Dear Explainer guy,
This isn’t your garden variety “explain the unexplainable” type question, but I thought I’d send it in anyway.
Most of us readers know, more or less, what companies certain team sponsors are, like Columbia, Garmin and Cervelo. And we know, again, more or less, what certain team names represent or who/what they are, like High Road (why couldn’t they pick a better name?), Astana, Katusha (repeat bad name comment) and Slipstream.
Some of the old names are familiar like Acqua & Sapone (Water and Soap?), Liquigas (liquified natural gas?), Caisse D’Epargne (it’s a Spanish bank, right?), Quick Step (the only quickstep I know is a ballroom dance) and Rabobank (a Dutch bank?), but we don’t really know who or what their sponsors are.
How about a little explaining?
Thanks for considering my question and I do enjoy your articles.
Chester, New Jersey
Thanks for the kind words and thanks for an interesting question. It’s actually a common problem, particularly for American fans of a sport, cheering for teams with largely European sponsorships.
For example, I started following the sport back in 19 … uhhh … ohhhhh man, it has been a long time. Well, let’s just say that I started following the sport when steel was real and helmets were both useless and optional. That said, taking only a passing interest in the sport at the time, I was constantly confused by team names and being the newcomer that I was I glommed on to cheering for a team that was easy to spot in the peloton, namely the guys in the red-white-and-blue of the old Brooklyn team.
Well, accident or no, picking Eric and Roger De Vlaeminck’s old team is not a bad choice, but it was a bit before I realized that the team wasn’t something like an Americans-abroad-squad, but sponsored by the makers of Brooklyn Chewing Gum, an Italian company that was formed in 1946 by brothers Ambrogio and Egidio Perfetti. It was in those postwar years when adding an American look to a product added to its appeal. The Perfetti brothers brought a very American product — namely, chewing gum popularized by GI’s during the war — and marketed it as such. Fortunately, the Perfettis were fundamentally Italian and once the company was up and running they got into sponsoring a bike team, too.
While the Brooklyn team eventually folded, the Perfettis went on to great success, buying the Dutch confectioner Van Melle and the resulting company has grown into a multi-billion-Euro international firm. They still make Brooklyn Gum, as well as a number of major brands, including that essential ingredient for those hoping to turn a bottle of Diet Coke into a geyser, those hard-shelled little discs known as “Mentos.”
Today’s sponsorsSo what about the current crop of sponsors? Well, let’s start with a few of the ones you mentioned. You’re, of course, right in noting that Acqua & Sapone literally translates to water and soap. The term acqua e sapone is a common reference to a woman who has a quality of natural beauty, one whose radiant appearance comes from using only soap and water to preserve and enhance her fundamental good looks. Well, logic would dictate that the term would then be seized by manufacturers of — drum roll — “beauty products,” namely makeup and lipstick. So much for soap and water.
You also mentioned the “High Road” portion of the Columbia-High Road team. Like the other American ProTour squad, Garmin-Slipstream, the secondary name is actually that of the management firm in charge of the team. I’ll actually disagree with you about the quality of the name, but folks can differ. The name of the firm traces its origins to the time when American Bob Stapleton was asked to take over management of the scandal-plagued T-Mobile program. Stapleton made his fortune selling his U.S.-based cellular company to the German mega-corporation and at a relatively young age was able to pursue other interests. Fortunately, that included bike racing. When Stapleton took over the program he operated it through a sports management firm called “High Road,” as in “after watching T-Mobile go down the sewer, maybe it would be more profitable to actually take the moral high road.”
As for the other team whose name doesn’t particularly strike your fancy, you’re not alone. In fact, we dedicated a single column on going through the Katusha team name and why it doesn’t really mean that it’s sponsored by the makers of a mobile rocket launcher.
So to keep this column within manageable limits, let’s just do a quick-and-dirty rundown of this season’s ProTour teams and whose money is paying for them.
ProTour sponsorsFrance’s Ag2r-La Mondiale team is sponsored by two insurance companies, which merged in 2007. Ag2r was established in 2000 and offers life insurance services to corporate clients. It has expanded into pension management and is now moving into several other countries — particularly in Eastern Europe — with pension plans and other services. La Mondiale, now a division of Ag2r, offers health, life and casualty insurance to individuals, professionals and employers.
