Jonathan Vaughters Interview: Slipstream CEO speaks about AA deal
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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jonathan Vaughters Interview: Slipstream CEO speaks about AA deal

by Shane Stokes at 9:30 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
More details given about partnership agreement with Dutch squad

Jonathan VaughtersIn late November the Garmin-Cervélo women’s team was rocked by the news that it was facing a very uncertain future and would, unless a last-minute sponsor was found, be forced to dissolve prior to the 2012 season.

It comprised nine very strong female riders, including former world time trial champion Emma Pooley, championship medallist Noemi Cantele, talented young rider Lizzie Armitstead and others. They all had valid contracts, but team CEO Jonathan Vaughters said that the budget was not sufficient to keep the team going.

He faulted French company BigMat, who he said had negotiated about becoming a secondary sponsor and agreed terms, only to walk away and bind instead to the FDJ squad. Vaughters confirmed yesterday evening that there is an ongoing legal action against the company, but told VeloNation that it could take a long time to resolve.

In the meantime, six of the nine women will race instead with the AA team in 2012. Rumoured for several weeks, the agreement was officially confirmed yesterday, and will see Pooley, Armitstead, Lucy Martin, Sharon Laws, Carla Ryan and Jessie Daams transfer across to the Dutch setup.

Their salaries will be paid by Slipstream and, as part of the agreement, Cervélo will supply bikes to the whole team.

VeloNation spoke to Vaughters after the announcement, asking him about the particulars of the arrangement and what it would mean for the riders concerned. Most of the women are yet to comment, although Pooley has given an initial reaction to the news.

VeloNation: Firstly, Jonathan, can you explain how this deal has come about?

Jonathan Vaughters: Well, at the end of the day we were looking for a creative way to keep the women’s team going and to make sure that we made good on all our obligations, the contracts that we have with the riders. Michael Zijlaard emailed me in the early days when the rumours were going that we were having a little trouble with the women’s team. He asked, ‘are Emma, Lizzie or any of these girls are going to be free out of their contract?’ Basically at that point I didn’t answer directly but he and I just kept in touch.

I called him a couple of times, just because I was trying to make sure that no matter what happened to our team, that everyone would have a job. I got along with him really well, so I started thinking that while we didn’t have enough money to run our own women’s team, we do have some funds that were dedicated to that programme. And if there was someone there that would let the girls ride Cervélo bikes, that had an opening in their bike sponsorship, and that would be an amiable to a partnership with Slipstream, then we could actually appropriate those funds to help out and to sort of get a partnership and still have a women’s team.

So he and I talked about it, we went through a bunch of iterations on how the partnership would work, who would do what, and so we worked out a solution.

Of course there were a few girls who had already gone to other teams in the meantime. There was a period of uncertainty there, so of course I understand that they would want to go and pursue that, but I’m glad that we were able to keep the core of the team together.

We were really lucky that the team had space to be able to sign up all the women that we had, without going over the maximum limit.

VN: You said in the past that the team was contractually bound to pay the 2012 salaries for the riders that didn’t go to other teams. Is there an additional investment on the part of Slipstream, other than covering the salary costs of the six riders that have gone across?

JV: It’s not just limited to the salaries of the six riders…

VN: By that, do you mean that it includes the Cervélo deal as well?

JV: Well..via our deal with Cervelo, we are providing AA Drinks with Cervelo bikes…

VN: The team announcement talks about the Slipstream team keeping going. But is it just that the case that the six women are staying together, or is there an on-going link between your set up and AA Drink?

JV: Well, you know, I think let’s just wait and see how this year goes. I think it is a good solution. I really like Michael Zijlaard, I enjoy working with him, so if this season functions well, then who knows what the future holds, exactly?

VN: So, in theory, there could still be a contribution to the team past 2012?

If so, I’m wondering what Slipstream would get in that case, because it doesn’t have any branding other than Cervelo being there. Is it the case that Cervelo would have an on-going contribution?

JV: Well….like I said, I don’t know, it’s hard to predict. As of right now, who knows…?

But if it goes well, and if the relationship works and we continue to have the availability of funds to support women’s cycling, then we’ve got a partnership in place to be able to place those funds and to have a know, somebody who’s really an expert in women’s cycling, running the day-to-day of the team.

VN: But I presume in that case then, your side [Slipstream] would need some sort of branding with the team. At this point in time, it will be called AA, so presumably if there was an ongoing backing, there would be some sort of branding or name association?

JV: Well, you are totally dealing with theoretical scenarios here…I don’t know. But in theory if we had a sponsor that wanted to sponsor a women’s cycling team then we could bring them in and place the branding on the jerseys or even maybe have co-naming rights…who knows? Obviously, we are going to continue to actively try to sell the women’s professional cycling team on the sponsorship market, but whether or not that is fruitful or not, who knows?

But I know that Michael Zijlaard is very opened to that. If I were able to bring him additional partnerships, then he would be certainly open to making sure that that fits in.

VN: You have suggested before that BigMat had agreed to come on board as a second sponsor, and that if it hadn’t walked away, that the women’s team would be in place…

JV: Correct…

VN: You have also said the Barracuda sponsorship wouldn’t be enough to make up the difference

JV: Yes, BigMat was definitely a big thing. We are very pleased with the Barracuda partnership, but it is not on the same scale as BigMat would have been.

VN: Are the women satisfied with how things have worked out?

JV: Honestly, for a whole variety of reasons, we haven’t been able to give them as much information as I would’ve liked. I really wanted to make sure that we could do it before we promised it.

So, to be honest with you, I think they are satisfied with it, I certainly hope they are satisfied with it. We really busted ourselves to make that the athletes are taken care of, that their contracts were honoured, and that they were going to be on a team that is one of the best in the world.

VN: We spoke about BigMat walking away. There is an on-going legal process in place, correct?

JV: Yes.

VN: And do you know how long it would take for a resolution in that? Are we talking about weeks or months or years?

JV: I don’t know, but I can’t imagine it will be a quick resolution. I wish it was, but I don’t think it will be…


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