapleton said that cycling presents a unique marketing opportunity for a sponsor, “in that you have valuable naming rights. Sponsors can be on Manchester United's jersey for a lot of money, but the team is still going to be called Manchester United.”

"It's literally hundreds of thousands of repetitions of your brand name on the internet, on television, and in global media.”

The main problem that he faces is doping and cycling's reputation. “We have a lot to offer. But we have to shout that story out over the controversy that seems to surround the sport."

"The consistent feedback we get is that they (sponsors) love cycling and the fundamentals, but they're concerned about the sport, and the non-stop drama around misconduct and doping," he said.

"Be it (the investigations into) Alberto Contador, be it Lance Armstrong, be it Riccardo Ricco, whatever. And in a tough economy, with multiple sponsorship choices to make, people will see cycling as a challenging environment.

The 53-year-old hopes for good news during the Tour de France. "We want to come through for the team. It's been such an unqualified athletic success but it's important for me that we get it on a stable, long-term economic footing," he said.

"Our proposal is: we're gonna always be competitive, represent your brand, and for any given country or race we're going to have a compelling athlete who can perform.

"We crave that longer term commitment. The Tour (de France) provides that narrow window of opportunity for us to get something done."

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