Women's cycling facing an uphill struggle for sponsorship
While some women's sports have seen significant upturn in sponsorship over the last few years, women's cycling faces an uphill struggle as teams, tours and riders are at threat due to a lack of sponsorship and investment. Over the last few weeks, it has been reported that the Women’s Tour organiser, SweetSpot, has entered voluntary liquidation. The cancellation of the 2023 edition of the Women's Tour last year – one of the most significant women’s races worldwide – was just another in a series of sponsorship-related casualties. Last summer, it was also announced that women's team EF Education-TIBCO-SVB was to fold at the end of 2023 due to key sponsors TIBCO and Silicon Valley Bank withdrawing the funding they had previously provided.
In cycling, sponsorship is key to securing the running of teams and races. Teams are typically named after sponsors, which can work well to generate a significant amount of sponsorship from a few title sponsors, with high levels of exposure for the sponsor in return. Other sponsors might adorn team jerseys, bikes or feature on marketing materials. Race and tour sponsor logos typically cover race cars, podiums, start and finish lines, and media content. Reluctancy of sponsors to step forward in women's cycling is typically due to the perceived lack of return on investment - potential sponsors can be reluctant to commit to long-term, high-value deals which provide stability for teams and races for the next season and for the future. This is a cyclical problem. The lack of investment in the short terms means it's difficult to build that exposure and incentivise future investment. There have been issues in men’s cycling too, with the latest edition of the Tour of Britain going ahead without a title sponsor, following British Cycling’s termination of SweetSpot’s right to run the race due to unpaid licence fees.
Other issues affecting women’s cycling include poor infrastructure and planning which can cause difficulties during the season and leaves sponsors uncertain about how their investment will be returned. For example, June’s Tour Féminin International des Pyrénées was called off on its final day due to safety concerns as roads were left open for traffic, and not closed as they would be for men’s races of similar stature.
It's not all bad news, though. The Tour de France Femmes, established in 2022, has now run 2 editions, with 2023 headline sponsor Zwift sitting among a range of other high-profile sponsors, including a number also involved in the men's Tour. In the wake of EF Education-TIBCO-SVB's collapse, a new team - EF Education-Cannondale - was established with title sponsorship coming in from established men's cycling sponsors Cannondale and EF Education. In order to secure the future of women's cycling, sponsor commitment to short and long-term agreements will be key so that riders, teams and races can plan for 2024 and the future. Sponsors will need to recognise the potential for long-term return on investment, even where the short-term future is uncertain. And the women's cycling scene itself, in revamping races and creating new formats, can aim to build some short-term increase in exposure, to attract new backers.
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