OK, here’s the deal. Cycling, for 99% of us, is a hobby. You’re not paying your rent or your mortgage or your car payment with your earnings, therefore it is not a job or a vocation. It’s a hobby. Albeit a very expensive one, but whatever.
Yeah, I’ve been sponsored in the past. I was even so fortunate as to be a member of a semi-pro team for 3 years, during which time all of my race entry fees were paid for, travel stipends were provided, team clothing and racing equipment was made available in triplicate every season, and a shiny new Dura Ace equipped bike arrived on my door step at least once a year.
But when the economy went to shit in 2008 and the team sponsorship dried up, I did not expect someone else to step up to the plate to sponsor me. Part of that expectation was based on the fact that I had no results deserving of any support – it’s not like I was poised to be the next big thing in women’s cycling. I was also acutely aware that when the economy sucks, peripheral expenses are the first to go, and anything that is not a reasonable return on investment is sacked. Which is why it does not surprise me that a lot of domestic teams and races lost sponsorship over the last 3+ years – nobody was making any money off of those investments.
What most cyclists fail to realize is that sponsorship money generally comes out of the marketing budget, and if a team or an event or an individual is not effectively marketing the product, either through a lack of exposure or through his/her own complete social ineptitude, then it’s about as effective as taking out a 1/2″ print ad in the back of Underwater Basketweaving Quarterly. (That is, unless, the products you sell are underwater basketweaving supplies, in which case that print ad is a fuckload more valuable than any cycling sponsorship).
Most cyclists, regardless of their ability, category, social standing, or race results, feel that they somehow are deserving of sponsorship simply because they are participating in the sport. You see it on every half ass blog out there – a link to their schedule and a pandering cry for help, stating that they cannot possibly afford to do all 36 races they have identified as “A Races” for the upcoming season, and any donation would be greatly appreciated. They hit up local shops asking for the employee discount on bikes and parts because “they race and this stuff is expensive and they cannot possibly afford the regular maintenance and replacement equipment costs on their own.”
I’m not taking about legitimate pro riders who get selected to represent the US at world championship and Olympic events only to be told that they have to pay their own way to get there. I’m talking about your average local cat 1/2 riders who have chosen to avoid a full time job that would essentially enable them to afford things like race entry fees and $5000 bikes and then set up a Paypal account with a link on their blog so that friends and family can help “sponsor them” for the season. I’m talking about people who think it’s the responsibility of Local Investment Bank to throw some cash their way simply because they are racers and the bank reportedly has a lot of money inside.
When I started racing, the first thing I did was buy a bike. Then I bought the shit I needed to go with my bike (helmet, shoes, clothing, a floor pump and a mini tool) and proceeded to seek out a cycling club. Upon finding a club that was willing to let me join, I then started to ride more and I entered races. I made friends with my teammates and I learned a lot about racing. Over the years, the ‘title sponsor’ of the club changed and things morphed into an organization that had some real money involved and I was incredibly fortunate to receive things like $200 cash at the end of a season to cover entry fees and a complementary pair of Dansko clogs – which I was expected to wear to races and encourage people to buy, because that’s what you do when you’re sponsored – you are a rolling advertisement for whatever company or product is providing you with cash or product, and it is your job to be a brand ambassador for that company. Otherwise, what’s in it for them? If they are sending $500 to an athlete to use as sponsorship and the athlete doesn’t do a good job representing the company, then the company might as well withdraw $500 from the bank and light it on fire.
Social networking and blogging has certainly changed the format of how sponsorship is obtained and presented in our sport. It seems that if you have a blog and an IQ over 100, you can figure out how to get companies to advertise and for very little effort or $$ on their part, they can get ad space that could eventually lead to revenue. Popular blogs with interesting content are prime real estate for click ads. Bikesnobnyc is a leading example of how a blog with interesting content can attract advertisers; the blog has a huge following, which means their click ads reach a wide audience. The author of the blog generates new content nearly every day, so advertisers are getting their money’s worth when posting on there.
Then there are what I consider to be unpopular blogs with mindless drivel as content. I’ve seen far too many blogs written by cyclists (and triathletes) that are nothing more than training updates. Or, they are pathetic attempts at being philosophical, which generally make me want to gouge my eyes out with a fork after reading them. And then there are the Race Reports blogs, where the author/athlete takes creative liberties with her results and manages to make getting dropped and finishing two laps down somehow equal to or greater than a podium finish. Right on.
Not everyone has a blog (I think there are maybe two or three of you who race at the Cat 1/2 level and don’t blog), but everyone has a Facebook Page or a Twitter account, which are also excellent ways to pander to the masses in your quest to avoid real work and get someone else to pay for your expensive hobby. Who doesn’t love the messages sent to everyone on a friends list asking for donations to fund their quest to compete in a race halfway across the country? I was privy to not one, but two different requests for money from other racers this year. One was from someone I didn’t know asking on behalf of someone else and sent via Facebook. The other was from a new teammate of mine, who apparently thinks it’s OK to ask other people for money. Because, you know, it’s not like I don’t have my own entry fees and shit to pay for, apparently I have enough spare cash lying around to pay for others as well. I was floored that these people actually think that blanket emailing people is acceptable and appropriate. In my entire career, I never once asked anyone else to pay for anything that I needed related to racing. I sucked it up and dealt and paid my own way, unless someone flat out offered something for free, like frequent flier miles that they were never going to use. I don’t think I could live with myself if I just started hitting up friends and strangers for cash, but I guess that’s because, unlike other people involved in our sport, I have a conscience.
I opted to ignore the emails and messages I received begging for money, but part of me really wanted to send a little email back that went something along the lines of:
Dear Cat 1 Cyclist,
While I can appreciate your desire to travel to far away lands and compete in death defying feats of athleticism as part of your transcendence to a higher level of Zen, I take offense at the fact that you think my hard earned dollars are somehow up for grabs. Let me put it this way – I understand that “any amount that I can donate will help you reach your goal”, but here’s the deal: any amount that I can donate would be better spent on things that I need, like groceries or gas or prescription medicine for my cat. If I had enough expendable income that I could justify blowing it on superfluous things, I would pay a maid service to come clean my house, because quite frankly I really don’t have the time or the energy to do it myself. One thing you might want to consider is to secure a full time job. I find that by having a full time job, I am easily able to afford things like plane tickets, hotel rooms, and entry fees. In addition to that I am also provided with benefits such as health insurance and a retirement plan. Jobs are kinda neat in that way…you show up and do stuff every day and they pay you for it.
So I propose this: I’ll sponsor you for your season. I’ll give you $50/week for you to come clean my toilets, vacuum the floors, do the dishes, wash, fold and put away the laundry, mow the lawn, and scoop the litter boxes. Based on my calculations, you should be able to get this done in approximately 4.25 hours. Surely you can work that around your training schedule.