I just read the latest entry on the Richard Sachs blog, which talks all about how bicycle product legitimacy is pretty hard to come by without racing credibility. He says he's a racer who builds frames, not a framebuilder who races: he didn't get into racing because he was in the trade, he got into the trade because of his racing. I think there are a lot of companies for which a similar story is the case, November being one of them. Without racing, there's DEFINITELY no November (and the multilayered meanings going on there).
One point that might not make sense from his perspective or ours is sponsorship. He had like a 5 year waiting list for his frames and ultimately decided to close it; a mercy killing for anyone who was set to stand at the end of that line. What could he get out of sponsorship when demand for his bikes is already functionally beyond his ability to deliver, and his price fully reflects the discord between supply and demand? How could we possibly not sponsor a bunch of teams since we have a need to build awareness and demand, and the "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" axiom has long proven its relevance?
For his part, I think racing's just in his blood and he genuinely wants to support it. His cross team has taken a bunch of up and comers, including Jonathan Page and currently the eminently likable Dan Chabanov, and gives them support they need to take their best shot at a critical time in their path. It's also part of the mystique of his brand, the zen of it if you will. I'd bet his customers enjoy seeing themselves as benefactors to some degree, and Sachs famously stewards that benificence in a way that a lof of others would be wise to consider. It's easy to consider his sponsorship as more of a scholarship for a very deserving VERY few, and a fun vehicle for RS and his friends to race together.
For our part, we have a few obstacles. Philosophically, we don't want to raise prices on the vast majority to give a benefit to a few (we just give a great deal to every Tom, Dick, and Harry out there - congratulations, EVERYONE'S sponsored). We also HATE it (God do I hate it) when we see amateur teams with prominent sponsorship from bike Brand A, yet just a few of the riders are actually on Brand A. A totally valueless situation, that. We do have our team, which serves several purposes - it makes it much easier to keep tabs on how a representative sampling of equipment is behaving, for example. There's also the not small matter that Mike and I, as racers, need a team on which to race.
The simplest answer is just to have our own. You can rest assured that our customers aren't paying more so that people on our team can pay less, though. Apart from some people on our cross team getting bikes to use this fall (which was entirely a product testing cost and zero amount of a promotional expense), the quantitative benefits of being on our team kind of suck. We don't discount wheels or frames to our own team, even. They get good deals on some other things and a lot of general support, but no one's there because it's a free ride. And it does create some weird situations - we've got broke ass grad students who race on God knows how old frames because, well, they're broke ass grad students. As much as you don't get stuff for being on our team, having our stuff isn't a requirement (most people choose to, which is nice). But our team is simply a small group that's composed of people who all make sense in being on a team together. That we call our cross team "The November Bicycles CX Experience" is a total coincidence to this point, but our team actually is very darn close to 100% about the experience of being on it. I don't think anyone's in any hurry to leave.
This fall, our team members actually had a great run - lots of race wins, lots of podiums, etc. We didn't make much noise about it because a) we find "our team's the best" blah blah blah posts to be sort of obnoxious and b) the riders did the work and got the results, not the gear. We don't want anyone to get that confused. The riders get the results.
So, yeah, racing. We love it.