We feel like we've got a pretty good sponsorship program, and are going to be working with a few teams this year. We're able to extend some pretty nice benefits to teams, and in return we get more people on our bikes and wheels. It's a sales thing, a marketing thing, and to a small degree it's a testing thing. We aren't taking any teams to the wind tunnel, or to test wheels in the Arenburg Forest, or anything like that, but it's a good conduit for accumulating feedback and learning what products people are interested in. But we like to get feedback from anyone, you don't have to be on a sponsored team for us to hear it.
Specialized, to us, is a funny company. A lot of their products are good, they seem to take care of their partners, they seem not to do so much with the empty acronym marketing, etc. On the other hand, they sort of exemplify the way of doing business that we think works poorly for racers. Their dealer program also seems to be aimed at monopolizing shop space and elbowing smaller brands out. So you take the positives with the negatives.
But their sponsorship program? Holy cannoli. They sponsor a lot of amateur teams, which is good. We like things that benefit amateur racers, even though it's far from cheap to get one of their bikes even if you're on a sponsored team. But that's not really what I'm thinking about. For 2011, Specialized is sponsoring HTC-HighRoad (men and women), Astana, SaxoBank, and now Team Tibco. Three ProTeam (the current nom du jour for top-tier teams), the world's leading women's team, and one of the bigger domestic women's teams.
The ProTeam teams will be receiving 7 figures worth of cash and prizes, figure all told that that program is going to cost them $10 million. What does it get them? Probably about 30 wins from Cavendish, and a bunch more from the rest of HTC. If Contador's "get out of jail free" card comes through, SaxoBank is pretty likely to win the Tour. Astana? Who knows? Vino will probably do something at some point, but I can't think of a team I'd less like to sponsor. Their endemic audience is small and there are way cheaper ways to reach it, and their global appeal is pretty well non-existent. But maybe a Specialized guy wound up with a horse head in his bed after telling Astana that they were pulling their sponsorship.
The women's teams are probably a relatively huge bargain. They're probably paying HTC some amount for the women's team, but I'd imagine that Tibco is either cash neutral or really cheap. Specialized has the women's specific Amira bike that they're trying to build up, so that's a good fit.
But seriously? You already know what the expectations are. In the Cavendish case, he's already done his magic act on bikes from two other brands, so if anything the Specialized sponsorship is going to show that a sprinter of Cavendishes caliber can win on any good bike. SaxoBank is probably as defensive a move as anything else - a year ago they probably considered that between Contador and Andy Schleck, the next decade of Tour wins was their manifest destiny - gotta protect that. Astana, I don't get. $10 million for that? That's not the kind of decision I'm into making. Their ultimate outcome is probably two jerseys in the Tour, a pantload of sprint wins, and a smattering of other wins. But their ultimate outcome is exactly the same as their expected outcome. Not a huge amount of upside.
The women's team thing I'm good with. It's a smaller market, by orders of magnitude, but pragmatically and otherwise, it's a good move. Mostly, I just think that their Amira project is admirable because they seem to have done more than paint a mid-tier bike pink and put floral filigree on it and call it a women's bike. If we get far enough with this that we do a women's specific design (a concept which, in total, I'm not 100% convinced of the necessity for - because I don't see fit falling that neatly along gender lines), we're going to give it speed-metal death graphics. The women I know who race are pretty hard core, and generally express ill will toward the pink floral filigree paradigm.
But spending $10 million to prove stuff that everyone already knew? Seems stupid to me.