Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Understanding Sponsorship in Professional Cycling

Williams Cycling will no longer be the wheel sponsor for Team Exergy in 2012. “But wait!” you’re saying, “don’t you totally love those guys? Don’t they love you? Didn’t they love your wheels?” The answer to all those questions is yes. We think Team Exergy is awesome. The whole program, riders and management included, are some of the most talented and most professional in the cycling world, and on top of that they’re all great guys. And not to toot our own horn, but they were pretty happy with us too. We had a great sponsor relationship with them, and we like to think we made a whole bunch of new Idaho friends.

As to our wheels, well, you can ask them. Exergy riders were over the moon about the performance of our wheels, and their durability was pretty much unmatched in the pro peloton. Out of 72 wheels that Team Exergy raced and trained on there were only two that needed to be rebuilt, both as the result of crashes, including the infamous cattle guard crash from the USPRO Cycling Challenge. Freddie Rodriguez, who has raced on a few wheels in his time, said they were the most durable wheels he has ever raced. Booyah.

So why, given all that, did Williams and Exergy decide to go separate ways in 2012? To answer that we’ll have to take you deep inside the inner workings of the bike industry and sponsor relations.

Now Williams has been, until very recently, strictly a wheel company. We’re branching out into some very cool components, but we don’t and won’t offer a groupset (the shifters, derailleurs, etc.) In fact, there are only a handful of massive companies that control that business, such as Shimano, SRAM, and FSA. Now it just so happens that those companies also make wheels. No big deal for Williams. We make incredible wheels and our direct to consumer model allows us to sell them at great prices. We like a little healthy competition with the big boys, and it’s fun to be a nimble aggressive player in the industry, it’s fun to play out the little David vs Goliath scenario.

But issues arise when these big companies go out to sponsor teams. You see, when they sponsor a team they don’t want to just supply one product, like shifters, they want to do the complete package. It’s a better marketing story for them if they have all their products on a team bike. That way they can say “this team has chosen to ride not only our groupset, but also our bars, stems, seatposts, and wheels.” The problem is that it’s not always a “choice”. Because these few large companies are the only sources for components they can say, if you want our groupset you have to ride all our other products as well.

Now Team Exergy is a powerhouse team with big ambition. They’ve had a stellar debut season and they want to continue to grow. That means more riders, more races and a split schedule, which means they need a ton of equipment, possibly as much as 60 complete bicycles. Because of this growth, and plans for even more growth in the future, Team Exergy needed to cultivate a relationship with a groupset manufacturer, and every one that they talked to insisted that if Exergy was going to ride their components, they’d need to ride their wheels as well.  

So that’s that. Team Exergy had to make a tough choice in order to help grow their team and Williams got squeezed out. But there’s no bad blood here. Quite the opposite, in fact. We got to spend a year working with a great team, road testing our wheels, getting feedback from professionals, and showcasing our products in world class races, and Team Exergy got to ride and race on some of the best wheels in the world. We parted on great terms and we wish them all the best in the future. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a chance to work together again somewhere down the road.