Like Columbia-High Road, Astana emerged from the scandalized remnants of an earlier program. At the onset of Operación Puerto the old Liberty Seguros team lost its sponsor (which, by the way was the U.S.-based financial services company Liberty Mutual) and the team’s big star, Alexander Vinokourov, turned to his home country of Kazakhstan and put together a coalition of state-owned companies to carry through. Named after Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, the team has gone through several changes since then, not least of which is the departure of Vinokourov and the arrival of most of the structure, management and roster of the old Discovery squad.
The French Bouygues Telecom team is sponsored by a cellular telephone company. This season, the team’s jersey is also sporting the name “BBox,” which is the Nasdaq trading symbol of the Black Box Corporation, a provider of infrastructure services for communications companies.
While Caisse d’Epargne, a team with roots that go back to the old Reynolds and Banesto teams, is clearly a Spanish program, its title sponsor is a French banking firm.
Another outfit that has been around for a while most recently operated under the moniker Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone, which literally translates to “Cofidis, credit by telephone,” which is precisely what the company offers — loans by phone. The company is seeking to expand its services and the team’s new name for 2009 is Cofidis, Le Crédit en Ligne, meaning that you can now get those loans online, too.
If there is one team that blends corporate sponsorship and nationalism, it has to be the Euskaltel-Euskadi team, even though that “national” pride is being expressed for a region, rather than a recognized country. The boys in orange are sponsored both by Euskaltel, the Basque regional phone company and Euskadi, the Basque regional government.
The peloton’s other orange squad is Rabobank and is, indeed, sponsored by one of the Netherlands’ largest banks. The company also sponsors the Dutch national team and has long been involved in the sport.
Française des Jeux is sponsored by France’s national lottery. It would be akin to the U.S. having a “Team PowerBall” … hey, now there’s an idea.
While we’ve already mentioned Columbia-High Road, the team’s title sponsor is Columbia Sportswear, a company most American outdoor enthusiasts will recognize.
The new Fuji-Servetto was formed on the heels of a scandal that … heyyy wait a minute, haven’t we heard that one before? Maybe we’re developing a theme here. Anyway, after the Saunier Duval team hit the deck due to Riccardo Riccò’s brush with CERA, the team turned into Scott-American Beef (the latter actually being a Mexican meat processor) and was poised at the brink of collapse until the bicycle manufacturer Fuji teamed up with the Italian clothing company Servetto to save the team from oblivion.
Garmin-Slipstream we’ve already touched on. The old Slipstream got a big boost when it signed Garmin, which produces a wide array of GPS products and other related navigation, communications and information products worldwide. It operates in four segments: Automotive/Mobile, Outdoor/Fitness, Marine and Aviation.
Italy’s Lampre team is sponsored by an Italian-based company that specializes in pre-coated steel production. The team’s latest co-sponsor, NGC, is a medical equipment manufacturer.
Valle, you were close on Liquigas and there’s not much more to explain on that one, other than the company provides LPG products (Propane/ Butane) but not liquefied natural gas, to the Italian market.
The Belgian Quick Step team is sponsored by a manufacturer of laminate flooring. You can get it here in the U.S., too, if you want to show that you’re a real cycling fan, I guess.
The old Belgian Lotto team has been around since 1985. As you might suspect, it is sponsored by Belgium’s national lottery. In recent years, the team has been co-sponsored by Omega-Pharma. Since 2005, the team has operated under a variety of names, based on product lines produced by Omega. Davitamon-Lotto (vitamins) in 2005 and 2006, Predictor-Lotto (a pregnancy test) in 2007 and Silence-Lotto (a cure for snoring) in 2008 and 2009.
Germany’s last remaining ProTour team, Milram, is sponsored by a German dairy company, manufacturers of cheese, milk and all of that stuff that comes from cows.
The old CSC team (sponsored by the U.S.-based Computer Services Corporation) is now sponsored by Denmark’s Saxo Bank. Yup, it’s a bank. It’s based in Denmark, but has a growing number of divisions in countries around the world. The team did have a co-sponsor, the Danish software firm IT Factory, but that deal hit the fan when the company’s CEO Stein Bagger hit the road, with an estimated $85 million in company assets. He turned himself in to police in L.A. of all places, but the bike deal is no more.
Some of your fav’s?Well, there you go, Valle. I hope I answered at least a few of your questions. There are hundreds of other sponsors in the sport and some offer some rather unique products. Rather than try to dive into all of those, I’ll let readers submit some of their favorites. I’ll run some of the more unusual at the end of next week’s column.
Email Charles Pelkey