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Financial Fair Play

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Financial Fair Play

02 Sep 2017 11:09

This may not seem like a Clinic thread but it's hard to separate the money from the doping and really we do need to talk about the money in professional cycling, so expect the doping to be brought in here pretty quickly.

We need to begin with something simple so let's begin with the 1980s. But, before doing that, let's acknowledge something: what this is about is not a new problem, it's an age old problem. Back at the start of the twentieth century, Henri Desgrange time and again got the hump with the major manufacturers and the way their money influenced the outcome of his races through the original super teams (Alycon, Peugeot etc), which is why - in a fit of pique - he switched the Tour from trade teams to national teams in 1930. And in Italy, earlier in the 1920s, the Italian manufacturers had tried to blackmail the Giro d'Italia into paying them appearance fees, only to lose when one of their members broke ranks and when La Gazzetta hit upon a PR wheeze we're still talking about all these years later. There was an attempt to develop a strong riders' union in the 1920s, led by Henri Pélissier, but that faltered for all the usual reasons (interpersonal politics). There was a fresh financial boom in the 50s and 60s, that introduced the idea of sprint trains (Van Looy and his Red Guard) and re-introduced the idea of super-teams (Anquetil's Ford). What happened in the 1980s, it added new elements, but in reality it was just history repeating. And that is worth remembering.

So, the 1980s, then: cycling had a financial Big Bang in the 1980s. It was obvious in Italy, with all the sponsors there and especially with the way the money poured in to Francesco Moser's Hour project. And - of course - it was obvious in France with Bernard Tapie's La Vie Claire galácticos and the slightly exaggerated story of Greg LeMond becoming cycling's first million dollar man (not only was the million spread over a period of years, I've seen it said a few times that Panasonic had reached a similar deal with Phil Anderson - if anyone has any info on that one way or the other, please, do share). It was even obvious in minnows like ANC-Halfords and 7-Eleven.

The money arrived at a time when performance in cycling was easier to monetise: Hein Verbruggen brought in the FICP ranking system and points meant more than prizes. Your value - your salary - was based on your points. (This, obviously, is one of the important areas where doping intrudes: cycling's financial Big Bang, coupled with lax UCI policies on drug testing, encouraged more riders to dope more often. Couple that with a (relatively) inexpensive drug that democratised heretofore expensive and elitist blood transfusions and you're really getting a big bang for your buck.)

Salaries shot up. Budgets swelled to follow. Things got bigger, things got bolder. With more and more money being spent more and more money had to be spent, in order to ensure optimal performance and a return (wins) on investment. More money had to be spent on team buses, more money had to be spent on training camps, more money had to be spent on the appliance of science, in all areas.

Did the sport improve at the same time? Probably, but probably not as fast. New audiences certainly came in as the long cherished dream of mondialisation became the reality of globalisation. That, though, has arguably caused one of the problems we face today: quoting Daam Van Reeth of KU Leuven in The Economics of Professional Cycling
cycling at the top level has become too global (and thus too expensive) for smaller local sponsors but, at the same time, is not global enough for big multinational companies.
So, today, we have a sport caught between two worlds and unsure of where it belongs. And we have the age-old power play - for this is all the economics of it is all about, power - that Benjo Masso talked about in Sweat of the Gods, cycling's game of thrones in which the race organisers, the team owners, the riders and the governing bodies all fight to be the in charge, a fight that - historically - the race organisers have long been the winners in and the governing bodies have only recently (in the last three or four decades) become major players in.

That's all a brief and overly simplified introduction. Let's turn to a couple of recent developments.
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02 Sep 2017 11:10

First: the spectre of communism that is haunting cycling. Or, at least, the spectre of communism that Chris Froome thinks is haunting cycling. Here's the Monaco-based tax exile and former economics student, answering a question about financial fair play and whether budget restrictions are needed in cycling:
"Yes and no," Froome reasoned. "It's in some ways 'unfair' the support we have in general at Team Sky compared to other teams, but if you take that away then what do other teams have to strive for? I mean why do you try to work harder to get more sponsors, to get more backing and win more races?

