Professional cycling relies upon sponsorship from companies willing to pay to have their logos appear on the chests, team cars, and websites of their chosen troop of riders.
Within the men’s peloton, team budgets run into the millions – though refuted, it was suggested in January that Team Sky’s pockets were 30 million deep.
In women’s cycling, finding sponsorship is not a walk in the park – team managers and race organisers struggle to find investors willing to step forward and put their money into the sport.
We spoke to Stefan Wyman, manager of Matrix Fitness Pro Cycling, and Guy Elliott, Director at Women’s Tour organisers SweetSpot, to find out more about their experiences.
“Women’s cycling is a great, affordable, and fascinating sport, that’s only going to get bigger. But attracting a sponsor is a very hard job indeed. I sometimes think people just think we [Team Managers] are not very good at our jobs, but the reality is, it’s simply harder to attract a sponsor to the women’s side of the sport," Stefan told us.
Lack of visible return and no interest in women’s sport are common reasons
He added: “I get a ‘No’ 99 times out of hundred [when I approach companies]."
Women's cycling receives less TV coverage and media attention, making it not as enticing for potential sponsors - Wyman said: "Lack of visible return is one reason (although this isn’t always correct), and no interest in women’s sports is another that gets put over to me."
The team has been supported my Matrix Fitness, and parent company Johnston for five years, and it’s clear the relationship works well for everyone – Stefan said: “With contracts like that with Matrix Fitness going into its 5th year, we seem to be doing something right."
Not just in it for the money
In the case of this sponsorship, Matrix are not just in it for the money – Wyman explained the origins of the team: “Myself and Jon Johnston of Matrix Fitness set about trying to change the outlook of women’s cycling in the UK, and we decided the way to do that was to get cycling on TV. We’ve made a great start and it’s clear that many people are now seeing the potential of the sport."
Most sponsors, of course, need more return than the glow of seeing women’s cycling grow, and Wyman hopes the introduction of the UCI Women’s Tour Series, replacing the Women’s World Cup, could well help: “The potential of a World Tour is huge for the sport. If we can achieve a place in the World Tour in 2017, which is certainly our goal, I’m sure it will be great for all of the sponsors, and riders involved."
Big races make all the difference, and Wyman said: "Races like the Women’s Tour provide us with the best opportunity to provide a return to a sponsor via racing. A company’s products are on display to huge crowds, and featured on television. That’s pretty simple."
Increasing returns for sponsors of biggest teams
The outlook is hopeful, he added: “I’m sure the actual returns will be increasing for the sponsors of the biggest teams over the coming few seasons."
Eternal challenge of major deals being with male orientated sports
Now in the midst of organising the Women’s Tour for the second year running, SweetSpot events have also found struggles when seeking sponsorship for a women’s event.
Director Guy Elliott explained that the primary hurdle for them last year was promoting a “first ever" with no historical success – but also that they had come up against “the eternal challenge of the majority of major sponsorship deals being with the male oriented sports of football, rugby union, Formula One etc."
Sponsors who want to ‘change the world’ sought
Similar to the relationship between Matrix and their team, many sponsors of the Women’s Tour support the race to show that they are getting on board with women’s cycling – Guy said when looking for sponsors last year: “we were looking for companies who wanted to ‘change the world’."
The race has secured sponsorship from Friends Life, Strava, Premier Inn, Chain Reaction Cycles and Costa Express – and Elliott said: “We believe our message about striving for the equality of women in sport - not just cycling - and the wider social agenda about the fair treatment of women in society makes a big difference."
The ‘Tour Village’ for the race has lots of attractions to motivate young women and families to get active, and he added: “We try to get across a light-hearted message but with a deep moral agenda behind it."
Once sponsors are in, it seems – they receive benefits that make them want to stay. Elliot said: “Friends Life not only confirmed their ongoing sponsorship for The Women's Tour but were so pleased with what they got from it that they went onto sign a long-term sponsorship agreement for both the Women's Tour and men's Tour of Britain."
He added: “They were blown away with the enthusiasm they saw on the race with the large crowds and TV viewing figures that we could never have expected in our wildest dreams with approximately half a million people watching the race every day for the entire five days and over three quarters of a million views on our website."
We're looking forward to seeing the pro teams performing in some amazing races next year - check out these 8 most exciting women's cycling races in 2015.