Should One Bull Have All That Power?
There’s nothing I love more than waking up to a hot coffee and the latest live broadcast of the UCI DH World Cup. I also love watching events like Red Bull Joyride at Crankworx in Whistler and Red Bull Rampage, which showcase some of the best riding and riders on the planet. None of these events would exist in their current state without a kingly sum of corporate sponsorship dollars, and a cursory inspection of big name events shows that Red Bull has become the sugar daddy in the world of mountain biking.
Sadly we don’t think Sebastian Vettel will let you drive his car, even if you say “pretty please.”
Red Bull spends serious dollars broadcasting every single World Cup DH and XC race to whatever device you prefer. They also sponsor several big name slopestyle events and of course Rampage. Canadians hadn’t even heard of Red Bull before Rampage because when the event started, the slender silver and blue cans were illegal here. And how about athletes? Their web site shows 32 mountain bikers that wear Red Bull headgear at all times. And Red Bull doesn’t just write cheques; they facilitate accomplishments, or rehabilitation (when needed) and even bring in performance psychologists to provide a mental edge. When their athletes take to the podium, Red Bull is there to provide further financial incentive for winning. They serve up what it takes for their athletes to succeed. They also fund the best mountain biking films currently being produced.
The A to M of Red Bull sponsored mountain bikers, with 12 athletes from M to Z missing.
Simply put, we love Red Bull. Mountain biking has gotten to the next level because of the fat stack of shekels they funnel into the sport every year. And the Bull’s involvement has brought the more modest budgets of their upstart rivals Monster and Rock Star aboard as well. Those companies don’t need to pave the way because Red Bull has done it for them.
Let’s face it, Red Bull isn’t doing this out of the goodness of their heart, or for the warm fuzzies. It’s to sell their taurine-laced sugar water to as many people as possible, and sponsoring events like Rampage and Joyride are a drop in the bucket when compared to some of their other ventures. According to Forbes, Red Bull has spent $1.7 billion USD on their F1 teams to date. Add in a rally program, hundreds of sponsored athletes, an entire music production operation and sending guys to near-space in balloons, and that change you find in your couch is going to come up short.
It takes more than a few couch coins and some stale cheezies to pay for something like this.
This begs two questions:
1. What does Red Bull know about sponsoring events and athletes that no other company in the world can get a handle on?
2. What happens on the fateful day when Red Bull decides that their marketing money is better spent on other things?
Mountain biking has had an interesting past with big name sponsorships. Once upon a time World Cup races were televised on ESPN, and various automotive companies have taken a stab at sponsoring events. Qashqai Challenge anyone? Anyone? Volvo Cannondale? Ford Devinci here in Canada? But these sponsors have come and gone like waves of tourists at Disney World; here for the spectacle while blowing a tonne of money, and then gone before Mickey is back in street clothes.
I understand the MTB industry isn’t awash in cash, especially when compared to the shaved and spandexed world of road racing. But why is that? Is it because MTB is still relatively young in comparison to thin-tire pursuits? Is it the lack of dentists riding on dirt? If our ‘outlaw’ image is scaring sponsors away, why are moto and skateboard doing just fine? I don’t know the answer, but I’m hoping the industry can figure out how to lock down more of that tasty sponsorship pie. Mmm. Pie!
This brings me to my second point, which is what happens if/when Red Bull decides to call it a day on sponsoring MTB events and puts their money behind something else, like electric fatbike racing in Wisconsin. Where will that leave events like Rampage, which disappeared from the calendar until Red Bull reinjected funding into its varicose veins? Are event promoters prepared for it, or will MTB slip into another dark age of terrible coverage and tiny contest purses?
Kelly McGarry throws one of the biggest backflips in the history of MTB at the 2013 edition of Red Bull Rampage.
So much like the Force, there is both a light side and a dark side to Red Bull’s deep involvement in mountain biking. We’re treated to Roman-esque spectacles delivered directly to our screens, but with that delivery comes the reminder that if Red Bull were to walk away, that coverage would most likely vanish. While things look good for now, it would be prudent to start working on a plan B, because no one bull should have all that power.
Do we have a sugar daddy conundrum or is everything going to be okay?