"If you take that away, we're almost becoming communists, aren't we? Everybody's going to be the same. We should all ride the same bikes, have the same equipment sponsors, all eat the same rice and porridge every morning so no-one's got added fuel for the stage. Where do you draw the line?
Question: do you think financial fair play would in any way help solve cycling's doping - pharmaceutical, technological - problem?
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02 Sep 2017 11:12

Second: is omertà the real reason Slipstream suck at finding and retaining sponsors? In 14 seasons they've been through 11 name sponsors (5280, Subaru, TIAA-CREF, Chiptotle, Garmin, Transitions, Cervélo, Barracuda, Sharp, Cannondale and Drapac) as well as spectacularly losing BigMat to Marc Madiot in 2011 even before the deal was signed, pitching to NetFlix in 2014 without understanding their marketing needs and this year getting it spectacularly wrong with Unibet.

No other team approaches Slipstream's churn rate. Vincent Lavenu (AG2R) has been through three name sponsors in 25 years. Eusebio Unzué (Movistar) has been through five in nearly four decades. Pat Lefevere (Quick Step) has been through three since 2003. In two decades Marc Madiot (FDJ) has only had two. To find a team with a similar volume of sponsor changes you have to look to today's LottoNL which has taken twice as long to burn through about the same number of sponsors as Slipstream (starting with Kwantum in 1984, settling down as Rabobank in the nineties and noughties and eventually arriving as its current incarnation).

What has all of this got to do with omertà? The argument is that, were the Slipstream Lost Boys to have been a little less vocal about their dark past - and maybe a bit more doctrinaire on things like zero tolerance - sponsors wouldn't be so scared and would be more willing to settle into a long-term loving relationship.

So: could it be that the cure is actually doing more damage than the disease? Sponsors like Festina, like Rabobank, like USPS, they knew what was going on, but stuck around. Sponsors like Belkin, Barracuda, Sharp, they're being scared off by all the talk about our dark past. Could it be as simple as that – that omertà is a financial necessity?
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02 Sep 2017 11:37

FFP implenentation in soccer basically helped to maintain a status quo, with the global players being the only ones able to continue the spending spree, while holding back second tiers from stepping up their game.

Of course cycling is a different beast, and it depends on how the regulations are formulated and implemented.
I do however not think FFP is a solution in itself. You would need a different setup of the business model altogether.

As for Garmin and the ómerta question you could be on to something, while I do think it's multifaceted there is logic in combining the two.

edits: damn spellings
Last edited by mrhender on 02 Sep 2017 11:45, edited 1 time in total.
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02 Sep 2017 11:42

I think Froome's talk about communism cost me 25% of my IQ.
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02 Sep 2017 11:43

On a different note, it's interesting that while Sky and BC is experiencing growth and more global exposure the total number of viewers are on a decline (TDF 16 figures), making it harder to attcact new sponsors i guess.

So is Sky setting a good example to strive to, (as Foome allude to) or are they killing cycling along with the Cookson general approach?
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02 Sep 2017 12:36

Another topical issue is sugar daddies. Historically, cycling has been a fan funded business, even before crowd funding became the topic du jour, albeit a business funded by fans with very deep pockets. Once the bicycle boom went bust and teams started turning to extra sportif sponsors, the sugar daddies came to play an important role.

Back when, there were the likes of Molteni family, the Knörr family (KAS). Then there was Bernard Tapie (LA Vie Claire / Toshiba). More recently we've seen Oleg Tinkov. Today we still have James Murdoch (Sky), Doug Ellis (Slipstream), Igor Makarov (Katusha), Rick Delaney (Aqua Blue), the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kazakhstan (Astana), Nasser bin Hamad (Bahrain), Andy Rihs (BMC), Gerry Ryan (Orica), Zdeněk Bakala (Quick Step). That's nearly half the teams currently racing the Vuelta being backed, at the end of the day, by a sugar daddy. Which kind of messes with the normal rules of economics, throws even the thought of rational economic decision making out of the window.

