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Transfers – What Can Cycling Learn From Football?

As a long-time professional cycling fan I have always thought that professional cycling teams could and should do much better when announcing new signings. With a lack of well-known personalities who transcend the sport, such as Bradley Wiggins so clearly did, this is never going to reach the heights of last week’s football transfer window; but I think there are still learnings cycling can take from the drama and hype seen in football.You only need to look at the recent announcements of David de La Cruz and Jonathan Castroviejo by Team Sky – the team with the biggest budget in pro cycling and considered to be number one in the world both on and off the bike – to see the low-key nature of previous announcements: a few photos of the rider in their former/current team kit overlaid with their palmares and that’s basically it.

I first realised the reason behind this lack of effort two years ago. For a team with a budget like Team Sky’s, it is in fact first and foremost because of the dates the UCI transfer window opens. The window opens on August 1st every year, although riders are not allowed to officially switch teams before January 1st of the next year, and only then can their new teams start to use them as marketing assets. In the case of David de la Cruz and Jonathan Castroviejo, this means that Team Sky and their partners won’t be able to use the two in any marketing activity before January 1st 2018. To me that that’s absurd.

When you look at football, players are off to their new club as soon as their transfer is completed, which means clubs can make a big noise of their arrival. Take a look at what PSG did for the arrival of Neymar earlier this month: an official photo of him wearing the PSG jersey with his name on it within hours of the announcement by the media, an official presentation at the Parc des Princes in front of a huge crowd (where a few lucky fans and PSG Minis got to celebrate with the man himself), and a huge revamp of the Eiffel Tower under PSG’s colours…

Professional cycling teams should be allowed to do the same. Cycling teams do not benefit from the same budget as football clubs such as PSG, and cycling fans are not expecting their favourite teams to revamp the Eiffel Tower for the signing of a new rider. However, this change is not up to the teams but to the UCI.

A solution to this would be for the UCI to shorten the transfer window to two months, as in football, instead of five months as it is now, and postpone the start to early November. Such a change has the potential to not only make the transfer period far more exciting but also to continue the cycling conversation in the absence of any major races between late October and early March. It would also allow teams to do a lot more around rider announcements, freeing them from contractual constraints, and making the rider transfer conversation the highlight of the off-season.

But moving the transfer window represents quite a significant change for cycling. The UCI cannot and will not amend its rules overnight, and they are certainly not the only ones to blame for the teams’ lack of creativity in announcing new signings. There is a lot teams can do with the current window in place to improve the announcement of new riders; here are three very simple examples:

1. Partner with a graphic designer. It doesn’t require you to have access to the riders and shows creativity and originality. As an example, this year, ASO and the Tour de France partnered with Korean artist Cream Seoul to introduce the general classification contenders and every stage winner. Fun, creative, engaging.

More recently and in football, FC Barcelona’s official partner of play Beko welcomed new signing Ousmane Dembélé with the below visual. Although Beko didn’t benefit from any time with the young French player, this simple design allowed them to quickly react to the new signing on social media.

 

2. Create infographics that tell a bigger and more intimate story about the new rider than just his palmares. Velon teams have access to an ever-growing amount of data that would allow them to tell a different story about their new signings and bring fans closer to their heroes.

A path to follow here would be Team Sky’s, with the series of infographics they created around iconic races two years ago, trying to make their fans understand the scale of the challenge when trying to win a Grand Tour.

3. Tease new signings using several posts over a few hours, revealing one or two facts at a time (mixing performance and personal). That way, teams are starting a conversation with their fans and building up the excitement, instead of rather coldly stating facts. So far, this method has often been used for kit releases or car livery unveils, like the one Ferrari did in Formula One back in February.

Understandably, budgets in professional cycling are still geared towards improving performance, meaning even teams with larger budgets are reluctant to divert budget towards marketing campaigns – as an example, Team Sky are believed to spend 80% of their £25 million budget on performance. Cycling might be a sport famous for performance innovation, but teams cannot continue to ignore their relationship with their fans. If the sport as a whole is committed to attracting and engaging a younger, wider audience, I think they also have to commit to innovating how they communicate major announcements with their fans as well.

#NeymarPSG – The View From Brazil

Brazil is naturally buzzing about Paris St Germain’s swoop for Neymar. Even with the Brasileirão at full throttle and the Libertadores reaching its knockout stages, Brazilian football has had to share the spotlight with the latest in the #NeymarPSG news cycle.

The soap opera, as Brazilians call these long player negotiations, lit football afficionados (ie everybody!) and the media on fire. There is a consensus that PSG is paying an obscene amount of money. Fox Sports pointed out that Neymar’s world record price tag would buy every player in the Brasileirão’s top four clubs. And a UOL columnist highlighted that for the same money PSG could buy the other ten first choice players in Brazil’s national team.

Santos fans, however, couldn’t wait for the move to happen as they will receive a sell-on fee from Barca having previously sold Neymar to them in 2013!

Fans and the media have also been discussing Neymar’s motivations for leaving Barcelona.

Alongside, obviously, the money, most also agree that being the star at club level, as he is in the national team, and stepping out of Lionel Messi’s shadow, have played their part. It’s also assumed, in most people’s view, that this will give Neymar a better chance of winning the coveted Ballon D’Or.

As to Neymar’s image in Brazil, although he gets criticism from some for being spoiled and a bragger, he is still worshipped by most Brazilians, and if he maintains his on-field performances for the national team, his status as the country’s top sports icon won’t be affected, and may even increase - depending, in particular, on how Brazil performs in the 2018 World Cup. And as a PSG player Neymar’s exposure in Brazil will stay high, as the Champions League is shown free-to-air here.

Meanwhile Neymar’s move does inevitably impact Barcelona’s positioning in Brazil.

The long list of Brazilian stars that have worn the Barca shirt have helped make Barcelona Brazil’s most popular international club. How much Neymar’s exit will affect this is hard to predict, but will surely depend on the club’s recruitment of other Brazilian stars.

Meanwhile PSG will surely look to leverage Neymar and their other Brazilian players to sign Brazilian companies as sponsors.

Neymar’s father’s company, who together with the agent Wagner Ribeiro represent Neymar, are in pole position for this contract. They have previously represented Barca in Brazil, closing deals with local brands like Tenys Pé. And only this week, Centauro, the biggest sport apparel retailer in Brazil, announced an exclusive partnership with the club.

A new era of Neymarketing is about to begin.

by Guilherme Guimarães of Ativa Esporte, Synergy’s partner in Brazil