Monday Musette – HTC-HighRoad Edition

Fotoreporter Sirotti


Like everyone, I’ve had a lot going through my mind as the dust settles on the dissolution of HTC-HighRoad. Here’s my best attempt at putting them to words:

1. Bob Stapleton was brought in to rescue T-Mobile, who was being suffocated by drug allegations, lack of identity, and a withdrawing sponsor. The 2007 positive of Patrick Sinkewitz was especially painful, coming just as new management took over. With the money that T-Mobile paid up-front, the following year they were self-sponsored so to speak, as T-Mobile didn’t want their image on the team anymore. Further development saw the team shed their German identity and become a US-based team. The team decided to take the High Road, perhaps in reference to the dirty practices in cycling. The team’s dissolution seems to be a smack in the face to all who have tried to do things the “right” way. It boggles the mind why men with much darker pasts continue to find sponsorship for their squads while men like Stapleton are left on the outside looking in.

2. Since the beginning, the pillar of the men’s team success was Mark Cavendish. They invested early and consistently in him as the team had (at the time) no (top-tier) GC contenders or classics contenders–grand tour stage wins were an easy way for the team to gain exposure and credibility. And despite growing success in “other” races, the Tour is still where most non-Continental sponsors crave victories. If the rumors were indeed true, HTC was understandably insistent on the team keeping Cav as a condition for sponsorship. Peter Velits might have finished third in last year’s Vuelta, Matthew Goss might have won Milan-San Remo, and John Degenkolb may be the fastest young sprinter in the sport, but they’re hardly enough to build a team’s finances around.

Which begs the question…

3. Has HTC been winning the “wrong” races? HTC is the world’s top-ranked team, with a staggering 484 wins–what have they been doing wrong? How is that kind of success not marketable? And what does it say of a point system that is that’s meant to recognize such dominance? So many questions to which we’re likely never to get answers.

4. But there’s a bigger question here: if HTC doesn’t feel that supporting the sport’s most successful team valuable, are we to assume that cycling’s sponsorship value is less than in other sports? If so, should cycling’s sponsorship model change? Perhaps to one that supports revenue-sharing?

5. As for Cav, we have to wonder if his next step will be a smart move. He seems to be in it for the for money, since just about everything he could want (leadership, teammates, coaches, staff, control of his image) was available at HTC. Maybe he’s enamored with the idea of being the best British rider on the world’s best British team? Where is he going?

6. As for the rest of the team and staff, it will be interesting to see where the chips fall. With only one truly “new” program on the horizon, it’s likely that many people will find themselves without jobs in 2012–or at least not the jobs they were used to having at HTC. The first week of the transfer period has been surprisingly quiet, now that the chips have fallen at HTC, expect things to heat-up quickly. Tom Boonen’s pre-Tour signing in beginning to look like a wise move.

7. And last but not least, what does the future hold for Bob Stapleton? It’s hard to keep a good man down–he’s hoping to keep the women’s team alive; might a year off give him the time he needs to come back for more in 2013?

What are your thoughts on the demise of HTC? Share your comments below.

About Julius

Educated by Dutch and Belgian priests halfway around the world from the cobbled classics that he loves, Julius' aspiration is to someday earn Belgian citizenship.
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10 Responses to Monday Musette – HTC-HighRoad Edition

  1. One crucial question which you, and many, fail to address is this :

    Why exactly, did such a successful team, fail to capitalise on its success?

  2. Steve in Duluth says:

    No two ways about it, this is a dark time for cycling. I don't think you can say Highroad was winning the wrong races; the only things they couldn't win were grand tours. Garmin and Radioshack haven't won those, either, but they're sponsored. Maybe Cavendish was the lynchpin, but if he wants a change of scenery he can get it and I don't blame him; in any case I don't think he was the major reason.

    The problem is that cycling teams appear to be a poor investment for sponsors. Probably because of doping, but whatever the reason, the sport is in trouble financially. And why not? The names are small, the biggest economy in Europe has washed their hands of the sport, and we don't even know who won last year's Tour yet. What a mess.