But perhaps the most important sugar daddy of the moment is Wang Jianlin, the Chinese property billionaire whose Wanda Dalian group has a growing portfolio of cycling events. There's the one-time Tour de France co-owner Arnaud Lagardère's former cycling interests: two WT races - the one-day WT event EuroEyes Cyclassics and the Tour de Suisse ('owned' through a licensing agreement between Infront Sports and Media and the race owners) - as well as a portfolio of sportif events organised under the Velothon brand and Infront's hook-up with Velon and their Hammer series. And there's the new WT event in China, the Tour of Guangxi, Brian Cookson's replacement for Pat McQuaid's Tour of Beijing.

The usual cheer-leaders in the usual places are wetting themselves over the prospect of Wang taking over cycling, driving out ASO and RCS: there's VN, there's CT, there's the Outer Limits. And, in the coming weeks, when the Tour of Guangxi takes place, they're all going to be waving those pom-poms like they were trying-out to get on the Super Bowl cheer squad.

But Wang has a few problems: many see his overseas spending spree as just a way of getting money out of China; while the Chinese government see him as something of a Gray Rhino (a more predictable Black Swan), his businesses being so leveraged - Wang's international spending spree is debt-fuelled - that, were they to fail or even falter, they could bring down the Chinese banking system. The upshot being his international spending spree has been halted.

Not fully: his overseas interests can continue to spend, as his recently acquired triathlon empire did when Ironman acquired the Competitor Group, owners of the Rock'n'Roll Marathon series and - coincidentally - owners of America's second most well known cycling website, VeloNews. Meaning we now have a sugar daddy who owns races, is in bed with the UCI and operates an arm of the cycling media. Hands up if you think that is really good for business ...
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02 Sep 2017 12:40

I think it is a great topic FMK. I don't know enough about the history to make a comment but enjoy reading about it from people with more knowledge. It is obvious that cycling has big problems going forward and has had them in the past. Thanks
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Re:

02 Sep 2017 13:46

mrhender wrote:On a different note, it's interesting that while Sky and BC is experiencing growth and more global exposure the total number of viewers are on a decline (TDF 16 figures), making it harder to attcact new sponsors i guess.
Supporting stats, please.

Here's a summary of what Daam Van Reeth - who follows these things - had to say:

TV audiences #tour2017 down in:
* UK (highlights show @itvcycling) -18%
* Sweden (@TV4) -34%
* Sweden (@EurosportSE) -10%

TV audiences #tour2017 stable in:
* Flanders +2%
* Spain +2%
* the Netherlands - 4%

TV audiences #tour2017 up in:
* Italy 23%
* Wallonia 20%
* Germany 17%
* France 8%

On the increase in the French viewing figures, more here (in French - summary being, the numbers (3.8 million for a 38.4% audience share) were up (300k and 2 points on audience share) on last year).

DiscoSport reported a 10% increase.
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Re:

02 Sep 2017 16:09

fmk_RoI wrote:Second: is omertà the real reason Slipstream suck at finding and retaining sponsors? In 14 seasons they've been through 11 name sponsors (5280, Subaru, TIAA-CREF, Chiptotle, Garmin, Transitions, Cervélo, Barracuda, Sharp, Cannondale and Drapac) as well as spectacularly losing BigMat to Marc Madiot in 2011 even before the deal was signed, pitching to NetFlix in 2014 without understanding their marketing needs and this year getting it spectacularly wrong with Unibet.

No other team approaches Slipstream's churn rate. Vincent Lavenu (AG2R) has been through three name sponsors in 25 years. Eusebio Unzué (Movistar) has been through five in nearly four decades. Pat Lefevere (Quick Step) has been through three since 2003. In two decades Marc Madiot (FDJ) has only had two. To find a team with a similar volume of sponsor changes you have to look to today's LottoNL which has taken twice as long to burn through about the same number of sponsors as Slipstream (starting with Kwantum in 1984, settling down as Rabobank in the nineties and noughties and eventually arriving as its current incarnation).

