It’s that time of year, with very little pro racing to speak of, when most professional bike team’s PR officers go into social media over-drive giving out details of new sponsors and technical partners for the up and coming season and this year is no different.
It’s normally the change of bike sponsors that get the headline treatment, but with very little change this year, Ag2r-La Mondiale swapping out Focus for Factor bikes being the only big announcements for the WorldTour teams, there has been a tremendous amount of movement in clothing suppliers. We can point to many reasons for this (Tinkoff and IAM Cycling withdrawing perhaps being the most obvious) but it did get me thinking – why?
I think it’s fair to say that the biggest announcement was from Castelli who announced their partnership with Team Sky in November taking over after Rapha. Although it was rumoured beforehand, they launched the new Team Sky jersey to fans at the recent Rouleur Classic exhibition in London.
With all of the 2017 UCI WorldTour teams having recently completed the jigsaw puzzle, the following table shows that nine teams have changed suppliers this year, plus the addition of two new teams! I honestly can't think of the last time, certainly not in recent history, when so many teams changed.
|AG2R La Mondiale||OneWay||GSG|
|Bahrain - Merida||n/a||Sportful|
|BMC Racing Team||Pearlizumi||Assos|
|Bora - Hansgrohe||Craft||Craft|
|Cannondale - Drapac||Castelli||POC|
|Team Dimension Data||Oakley||Oakley|
|Lotto - Soudal||Vermarc||Vermarc|
|Orica - Scott||Craft||Giordana|
|UAE Abu Dhabi Cycling Team||n/a||Champion Systems|
|Team Katusha - Alpecin||Katusha Sports||Katusha Sports|
|LottoNL - Jumbo||Santini||Shimano|
|Trek - Segafredo||Bontrager||Sportful|
With the vast amounts of money involved, it’s perhaps not a surprise that we are seeing a move towards clothing companies opting to supply a single team.
This approach in my opinion in recent history been best executed by Castelli. Their collaboration with the Cervelo Test Team starting in 2009 resulted in the now famous Gabba stretch rain jersey being developed - thanks to rider input from Gabriel ‘Gabba’ Rasch. This was then constantly reinforced by the brand by taking out premium positions in leading cycling/lifestyle magazines showing their pro riders training in plain versions of the kit that customers could and wanted to actually buy without be logo-laden themselves.
Sportful have also recently taken up a similar approach, but that’s no surprise given that both companies are both owned by the Cremonese family and operated by Manifattura Valcismon SpA. If you are curious about who owns a brand, then look at Inrng’s excellent Who makes what page.
In order to appreciate how the industry landscape has changed in recent years, let's go back ten and twenty years and pop back to 2007 and 1997 looking at the then top tier teams!
|Nalini||Bouygues Télécom, Caisse d'Epargne, Cofidis, Crédit Agricole, Française des Jeux, Gerolsteiner||Banesto, Team Deutsche Telekom, Kelme - Costa Blanca, Casino, Gan, MG Boys Maglificio - Technogym|
|Santini||Lampre–Fondital, Liquigas, Team Milram||Team Polti, Mercatone Uno|
|Giordana||-||Cofidis, Refin - Mobilvetta, Scrigno - Gaerne|
|Sibille||-||Lotto - Mobistar - Isoglass, Festina - Lotus, La Française des Jeux|
|Biemme||-||Batik - Del Monte, Roslotto - ZG Mobili|
|Asics||-||Asics - CGA|
|Sportful||-||Mapei - GB|
|Cannondale||-||Saeco - Estro|
|Ultima||-||US Postal Service|
Another factor to consider is the problem of ever-falling team kit sales. In years gone by, Geoffery Buttlers of Croydon used to fill Cycling Weekly with 4-8 pages full of pro team kit! In fact, it wasn’t so long that we (Prendas Ciclismo) used to do the same with good sales figures to match.
Whilst two leading international web stores (bobshop.de and all4cycling) are still happy to stock every pro team on the planet, it’s fair to say that most in the industry now know that pro team clothing is difficult to sell unless the price is right – in my own experience that means half price!
Looking at the 2007, it is clear that Nalini and to a lesser extent Santini used to dominate the professional peloton with six pro teams (Santini with three) which would no doubt keep their production departments very busy during the summer months. That is of course not including the white label production that Nalini carry out on behalf of many clients (eg. Agu and Adidas) but of course that also happens now. It's interesting to note that Descente are still represented in 2007 with their grand (and by all account costly) sponsored of Team CSC and Craft dipped their toes in the market with Astana. Etxeondo has Euskaltel–Euskadi (whilst they had Giant-Alpecin in 2017 and ONCE in 1997) whilst the ever-present Vermarc have two teams.
I've mentioned "The Rules" before and I don't care for them too much, but many cyclists do seem to love to quote them verbatim. I can only think Rule 17 "Team kit is for members of the team" has over time had a negative implact on replica team kit sales. There is also now a huge influx of new brands, no doubt encouraged by Rapha and it's success to bring us non-team cycling kit.
During the next week, I'll collate my thoughts on the 2017 team jerseys in a new blog article.