Cycling Sponsor Gets Warm and Fuzzy
Most times a sponsor bails when scandal hits. Instead Saxo Bank did something else.
Over the past week the cycling headlines were dominated by doping stories, or should I say dramas. We had Lance Armstrong's federal investigation come to a screeching halt, followed by CAS's decision to toss out all of Alberto Contador's results since his 2010 Tour de France win and suspend him from racing until August. But wait, we aren't done!
It was a busy week for CAS. After over six years they rendered a decision on Jan Ullrich's lingering doping case. The end result - a two year ban. This means nothing to the German as he had retired and was participating in nothing more competitive than gran fondos.
Stop the presses - the German cycling federation (BDR) added an additional f-you to Ullrichs's ban - no gran fondos for you!
Ullrich had been participating in the occasional ride, such as the one recently in Miami, Florida. The German was expected to participate in a cycling day which was sponsored by a shampoo company that uses the tag line, "Doping for your hair" (I kid you not - I couldn't make this up if I tried). Well the BDR, being huge party poopers, have included these mass start rides/races are part of the ban. So it looks like Jan will be parked on the sidelines eating schnitzel. The DBR's reach only applies to Germany, so he's free to ride in any gran fondos not in his homeland.
Then early last week Patrice Ciprelli, the husband and coach of twelve-time cycling world champion Jeannie Longo, was arrested for purchasing EPO via the internet. You might remember a couple of months ago Mme Longo had missed three out-of-competition tests, but was ultimately cleared by the French Cycling Federation (FFC). Ciprelli claims that the EPO was only for personal use and not for his wife. Yeah, right. And if you believe that I got some great condos in Iraq I'd love to show you.
In the wake of all these doping scandals you would think that sponsors and fans would be running for the hills. Instead Contador has continued to receive support from not only his fans and city (not a surprise) but from his team and corporate sponsor Saxo Bank!
Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis pledged his support to Contador, again, not a big surprise as he's the only guy on the team with a legitimate chance of winning a Grand Tour. In the classics the squad has a wild card chance of winning with Nick Nuyens. But let's look at the past Tour of San Luis in Argentina. Contador took two stage wins, all the while claiming to not yet be at his race weight. Contador was going to kill it this season. Team Saxo Bank is molded around the Spaniard and I don't blame Riis for standing by his man - it makes sense.
What was a surprise to me was that the corporate sponsor, Saxo Bank, ran a full page ad stating, "We support clients in their moments of success and also of difficulty, and this is equally valid for our riders."
In the past when there's a doping scandal the sponsors are making for the door like the building is on fire. Floyd Landis' Phonak sponsor was gone by the end of the year. T-Mobile, Milram, Gerolsteiner pulled their corporate sponsorship when things started to go sideways for them. Not a coincidence those teams are German, a nation that takes a rather harsh view on doping in cycling.
And to be fair to Phonak, it is owned by cycling's sugar daddy Andy Rihs, who resurrected the squad using another company he owns a stake in, BMC bikes, so it could be argued that while the name had changed the ownership had not. However, that formation started off slow until it has grown into the Tour de France winning team you see now.
But you have to wonder, much like Joe Lindsey did in his Boulder Report column a couple of years back - Is Andy Rihs cursed? After Phonak, there was Astana, and now BMC, which has had a couple of their riders temporarily suspended for involvement in a doping scandal - of which they were eventually cleared. But then you have BMC team rider Thomas Frei who admitted to micro-dosing EPO and a soigneur, that the squad states was just a part-time staff member, taken into custody after his house was raided and the authorities discovered doping equipment and syringes. Through all of this there was no talk of the team disbanding.
On the other side of the coin is Liberty Seguros. They dropped their support in May, 2006 when it was discovered that team manager Manolo Saiz was involved in Operation Puerto. So why do some sponsors stay and others bail?
As with most things it's due to money. A doping scandal is the kiss of death when it comes to publicity. Who wants their good corporate name attached to something that is seen as shady? Hence T-Mobile, Gelosteiner, etc. pulled the plug. Yet the Danish bank placed a full page newspaper ad backing Contador. Here's why.
Stating the obvious, times are tough for many people. Yesterday I was reading that in Southern California 44% of homeowners are "underwater" - owing more on their house than what its actual value is. Towns have been ravaged by foreclosures. And it's just not here in the U.S. As a result people look at the banks as the enemy just waiting for the moment to screw them over and toss them out of their home.
Instead, Saxo Bank places this warm and fuzzy ad that's basically saying, "Hey, we all know no one's perfect and we all make mistakes. But guess what? We're still here for you." Wow, whoever created that campaign was a genius. So now we have this image of a faceless corporate entity that isn't quite so callous and only interested in the bottom line. They care about people and are willing to stick with them through thick and thin. Plus, Saxo Bank has many conveniently located ATMs, so that's a good thing too.
End of the day Team Crotch Eagle is going to come out of this smelling like a rose. They stuck by a rider that still has plenty of support, showing they care about everyone and Contador will repay that by winning this year's Vuelta a España. As for why Rihs continues to sponsor a team I think he is truly a super fan, loves the sport and will continue to back cycling, unless something so terrible happens on his watch that even he can't stomach it any more. What that is I have no idea.