What has all of this got to do with omertà? The argument is that, were the Slipstream Lost Boys to have been a little less vocal about their dark past - and maybe a bit more doctrinaire on things like zero tolerance - sponsors wouldn't be so scared and would be more willing to settle into a long-term loving relationship.

So: could it be that the cure is actually doing more damage than the disease? Sponsors like Festina, like Rabobank, like USPS, they knew what was going on, but stuck around. Sponsors like Belkin, Barracuda, Sharp, they're being scared off by all the talk about our dark past. Could it be as simple as that – that omertà is a financial necessity?


I think this is a bit disingenous to suggest no other team has come near the amount of sponsors JV has burned through and then list companies who sponsored his teams from their beginning as a junior team, through continental level. Realistically you are not going to be expecting the same sponsors who back Junior/U-23/Continental teams to be backers of WT teams. Were the likes of Movistar/AG2R/FDJ etc ever Junior/Continental teams? At least compare apples with apples so better to start from 2007/8.

Garmin were primary sponsors for at least 5-6 years, with many of the the others you listed as named secondary sponsors, whilst nobody has got through as many as JV, several teams have been through plenty sponsors in the same time in direct contradiction to what you claim.

Garmin, Chipotle, Transitions, Cervelo, Sharp, Barracuda, Cannondale, Drapac(2008)

Some examples of sponsors turnovers.

UAE, Lampre, Merida, Farnese Visi, ISD, Fondital, NCG (2008)
Sunweb, Giant, Alpecin, Shimano, Argos, Skil (2008)
Bora, Hansgrohe, Argon 18, Nett-App, Endura (2010)
Lotto, Soudal, Belisol, Omega Pharma (2008) further back Davitamon, Domo, Adecco from 2002.
Dimension Data, MTN, Qhuebeka, Energade (2008)
Orica, Scott, Bike Exhange, Greenedge (2012)
Trek, Segafredo, Radiosahack, Nissan, Leopard(2010)
Quick Step, Etixx, Omega Pharma, Innergetic (2008)
Tinkoff, Saxo, Sunguard, CSC(2008-16)

Realistically, teams from outside the traditional cycling nations will struggle to find long-term major backers unless it is the likes of Astana/BMC/Katusha which are all vanity projects either based on Nationality or personal wealth. Then there are the French teams who in reality have not had that much more success than JV teams, but still have been backing teams for 20 years, FDJ, AG2R, Cofidis. I would say as French companies, the guranteed entry into Le Tour justifies their outlay.

Even in countries like Belgium where cycling is the national sport, we can see the big teams have been through a few sponsors themselves. If teams in the heartlands struggle to keep sponsors, is it a surprise that cycling is a harder sell in the post-Lance US of A?
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Re: Re:

02 Sep 2017 17:52

pmcg76 wrote:I think this is a bit disingenous
Guilty as charged, m'lud. Please, let's remember, this is math / economics / accountancy - nothing can be taken at face value.

However. The ease with which you play the same game is important to note.

Let's, for instance, look at Quick Step. You name Etixx and Omega Pharma as sponsors. Forgive me, but I thought both were Marc Coucke? So isn't that double counting? Or are you omitting the other Coucke business, Davitamon?

How about Orica? Isn't GreenEdge just a project name, sort of like Slipstream, High Road, Katusha? Maybe I should add Slipstream into my list of Slipstream sponsors, bringing it to an even dozen in 14 years?

Or let's take Dimension Data and the number of name sponsors they've been through. If counting Slipstream's pre-WT sponsors is problematic, then surely it is also problematic to do the same for Di-Data? So scrub MTN from the list. Ditto Ennergade. As for the inclusion of Qhubeka as a name sponsor: I would call that a foul, given it is Dimension Data who are supporting Qhubeka - a charitable organisation - rather than the other way round. But, if the ref accepts it, I won't protest. If we can overlook Qhubeka and if my math is right, that leaves us with a list containing ... doing the counting here ... one name: Dimension Data.

The same holds true for Bora: exclude the pre-WT name sponsors. The same holds true for Sunweb: exclude the pre-WT name sponsors. Now, given that that's at least three teams where you've done the same thing you chide me for doing, let's play nice here and agree it's not really a problem, eh? They may be apples and oranges, but they're all fruit, and that's what's being counted.