    • Julius says:

      Hi Steve, the question of cycling being a poor investment for sponsors is one thing, but the other aspect that Stapleton brought up is that he couldn't compete with rich super-teams with unlimited funds and seemingly no responsibility to their sponsors. This drives the price of riders up, and his interview suggests that this is why HTC collapsed.

      Other commentators have hinted at another negative aspect, which is these super-teams are lenient on dopers.

  3. Sam says:

    Without knowledge of the particulars of cycling sponsorship agreements, i would still hazard a guess that in the US market in particular, the cost of being the marquee sponsor for a pro-tour team certainly outweighs the tangible benefits.

    Simply put, is the "exposure" that the brand (HTC in this case) garners specifically from the Highroad team worth it? I don't know a single person who is not at least a casual fan of professional cycling who has any idea that HTC even has a team, let alone who Cav is, or that he is currently a contender for world's fastest man. The Shack works because the star power of Lance and his connection to Cancer research (never mind his connection to rampant doping) is the kind of backstory that engages the American audience.

    I think Cycling being a poor investment for sponsors goes far beyond doping. Case in point one of the more successful American sponsorship agreements (see above) has thrived inspite of being plagued by one of the largest and most controversial doping cases in recent memory.

    My feeling is that in the final analysis, it just doesn't add up for US sponsors. There is no audience (and I mean that literally and figuratively) for professional cycling in America like there is for other sports. So when the marketing department looks at their investment dollar-for-dollar, it just doesn't make sense. Shit, a company like HTC would probably be better off blowing their wad on a few good Super Bowl spots than giving it to Bob Stapleton. Unfotunate, yes. But a reality none-the-less.

    • mindtron says:

      I tend to disagree with a couple of your points.

      first, if no one outside of cycling fans knew that HTC sponsored a cycling team, that is HTC's fault. I don't follow NASCAR, but I know a lot of sponsors beasue they use that sponsorship in their advertising.

      When a company does that, the advertising spend is typically considered part of their overall sponsorship dollars. This allows a company to 'increase' their sponsorship without giving the team more actual money. they would be doing advertising anyway.

      When Columbia were a sponsor, they had team clothing in their stores and the flagship stores had actual TDF bikes in the windows afterward. HTC never seemed to care to make that connection (at least that I saw). imagine the connection they could have made between 'fast' phones and Cav?

      Second, HTC isn't just trying to sell phones in the US, they are trying to sell them worldwide, and I would argue they got a lot of media impressions in Europe with their sponsorship. what it really comes down to is demographics of the cycling audience. is that the demo that HTC want to reach?

  4. Doug P says:

    Who knows why Megacorps do what they do? Golf has no want of money and sponsors. Viagra advertises heavily in golf magazines and television programs. Maybe the problem with cycling fans is our members aren't limp enough.

  5. mtn_rcr says:

    Viagara? Cycling has been lauded as being the "new golf", are pink pro cycling kits in the future? Maybe balding riders like Levi L and Chris H can be the newest pitch men for Propecia? Will team RadioShack become team Rogaine!

  6. Isaac says:

    Let's just blow this whole thing up!

    Isn't it silly that to follow the career of Cyril Guimard I have to remember a series of defunct sponsorships (Gitane, Renault, System U, Castorama, Cofodis)? Or take Lance Armstrong (Motorola, US Postal, Discovery, Radio Shack)?

    We need a professional cycling league where everyone (teams, organizers, riders) has a solid stake. Structure it like any other professional sports league — you don't need outside sponsorship money to keep it afloat. Imagine the history if some Belgian franchise brought up Merckx, Museeuw, and Gilbert, or if some French franchise had Anquetil, Hinault and Fignon as its legacy. Imagine how painful and intense it would've been for that French team to decide between Hinault and Fignon in 1983. Imagine how conflicted supporters would be if LeMond and Armstrong had been involved with the same franchise.

    • Julius says:

      Good one, Isaac. But what will it take for ASO to accept a revenue-sharing model? Will the teams have to form a union first? How is this different from what the UCI tried to do with the ProTour? That model went bust because ASO didn't want to be part of it.

      Are you still weeping for the demise of Credit Agricole / GAN / Z / Peugeot? ;-)

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