rapha's world tour education

team education first

earlier this year, a friend of mine successfully negotiated a contract to supply goods to a customer with quite possibly greater requirements than the majority of her current clients. there were one or two more hoops to jump through than would usually be the case and a somewhat procrastinated approval process, but i was assured that the rewards could well be worth her trouble. it wasn't long, however, before some of the lustre began to disappear when it transpired that, while this new customer had been informed of all the supply constraints, they either hadn't listened, or didn't actually care.

suffice it to say that the customer has now terminated the agreement, not because my friend was dilatory on her side of the bargain, but entirely because the client failed to pay heed to the necessary care instructions. though continuation of the contract may have potentially led to increased turnover and profits, the last time we spoke, she was happy it was all over and done with. "definitely more bother than it was worth", would be a close approximation of her relieved summary.

when rapha ended their sponsorship arrangement with team sky some two years ago, rumour had it that they'd found it an exercise they'd prefer not to repeat. though the beginning of the arrangement had allegedly been peppered with one or two supply problems, diving in at the deep end with one of the world's top cycling teams was almost bound to be a baptism of fire; while you and i might forgive the occasional minor garment tribulation, a world tour professional is far less likely to be so forgiving. however, over the course of the partnership, there's no doubt the profile of imperial works was more than adequately bolstered.

but rather than having retired to lick their wounds, resolving never to enter the fray ever again, came the recent announcement that rapha would partner with jonathan vaughters' 'education first' (ef) team for the 2019 season. ef will now become the title sponsors after drapac decided to end their partnership at the end of this year. if the rumours of rapha having become disillusioned with their first foray into the world tour, i asked rapha ceo, simon mottram, what's different this time round?

team education first

"We had a great learning experience with Team Sky. We had the opportunity to prove the technical prowess of our kit and work with a multiple Grand Tour winning team. The sponsorship changed our business profoundly. People on the team remain our friends. It was amazing to be part of the sport at the top level. We've always had a mission to help cycling become more popular, so this time around we want to focus on the characters and heroes of the team to elevate cycling as a sport, globally.
After Sky, we took our time to do some involved research on the state of the sport and the resulting study has helped shaped our return to the men's World Tour. We want to help improve the sport and to reach a new audience. We are so pleased to be back in the men's World Tour with EF."

if i might briefly return to the friend mentioned in my opening paragraphs, if nothing else, her recent experience has given her the confidence just to say "no" in future, if the prospect of a new client threatens to ruffle the laid-back manner in which she usually operates. though i'm not attempting to compare her circumstances with that of rapha, it does seem more than likely that rapha will have learned a great deal from the first time round. is that likely to have them better prepared to work with jonathan vaughters in 2019?

"We know now, how a World Tour team operates, what their needs are, and what specifically we can provide kit to a very high calibre. We have lots of product innovation we can bring to the team. On the content side, EF have been incredibly open-minded to our suggestions and helped us take a different approach to this partnership."

team education first

the further up the food chain you go, in almost any industry you care to mention, the longer it seems to take to push through any new development. if i decide tomorrow morning that i'd like a change from publishing all this on a yellow background, it's a simple matter of changing the rgb code in the stylesheet. had i managed to reach the heady heights of corporate consolidation, there would no doubt be a slew of meetings to be held, focus groups, teams of consultants and a number of iterations of website design that might be deemed corporately appropriate. line all this against an apparent reluctance to to be the one who makes the final decision and, improving communication speeds notwithstanding, it's no wonder things take a long time to happen.

i therefore asked simon if the partnership was a recent development, or had they all been working behind the scenes for years? "Two years ago, Rapha commissioned a study to examine the problems with cycling as a professional sport. This largely found that the racing calendar is broken, sponsorship needs modernisation and cycling's fan base is small, fractured and not remotely reaching its potential in terms of global interest. So, we knew that when and if we re-entered professional cycling, it would have to be through a sponsorship arrangement with a difference and not just another kit deal.

"There are so many extraordinary bike races that deserve a wider audience, but the current World Tour calendar is confusing and congested. We're hoping that, by focusing our content on personalities and key races, we will help the sport become more engaging to a new audience. Fundamentally, the sport needs to be more exciting, reach more fans and become more valuable. We think a fresh calendar of mixed discipline races and a focus on characters and heroes will bring some excitement back.
"Before we worked with Sky, people asked me who I'd like to sponsor if we ever entered the World Tour. My natural answer tended to be Slipstream (now EF). So when I got a call from Philip Hult at Education First to ask if we wanted to form a partnership, and they were open to trying to change the sport from within, it was obvious that this was the moment to do it. So it's been in discussion for a while.

team education first

along with many aficionados of contemporary cycling, it has always seemed odd, to say the least, that those providing kit, components, or bicycles to the world's top cycling teams, are required to pay for the privilege. though i'm sure few of us have need of million dollar budgets to help finance our weekend bike rides, we'd mostly give our left cleat for some free stuff, happy to tell all and sundry just how utterly amazing it all is. but while sponsorship, is sponsorship, is sponsorship, not every arrangement is the same as its neighbour. is a 'partnership' simply sponsorship by another name? rapha will apparently become education first's kit and media partner, so what on earth does that mean?

"Rapha is well known for creating great content. In the last 14 years we've released around 300 films. Our storytelling credentials are second to none in the industry. So it makes sense that, off the back of the study, which found that the sport needs more interest and more fans worldwide, we would want to think about how we could change that across various media. With our media sponsorship of EF, we're bringing to the WorldTour, our talents in creating content.
"We'll be embedded with the team, capturing film and photographic content and highlighting the heroes and characters of EF. This is one of the amazing things about the partnership, that we'll be given full access to the team to tell the personal stories, the side of racing that a lot of people never see."

you can pretty much see what education first are getting from the deal, but what about rapha? there are only so many kudos to be garnered from having your logo seen adorning several brightly coloured jerseys in the professional peloton and few of those are bankable. so is simon viewing the partnership as a means of aiding and abetting rapha's continual development at the cutting-edge of cycling apparel?

team education first

"In short, yes. The constant demands of World Tour racing and training on kit, means that we'll constantly be gathering information for R&D and feeding this back into our main range of products. Our work with Team Sky informed many of our advancements in the Pro Team Collection, specifically with Aero and Shadow (our bad weather performance fabric)."

at the end of last century - twenty years ago, to be precise - the islay jazz festival landed on our shores with a title sponsor drawn, unsurprisingly, from the whisky world. this particular sponsorship lasted for several years before the agreement came to an end, by which time the festival had begun to stake its claim on the international stage. the current sponsor also has distillery affiliations and there's no doubt that they are reaping some of the rewards paid for by the original sponsor. many of us wonder why the first incumbent relinquished their hard-won spoils, just as they appeared to be about to mature?

it's a situation that seems to frequent cycling's world tour and many of the lower levels on an annual basis. simon will be already well-aware of this potential conundrum, so is the rapha/education first partnership and open-ended arrangement, or is there a fixed contract in place? "For now the agreement is for three years, which can be extended if we would like to continue beyond that."

i've yet to see the results of the initial team kit designs, doubtless being kept under wraps until the 2019 season begins in january down-under, but on the face of it, this promises to be a partnership to keep us all potentially interested and enthused for the next three years at least.

saturday 27 october 2018

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................