Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Possible new cycling sponsors - part I

In the light of HTC’s and GEOX’ goodbye to cycling and the fusion between Radioshack and Leopard, I’ve taken a look at some new potential sponsors who all bring a big bag of money to the table.

Two of the most sold jerseys worldwide, sponsored by Bwin.
First up is the betting industry. Bookmakers all over the world are making tons of money every day on poker, casino and sports betting and are all looking for potential sports to sponsor. Bwin has been sponsoring the entire best Portuguese football league for years and are currently on the chest of worldwide known players like Ronaldo and Kaka. The financial details of the Portuguese league sponsorship haven’t been disclosed, but we do know that that the price for the coveted sponsor deal with Real Madrid gives the Spanish club €20 million a year. And this is only a visual deal. Have you ever mentioned Bwin when you are talking about Real Madrid? I know I haven’t… Imagine if they put just half of that amount into a cycling team where they will get the rights to the entire team name. €10 million is more or less the budget Team Sky (Bradley Wiggins & Mark Cavendish) and Liquigas (Ivan Basso & Vincenzo Nibali) have and a few millions more than Team Saxo Bank (Alberto Contador) and Lampre (Alessandro Petacchi & Damiano Cunego) have.

Team? Unibet weren't allowed shown on the tricot.
It’s a known fact that the bookmakers have plenty of money to spend on marketing so why aren’t any of them throwing their love (and money) at cycling? Well, as you might remember; Swedish bookmaker Unibet tried just that back in 2006. Unibet paid €6-8 million a year for their ProTour team sponsorship but ended up abandoning the sport again after only two years. The different countries’ gambling monopoly prevented Unibet to take part in any of the three Grand Tours and therefore they decided to leave. ”It's too bad that cycling has been troubling a sponsor that invests no less than €25,000,000 in the sport”, team manager Hilaire Van der Schueren said in 2007.

So why should the bookmakers come back and spend €8-10 million on a WorldTour team sponsorship? First of all, it’s important to remember that the very same gambling monopolies that ended up killing Team Unibet now are about to disappear thanks to the EU-wide legalizations on the gambling markets. Denmark, France, Spain etc. will all legalize gambling and public sports betting advertizing in 2012 and that means that the fear of being excluded from ex. the Tour de France due to a bookmaker sponsor is now gone.

Denmark was the first country to legalize gambling and that has had an immediate effect on the best football league which, in 2012, will be co-sponsored by the Scandinavian bookmaker Betsafe while the 2nd division will be renamed to “The Betsafe League”. According to my information Betsafe pays around €1 million for this sponsorship. The thing is that Betsafe is already a well known brand in Denmark. Wouldn’t it be great if they decided to spend their money on the Danish Team Saxo Bank and help securing one of those big names (Thor Husvhod, Tony Martin etc.) that Bjarne Riis didn’t have the money for as well?

Odds on the Tour de France 2012 at Betsafe.
There is one big bridge to cross though and that is the fact that cycling still is an absolute niche sport for the bookmakers. Most bookmakers are making red numbers on their cycling bets and the amount of money placed on the cycling markets are microscopically small compared to big sports like football and tennis. Still we must remember that despite this fact Unibet did think it was a good idea to sponsor a cycling team in the best league.

It might look like a dead end, but personally I believe that we will see bookmakers entering top cycling within the next couple of years. It might be too early – after the end of the gambling monopolies – in 2012 already, but I feel quite confident saying that the Tour de France 2014 will have a least one team sponsored by an online bookmaker on the start list, except for Lotto and FDJ of course.

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