HTC Highroad facing uncertain future due to hunt for new sponsor
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Friday, June 24, 2011

HTC Highroad facing uncertain future due to hunt for new sponsor

by VeloNation Press at 6:19 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 
New backer must be found before end of Tour

HTC Highroad, for years the most successful team in the peloton in terms of number of victories, is facing an uncertain future as it battles to find a new sponsor.

The team was rumoured for some time to have been searching for a new backer; the deal with previous co-sponsor Columbia ended in December 2010, while the current backer HTC is due to end its association at the finish of this season.

While the team is certain to continue until then, team owner Bob Stapleton is fighting to ensure its survival into 2012 and beyond.

“If we haven't secured a sponsor by the end of the Tour de France, we will have to sit down and start considering how to wind down operations,” he told AFP. “The world's best team, a leader in the sport for the past several years, needs a title partner.”

Led by riders such as 15-time Tour de France stage winner Mark Cavendish, Paris-Nice winner Tony Martin and others, the team has clocked up multiple wins in the peloton. It also has a hugely successful women’s team too, with experienced riders Ina Yoko Teutenberg and Judith Arndt working alongside some of the best young riders in the bunch.

The two teams together have clocked up 460 wins since 2008, a staggering total.

Even so, things are tough in the hunt for a replacement backer. According to Stapleton, the search has been made more difficult by several high profile doping stories. The team itself has not been affected by any such scandals, but it has made the climate more difficult in approaching potential sponsors.

“The consistent feedback we get is that they (sponsors) love cycling and the fundamentals, but they're concerned about the sport, and the non-stop drama around misconduct and doping,” he said.

“Be it (the investigations into) Alberto Contador, be it Lance Armstrong, be it Riccardo Ricco, whatever. And in a tough economy, with multiple sponsorship choices to make, people will see cycling as a challenging environment.

“What we need somebody to do is look past that at the great fundamentals and this kind of leadership position this team offers.”

Stapleton pointed out that unlike football teams such as Manchester United, the sponsors of the team receive naming rights. Instead of their brand being simply associated with the squad, the actual title becomes that of the sponsors.

“It's literally hundreds of thousands of repetitions of your brand name on the internet, on television, and in global media,” he explained.

“"Our total return is unmatched in cycling, and I think in sports. We're going to generate a 20 plus times return for a title partner. The gold standard is more like 10.”

Judging by previous years, Cavendish and the rest of the team are expected to land several stage wins in the upcoming Tour de France. In addition, riders such as Martin and Tejay Van Garderen will start with an eye to the general classification; Martin believes a top ten finish could be possible.

Stapleton recognises the Tour de France as the biggest platform for the sport and knows that the three week event will provide a strong chance for the team to show what it can do. He said that he wants to establish a, “stable, long-term footing” for it.

It is understood that a general deadline of the end of the Tour has been set for a new backer to be found, although presumably this could be extended if real progress is being made in negotiations.

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