Now I am not arguing that Slipstream is the only team that likes fruit (let's run with the analogy) but, let's be fair, they do seem to be more frugivorous than others, no? Is that a problem? It depends on how you play it. No, it's not a problem, if it points to a problem in cycling's economic model. Yes, it's a problem, if it points to a problem in the way the team is being run. (In fact, didn't I more or less absolve management of ownership of the problem by offering the possibility that their sincerity - their openness - was the actual issue, that the problem is that sponsors simply can't handle the truth?)

Really, though, we're not at odds here, not much. We're just painting the picture a little differently. Or, encouraging the reader to interpret the picture differently. But, as I said, this is math / economics / accountancy - nothing can be taken at face value.
pmcg76 wrote:Realistically, teams from outside the traditional cycling nations will struggle to find long-term major backers unless it is the likes of Astana/BMC/Katusha which are all vanity projects either based on Nationality or personal wealth.
This raises a whole different problem, the issue of financing à deux vitesses, the issue of sugar daddies. But here Slipstream - like several teams - has a foot in both camps. The question for you is do you want to compare apples with apples or do you want to talk about fruit?
pmcg76 wrote:Then there are the French teams who in reality have not had that much more success than JV teams, but still have been backing teams for 20 years, FDJ, AG2R, Cofidis. I would say as French companies, the guranteed entry into Le Tour justifies their outlay.
If this is the case, why don't Vincent Lavenu and Marc Madiot follow Jean-René Bernaudeau and Cofidis and turn their backs on the World Tour? The argument that ASO's wildcards are disruptive, I'm not sure I buy it. I mean, we're talking about needing to raise €10-€15 million here, which is roughly where all these middle-ranking WT teams are playing (and is even where Cofidis plays, though not JRB). The size of the budget - the level at which the team is playing - is the point of comparison, not the level of success (which, I think, even JV has argued is not a key driver of sponsorship money anyway).
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Re:

02 Sep 2017 18:04

fmk_RoI wrote:First: the spectre of communism that is haunting cycling. Or, at least, the spectre of communism that Chris Froome thinks is haunting cycling. Here's the Monaco-based tax exile and former economics student, answering a question about financial fair play and whether budget restrictions are needed in cycling:
"Yes and no," Froome reasoned. "It's in some ways 'unfair' the support we have in general at Team Sky compared to other teams, but if you take that away then what do other teams have to strive for? I mean why do you try to work harder to get more sponsors, to get more backing and win more races?

"If you take that away, we're almost becoming communists, aren't we? Everybody's going to be the same. We should all ride the same bikes, have the same equipment sponsors, all eat the same rice and porridge every morning so no-one's got added fuel for the stage. Where do you draw the line?
Question: do you think financial fair play would in any way help solve cycling's doping - pharmaceutical, technological - problem?

That quote is spectacular.
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02 Sep 2017 20:51

Had to google financial fair play. First thing that pops up is UEFA Financial Fair Play regs wiki page. Not sure if this is if this is what you're speaking of in terms of FFP... I'm not sure how this concept could be applied to cycling, as the boiled down definition appears to be a club can spend more than it earns in the pursuit of success.

Would a teams earnings be defined as the team's allotment of funds by sponsors? No VIP events, no team stores, no extra bikes to sell off to offset possible pursuits of excellence (wink-wink)?
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02 Sep 2017 21:30

Yes, the economics of FFP in football don't really map onto cycling at all. Cycling teams are pretty much just a black hole that sponsors' money gets thrown into. What would be much more interesting to me would be the US equivalent of financial fair pay - ie revenue sharing or even a draft.
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02 Sep 2017 21:33

(I appreciate I said revenue sharing after saying pro cycling has no revenue streams, but let's think big here)

Btw Froome makes sporting communism sound pretty appealing.
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Re:

02 Sep 2017 21:43

hrotha wrote:I think Froome's talk about communism cost me 25% of my IQ.

