Should One Bull Have All That Power?

Words Matthew Lee
Date Aug 27, 2014

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

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.

redbull_athletes

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.

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 McGary throws one of the biggest backflips in the history of MTB at the 2013 edition of Red Bull Rampage.

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?

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Comments

vonkrime
0
Vonkrime  - Sept. 3, 2014, 2:22 p.m.

A part of the reason red bull owns/sponsor events/athletes of all sorts, they even have a series of competition flying paper planes folded from A4 paper, are money of course. But the fact that they have a percentage advertisement clause within the company per sales..

The whole F1 team wasn't founded for marketing as much as it was for them that they needed to spend money on marketing due to sales. The whole Stratos project payed back way more then anyone could have guessed. 230+ news channels n websites live streamed their two attempts at the world record. Stacking millions of millions of views on their logo..

Red Bull have built their empire on extreme sports and it's their legacy. They will never leave they will just evolve and keep on pushing more money all over the world. As long as we buy their cans….

Cheers.
//CvK

Reply

jorge-pedroso
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Jorge Pedroso  - Sept. 1, 2014, 11:40 a.m.

This essay looks like tomorrow the sun will not arise as it does everyday. Calm down, tomorrow another forces will coming. The King is dead, cheers up the new. If Red bull ends up, will come another, as it will (and I´m sure of that will happen). So, Don't be so preoccupied, something will happen for sure. You know I´m 52 and I still remember in the 90´s when the tobacco sponsors (Marlboro),were prohibited in formula one! So what happened in the meantime? That's when Red Bull comes up. You see my point?

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hampstead_bandit
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rob c  - Aug. 30, 2014, 1:38 p.m.

Great article, and interesting point you raise

As an energy drink ,consumer, my favourite is monster blue (low carb), then red bull zero or sugar free.

Prefer coffee, but no kettles or press where I am riding!

As a comparison how much has monster put into events compared to red bull?

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jerry-hazard
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Jerry Hazard  - Aug. 29, 2014, 9:42 p.m.

Freeriding was/is a rebellious side to the mtb world, and it would have continued to develop without Redbull. Maybe not as rapidly, but it was destined to happen.

Redbull certainly amplifies the sport, but it does not define or "support" it, not in the sense that it will die if RB goes away.

The day is coming when Redbull will be either be challenged, or it will fade away. Sports go in phases, and right now, mountain biking is fast approaching the equivalent of where it was in the 90s before it tanked. Similar things happened with skateboarding and BMX/freestyle. Call it jumping the shark or whatever - mountain biking might still be on the 'rise' but it's going to peak again - Redbull is not what the industry and athletes should be worried about.

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dudebro
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dudebro  - Aug. 28, 2014, 1:16 p.m.

as long as fat lazy people wish they were svelte athletes, the redbull dollars will keep rolling in. They pay, we benefit.

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muldman
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muldman  - Aug. 28, 2014, 9:18 a.m.

"Red Bull is a publishing empire that also happens to sell a beverage."

It's been a long time since Red Bull was an energy drink company. They make far more money off of their other ventures.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - Sept. 2, 2014, 5:40 p.m.

Actually that article says little about Redbull making money off publishing - aside from The Art Of Flight. I'm pretty sure they give away virtually all of their content no? Obviously there are numbers we don't know but they weren't in that article as far as I saw.

Reply

mtb-trail-videos
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MTB Trail Videos  - Aug. 27, 2014, 8:47 p.m.

the answer … buy more Red Bull !!

Reply

JBV2
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james  - Aug. 27, 2014, 5:56 p.m.

fuck redbullshit. every bit of it. am i amazed at the world's greatest marketing geniuses. you bet. i'm a businessman. but seriously? fuck redbull. just fuck them and their garbage nonesense product.

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giddyupPG
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giddyupPG  - Sept. 1, 2014, 10:28 p.m.

Very eloquent. Thank you for your input. Actually. Everyone here is taking your comment seriously.

