Universal Cycle Corporation (UCC) was “designated bicycle sponsor” at the recent Tour of Beijing. That’s quite a big deal, considering China is home to a few *cough* GIANT bicycle brands. Richard Lin, UCC’s president, and Tony Wu, Owner of UCC’s China distributor Rapid Trading, joined me for a late-night coffee at the official team hotel after stage four.
Professional road cycling and sponsors are inextricably linked. Remarkably, the potential visual noise created by roadside barriers (aka billboards) and logo-heavy team clothing integrates perfectly with our often-chaotic sport. Anyone at the Tour of Beijing last week need only contrast the China National Cycling team jerseys – devoid of any partner logos – with that of, for example, Team Sky to see how branding can lift race aesthetic.
The flip-side is the insidious way in which advertising is often designed to work. Our neural cache for branding increases each time a logo, trademark or tagline makes an impression in our sight. My own pea-brain is exceptionally good at storing peripheral cues that may act as a proxy to this stored information. For example, whenever I see someone in a red jumpsuit, I’m going to think of UCC.
UCC’s sponsorship of the Tour of Beijing must tell a story about the future of your company’s product strategy. How is the road category developing?
TW: The market is growing. Two years ago, for every 100 UCC units sold, 20 would be road bikes. Now the ratio is for every 100 units sold, 40 would be road bikes.
RL: Mountain biking is still very popular. It’s not like USA or New Zealand where people really go mountain biking; they mostly use them on the road. So we swap the big knobby tyres for smooth, lightweight tyres.
I couldn’t help notice the Chinese National Team were riding different bikes at the Tour of Beijing. Some rode Look, others Giant. UCC is sponsoring the race, but not the national team. It seems like a logical extension.
RL: Yeah, of course, we thought about it. We already sponsor some non-professional teams that often place in the top three in local events. The Chinese National Team has a lot of options. We need to consider the budget.
How much would it cost to sponsor the team each year?
RL: The minimum would maybe be RMB8,000,000 – RMB10,000,000 (EUR938,000 – EUR1,710,000)
The Tour of Beijing has a four-year UCI WorldTour status guarantee from the UCI. Has UCC taken out a four-year sponsorship also to secure its exclusive bicycle sponsor position?
RL: No we didn’t, it’s year-by-year. Tony told me they haven’t given any sponsors a four-year contract.
Are you already considering next year?
TW: Yes, I think the organizer is pleased with our involvement. They are happy with how professional we are. It’s the first year of the race, and a lot of points need to be improved. But I have to say they are doing a good job so far.
UCC assembled 300 identical mountain bikes for guests to ride during the first one kilometre of the neutralised stage start. Who was invited to take part?
RL: Mostly local government people and sponsor VIP’s.
Every one of those bikes had a UCI WorldTour logo on the top tube. The UCI normally charges a royalty whenever the logo is used, which I understand UCC didn’t know about. What are the facts?
RL: The bicycle artwork got approved, so we don’t know about this rumor!
[UPDATE: Alain Rumpf from Global Cycling Promotions (UCI subsidiary) confirmed UCC was given permission to use the WorldTour logo]
Giant became very famous in Taiwan when (President) King Liu rode around the island. Any similar publicity stunts coming up from you Richard?
RL: No, someone suggested I do that!
You’re not going to ride around China?
RL: No! (laughs)
Continued in tomorrow’s post: ‘UCC bicycles | not another giant‘