This :o
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03 Sep 2017 08:03

Financial fair play means financial fair play. If you want to argue financial fair play means the UEFA model, well have a go. If you want to argue it means giving away all TV income, go for it. If you want to argue financial fair play involves spending caps or other budgetary restrictions the floor is yours. If you want to say it means dial back the clock to Desgrange's method of centrally provided bikes, food and water, please, make me smile. If you want to say financial fair play means going full communist with centrally provided coaches and shared dorms, let's hear the argument. If you want others to share your belief it means unfettered capitalism with no rules - no minimum pay, no spending restrictions - convince them with your argument.
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03 Sep 2017 08:20

The comparison to football is nonsense. There is almost literally no limit to money in football as we've seen for years and especially this summer. Financial Fair Play at least theoretically (I don't think it can work) aims to limit the amount of money available on the top end, making it somewhat more realistic for smaller teams to be able to compete.

The problem in cycling isn't that there's too much money, the problem is that there isn't enough.
Would forcing Sky to be more frugal mean other teams have more ressources? Maybe, I guess, but it's a completely different issue.

Similarly btw in North American sports, there's no end to the money they can make, and even with much more radical rules in NFL/NBA/NHL than in european football, there are still teams that are much more wealthy than others.
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Re:

03 Sep 2017 09:04

spalco wrote:The problem in cycling isn't that there's too much money, the problem is that there isn't enough.
There are many would argue - quite convincingly, actually - with this claim. Where is new money going to be spent? Salaries, driving up already spiralling wage inflation. Even JV, in renouncing the need for (immediate) sharing by ASO of their TV income - renouncing the whole revenue sharing argument he introduced six years ago - said that more money for the teams is simply going to mean an even larger wages tab. That being so, I would love to hear your argument as to why the problem really is that cycling doesn't have enough money and how more money is going to solve something - which, we need to acknowledge here - no one has yet defined.
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Re: Re:

03 Sep 2017 09:10

pmcg76 wrote:...

Some examples of sponsors turnovers.

UAE, Lampre, Merida, Farnese Visi, ISD, Fondital, NCG (2008)
Sunweb, Giant, Alpecin, Shimano, Argos, Skil (2008)
Bora, Hansgrohe, Argon 18, Nett-App, Endura (2010)
Lotto, Soudal, Belisol, Omega Pharma (2008) further back Davitamon, Domo, Adecco from 2002.
Dimension Data, MTN, Qhuebeka, Energade (2008)
Orica, Scott, Bike Exhange, Greenedge (2012)
Trek, Segafredo, Radiosahack, Nissan, Leopard(2010)
Quick Step, Etixx, Omega Pharma, Innergetic (2008)
Tinkoff, Saxo, Sunguard, CSC(2008-16)

...


Great topic.

On the above:

Omega Pharma also accounted for the brands Etixx, Davitamon and Predictor but Coucke seems more interested in football and theme parks nowadays. Innergetic is part of Latexco, which still sponsors Team Lefevere. Leopard and GreenEdge are just holding companies. Business as usual for the latter while the former is still in the sport at U23 level, probably as a tax venture, like a few other teams with holding companies.

So many sponsors seem to come from lateral sources. For example, Lampre owners the Galbuseras almost certainly leaned on their own business contacts to bring in co-sponsors down the years (Fondital, Daikin, ISD). Then there's the E17 highway between Gent and Waregem, which is like the Hollywood Walk of Fame of Belgian cycling sponsors past and present (Brustor, Collstrop, Palmans, Omega Pharma, Berry Floor, Unilin-QuickStep, ...). When sponsors are "poached" and switch teams (Sunweb, Alpecin, Omega Pharma yet again) or drummed up via national synergies (or sympathies) (Dimension Data, Bora holding hands with Hansgrohe, ...)

What I think is really interesting is when we get a truly "new" sponsor that doesn't come from one of these obvious sources. That is surely the toughest proposition. JV's Oath signing did seem to come out of leftfield but then I also recall Yahoo! occupying space on US Postal's jersey at one time.
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