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nat-brown
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Nat Brown  - Aug. 27, 2014, 10:18 a.m.

Interesting article. My guess is that Red Bull is thinking ahead of anything discussed here, and I'm not just talking about their involvement in MTB. I think their business model is much broader that selling energy drink and that they're looking to the future of how people view media (as it is currently being revolutionised), and how they can get a big slice of it. Red Bull Media House is a big example of their investment in this. It's a very powerful thing having a significant media outlet.

As much as I love watching the races, I preferred the Freecaster broadcasts from a few years ago for the relative lack of professionalism, commentary in particular. Warner generally knows his shit obviously, but I preferred the tone of commentary before Red Bull. It's more 'lowest common denominator' with Red Bull doing it now.

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Vikb
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Vik Banerjee  - Aug. 27, 2014, 8:18 a.m.

In more than a 2 decades of MTBing I've participated in 1 race [a fun 24hr team event] and watched 1 Pro XC race because it came to my town.

I don't watch MTBing on TV or races on the net.

If Red Bull pulls all their sponsorship $$ nothing will change for me.

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sretsok
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Sretsok  - Aug. 27, 2014, 7:43 a.m.

Moto is not "just fine" without Monster. It's not "just fine" at all really.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - Aug. 27, 2014, 12:15 p.m.

So sponsors are scared away from moto because of the badass attitude? From my perch it appears that moto events and athletes attract much bigger dollars than mtb.

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sretsok
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Sretsok  - Aug. 28, 2014, 1:40 p.m.

I think they get the benefit of the manufacturers longer histories and bigger world wide sales.

If you go to a supercross or motocross race you'd be hard pressed to find a sponsor other than a company within the industry or an energy drink. You see them; but it's rare.

Teams struggle every year and there are only a handful of riders making serious serious money off of endorsements and bonuses from the factories. Don't forget the privateers who don't make close to a livable wage. I encourage you to look up the purse for a AMA Supercross race. It's ridiculous how underpaid the riders are.

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alex-thirkill
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Alex Thirkill  - Aug. 27, 2014, 3:52 a.m.

I agree with Lev, mountain biking is something I just do. I'm just not that interested in the events and celebrity rider industry. For me it is about getting away from it all. If red bull stopped sponsoring stuff it would make no difference to me or my type of riding. If mtb got bigger it would just mean more over crowded trails.

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pete@nsmb.com
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Pete Roggeman  - Aug. 27, 2014, 10:06 a.m.

It may make no difference to you in a direct sense, but indirectly, it could have a big impact. Had Red Bull's sponsorship dollars never come around, the sport would be very different today. Arguably, without Rampage, freeride would never really have taken off. DH would certainly not be as popular as it is today (especially since it's not, and never will be, an Olympic sport). How does this affect you? Because the recent advances in bike technology have come as a result of the big bike manufacturers responding to consumer demand, which has in large part been fueled by Red Bull's efforts to popularize the sport.

I buy the argument if you're a XC racer, but if you are an AM, Park, or DH rider, Red Bull's influence is hard to quantify, but it's definitely significant, whether or not you care about their athletes, watch their events, or drink their product.

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alex-thirkill
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Alex Thirkill  - Aug. 27, 2014, 1:44 p.m.

I see the argument in principle, but I'm not so sure how far this follows in practice - you still see R&D in the areas of the industry which do not have the media spot-light. Take the explosion in fat bikes over the last few years.

As regards technology quite a lot is trickle down from motorsports, especially on the suspension side and material and manufacturing technologies. The growth in carbon fibre is being made possible by the massive economies of scale now available in China. Bikes are a fairly small part of this in $$$ terms.

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nzstormer
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Michael Stormer  - Aug. 27, 2014, 2:09 p.m.

Explosion in fat bikes? I've only ever seen one on a trail. There are more of them than there were, but it's hardly an explosion.

Trickle down from motor sports - you mean Red Bull sponsored motor sports?

