Amgen Renews

RKP isn’t really a news site, so the announcement that Amgen has renewed its contract with AEG Sports to continue its sponsorship of the Amgen Tour of California might seem odd material for a post. The reason it’s here is because this isn’t your garden-variety cycling news. This is big.

I confess, for weeks, more than a month, in fact, I’ve been writing the obituary for the Amgen Tour of California. I thought an announcement notifying cycling fans of the race’s demise was a formality, so the news that the company has renewed isn’t just a pleasant little news brief. This is big.

So why was I so down on the future of the Tour of California? Let me count the reasons.

  1. In the United States, races have a terrible history of folding after a sponsor’s contract is up. The Coors Classic folded up shop following the 1988 race after the race’s contract with Coors ended. Race director Michael Aisner approached Nuprin and Dodge, both of whom agreed to sponsor the race only to decline involvement at the 11th hour. The Tour de Georgia was notable for the fact that it’s the only major U.S. stage race that managed to sign three different title sponsors—Dodge, Ford and AT&T.
  2. Losing a race director has had dire consequences for races. When Mike Plant left the Tour DuPont at the end of the 1996 edition, the prospective next sponsor (DuPont’s contract was up) didn’t have much confidence in the new race director and ultimately the race couldn’t secure a new sponsor.
  3. The 2011 edition of the Amgen Tour of California got off to a rocky start with a stage cancellation and the start of a stage moved. Sponsors don’t like to see their events not happen as planned.
  4. The 2010 and 2011 editions of the race were upstaged by doping revelations that cast cycling in an unusually negative light. Landis’ and Hamilton’s revelations made much bigger news than the typical positive test. Who wants to spend millions to sponsor an ugly press conference?
  5. The economy still sucks. It’s why there’s no Tour of Missouri and no Tour de Georgia. Finding sponsorship money is as unlikely as winning the lottery two days in a row.
For me, the takeaways are that Amgen has supreme confidence in AEG Sports. Despite the departure of race director Andrew Messick, Amgen believes AEG will put on the same quality event they have in the past. Obviously, Amgen sees a brighter future for itself despite the economy than many other companies do. Further, the two-year deal will give AEG time to prove that the new race director is as good as Messick was, which will be crucial if they are to sign another sponsor after Amgen, for they were certainly end their association some day. If the race can get through the next two years with no RP black eyes due to canceled stages (this year, with record snowpack in the Sierra, was the wrong year to plan stages in the mountains—wait for the drought to return) or doping (the only thing that could compare to this year’s revelation would be if Lance Armstrong held a similar press conference during next year’s race—and that’s less likely than little green men abducting the peloton).

In the U.S., races come to an end. That’s the unfortunate reality. But these next two years could be key for the event’s longevity; it’s up to AEG to use the time to court (and land) a new sponsor. Make no mistake, this news is huge.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Janet D.

    This news IS huge, and most welcome on a day when HTC announced it is closing up shop. As always, the good with the bad. Thanks for the boost!

    1. Author

      Seconds after I published this post I got the news about HTC-Highroad. On balance, this is a bad news day. The Amgen news can’t counterbalance the news that Stapleton is folding up shop. This is the worst news I’ve heard in ages.

  2. cwcushman

    I know this post is not about HTC-Highroad, but it boggles my mind that a team as competitive as them can’t find a title sponsor. Is it because they are based in the U.S.? I can see the difficulty of an American company wanting to sponsor a European sport, but still. I would think more tech companies would be interested. I never would have purchased a Garmin prior to the 500, but in my races last weekend it appeared that they were in the majority (which makes it really a pain to pair the hear rate sensor).

    In regards to Amgen, there sponsorship –especially in the face of the doping scandals, makes sense. By sponsoring a major cycling event they appear to be tackling the fact that a drug they make is used to cheat. I applaud them for that.

  3. randomactsofcycling

    This is good news as the ToC has certainly grown in stature and continues to do so. Let’s hope they don’t go crazy again with the parcours and go all Giro d’Italia by taking stages too high too early in the season.
    The Highroad news is really deflating. Add to that the merger of the two Belgian teams and there is an obvious void of Title Sponsors available around the Wold at the moment. The proposed Australian ‘GREENEdge’ team have yet to announce their title sponsor though they do have a backer with relatively deep pockets and a true enthusiasm for the sport. Things are tough.
    Can we get the Arabs involved? They seem to be buying up European football teams by the bucket load!

  4. Souleur

    This is BIG news Padraig, kudos to you guys keeping it going.

    Not that it IS a money maker and it IS positive in all aspects FOR california, and as for other races it is business feasible….so why not…

    it’s (big races) something that seems to be the lowest common denominator in our country for some reason, and if the Amgen Tour is on pins and needles, the rest of them are tenuous at best. It just makes me bang my head wondering ‘why not’….

    Perhaps this CAN change in the future generations though….i sincerely hope

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