Computer Sciences Corporation(CSC) announced yesterday that it will end the sponsorship of Bjarne Riis' professional cycling team at the end of 2008. Whether CSC would continue has been hotly debated ever since Riis admitted to doping to win the 1996 Tour de France and the sport, in general, continued to be plagued by doping scandals and at the highest profile events.
It is not clear if it was Riis' admission, the state of doping in the pro peloton or that CSC felt their marketing dollars could be better spent elsewhere. In reality it was probably a combination of all three. Also, the continual bickering between ASO and the UCI didn't help matters, either. The sport has been plunged into the depths of darkness by doping and all the UCI can think to do is to pick an unwinnable fight with the organizers of the sports most popular race.
So, what will happen to Bjarne Riis' team? The riders have contracts with Riis Cycling and not CSC so the survival of the squad depends on Riis and his financial people finding a suitable replacement. Given the inability of such high-profile teams as Slipstream and High Road Sports to come up with a big bucks title sponsor, my guess is that the pickings are pretty slim. Not to disrespect either Slipstream or High Road, but CSC has been the number one rated team for the past two years. If Riis can't find some green for his boys, that sets a very bad
precedent for others looking for sponsorship.
Slipstream and High Road are two examples of a new model for sponsorship where a multi-million dollar owner holds the primary responsibility for providing the cash to keep the team solvent. My guess is that Doug Ellis of Slipstream and Bob Stapleton of High Road would much rather have a corporation as the title sponsor and so would I. While there are a number of rich fans of the sport, having a major corporation as a team's title sponsor is a much more sustainable scenario.
Hopefully, Bjarne will be able to find a corporation who can see past the drug issue(biological passports are a good first step, but we need more out-of-competition testing) and the squabbling between ASO and the UCI(the UCI needs to realize the Pro Tour is dead and go back to promoting cycling and not races). And, hopefully, Riis can get at least a three-year commitment out of a company. If the cycling world is forced to renewable one-year sponsorship deals, it will be a dark day.