Economies scale is a key concept of why it would impact you. While you might not be interested, how many thousands of kids have got in to the sport as a result of what they see on Red Bull events and movies? It is those kids that are providing quantities of scale that make the economics worthwhile.

There's also the travel aspect. Films like Where the trail ends have inspired more adventure bike travel, opening more doors, providing more opportunities, again it was always there to an extent, but there is no doubt these films help it grow.

They also deserve a pat on the back for paying to build the Full Nelson trail in squamish (and I suspect there are others).

I don't disagree with you in principle, and it won't really impact my riding if they stop what they're doing, but i can't help think that they are speeding up the evolution of the equipment, the trails, the travel opportunities etc. I am thankful for their involvement (even if I can't stand their product).

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alex-thirkill
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Alex Thirkill  - Aug. 27, 2014, 2:41 p.m.

I've seen a few out and about, however, whatever the sales you can't deny all the r&d money that has been thereat tyres, frames, forks and hubs recently, no big media exposure.

Moreover, take 29ers and 650b. Okay everyone band wagoned on them in the end, but this wasn't media led.

Furthermore this side of the pond everything is enduro nowadays, which grew put of grassroots again.

I don't see anyone riding a slopestyle bike. I call hype on red bull and media input. They follow rather than lead trends. It is called coolhunting. PBS did a great documentary on in about 10 years ago.

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alex-thirkill
0
Alex Thirkill  - Aug. 27, 2014, 2:47 p.m.

Lastly more people being into the sport need have no downward pressure on price. Indeed, if you get lots of rich racer boys buying a 4k DH bike every year companies don't have to focus on medium and lower cost bikes and components. Mtb prices have gone through the roof in the last ten years.

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nzstormer
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Michael Stormer  - Aug. 27, 2014, 3:13 p.m.

I can see our reference points are very different, and this will go nowhere. Enjoy your riding.

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team-robot
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TEAM ROBOT  - Aug. 28, 2014, 8:04 a.m.

Alex, you say you don't care about racing and events. Congratulations, do you want a medal, or did you just want us all to recognize how bold your individualism is and how badass you are for not caring? If you don't care about the industry or it's events, obviously this conversation isn't for you or about you. I like to imagine you also go to F1 forums and say "I'm going to drive my Mazda MP4 to work every day whether you guys keep racing F1 or not."

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spokemagazine
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Caleb Smith  - Aug. 27, 2014, 3:38 a.m.

Red Bull don't sponsor events. Not these days (very rarely). They OWN them, that's their MO there is nothing in itf for them sponsoring events… Just sayin. They don't sponsor the F1 team they own it, same with Aussie touring cars… Thats what they know that the other people don't.

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Dirk
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Dirk  - Aug. 27, 2014, 8:23 a.m.

But there's an underlying something that lead to that decision to own the events. Other companies marketing events get diluted because there is no top to bottom vision of what they are trying to accomplish. Somebody has a killer idea and by the time it makes it up to the 60 year old VP to make the final decision, it's a shell of its former self. I would imagine the killer ideas at Red Bull either come from pretty high up, or are supported from the very top. These other beverage companies can't even seem to figure out how to hand out helmets.

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lev
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Lev  - Aug. 27, 2014, 12:32 a.m.

I'm glad MTB isn't as popular as Road biking. The upsurge in that sport in the UK and the TV exposure since Wiggins won the TDF, has meant a lot of none bikers are now dressing in Team Sky lycra and pisssing everyone off on the roads. The fact our sport does only have web coverage is great. If that is supplied by Red Bull even better. Their dedication to 'marginal' sports (as well as some very popular ones) is amazing and I'm sure some other big corporates would love to get their foot in the door. But I doubt any other's efforts could match Red Bull's FREE broadcasts. Red Bull can have all my eggs and my chicken if they like.

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alex-thirkill
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Alex Thirkill  - Aug. 27, 2014, 3:51 a.m.

I agree. You can't throw a brick around my way without hitting a team sky wearing city boy on a 5k bianci.

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