In the middle of 2012, AMP, the parent company of Genesys Wealth Advisers, distanced themselves from cycling in the fallout from the “Lance Armstrong Saga”. It left a considerable financial hole in Andrew Christie-Johnston’s cycling team but the team still had a decent budget courtesy of Genesys.
The team sought additional sponsorship through Huon-Salmon and for 2013 the Huon-Genesys team was born. It was a marketer’s dream: a grassroots Tasmanian team with a grassroots Tasmanian company, both kicking goals together.
As Genesys had clearly marked 2013 as their final year of sponsoring the team, the pressure was on Christie-Johnston and co-owner Steve Price to work with Huon to step up as naming rights sponsor for 2014.
Again Price and Christie-Johnston thought they had hit a home run with the local company showing great enthusiasm for the team, even filming their own advert to play during the Tour de France. The advert was run in tandem with a Strava competition and a requisite marketing report by Huon found that the campaign reached 1.8 million people at a cost of 14 cents per person.
The company costed regular TV and radio adverts at around $1 per person and thus the campaign was saving the company 86 cents in every dollar compared to traditional marketing strategies.
Huon remains a family-run company and this meant in spite of enthusiasm for the collaboration within the company — especially the marketing department — the owners made the call to stop sponsoring the team, and the decision was final.
“2013 was probably the most nervous year for us,” Christie-Johnston revealed. “We thought we’d have a really good 2014 and then things change within one phone call. I was really worried — not worried that we couldn’t continue at the same level that we’re currently at — but that the dream of being able to take that next step and be that much better got put on hold.”
Before they were left swimming upstream, Christie-Johnston and Price were looking down the barrel of the biggest budget they’d ever seen.
“This year we didn’t think we would get to ProConti but we had some good people still involved; we thought we’d have double or triple the budget [between $600,000-$900,000],” explained Christie-Johnston. “But again, it all fell through.”
Christie-Johnston and Price have run successful NRS teams from as little as $100,000 but if they are to finally achieve their own dreams of running a Professional Continental team they want up to 20 times that.
“What budget you need depends a bit on who you are to be honest. I think we can do it for a little bit less than a lot, purely because we are now very well established so a lot of riders are willing to come to us for that opportunity. So we can still get a really good team if the budget isn’t massive,” said Christie-Johnston.
“There are NRS teams that can make things work at around $50,000, even as low as $5,000 with riders paying their way. We’ve done it all before for $100,000 but that was really tight and difficult to be competitive.
“I would like around $500,000-$600,000 and I think we would have one of the best continental teams in the world. To go ProConti you need a minimum of $2 million to even be close,” he added. “You could do it for a little bit less; you wouldn’t say no if your budget got to $1.6-1.7 million, but I’d really want that $2 million to do it properly.”
The switch to Avanti
Christie-Johnston and Price have cultivated a strong relationship with importer Sheppard Cycles who sell both Malvern Star and Avanti bicycles to the Australasian market. The team rode Malvern Star bicycles from 2010 to 2012 with the company opting to switch the team to Avanti branded bicycles from 2013 onwards. The relationship has since strengthened with Avanti now the headline sponsor.
“At the moment, we’ve got one really good sponsor in Avanti but we are out there approaching a lot of people at the moment and hopefully tomorrow we get the call that we want and we can follow that dream,” said Christie-Johnston. “But it’s tough. We know it, everyone knows it.”
As highlighted in these two pieces by The Inner Ring, cycling teams have a strong association with rich benefactors. Although prone to their own instability, these wealthy patrons tend to provide teams with a last line of defence when sponsors decide to pull out.
“The teams that do it probably a little bit easier are the teams that have found that rich individual that really does call his own shots,” said Christie-Johnston. “Gerry Ryan and GreenEdge, Michel Drapac and Drapac, Tim Leunig and Budget Forklifts — there’s been great stability in all those teams.
“We’ve never had that individual; we’ve always had a business. With a business comes a board, with a board there comes a marketing department. And that’s a lot more people that you’ve got to convince about why they need to put money into cycling.”
“Wanting to be the next Richie Porte”
The Avanti Racing Team (and its previous incarnations) has garnered tremendous goodwill and a string of powerful contacts in the European peloton thanks to its success in recent years. For Christie-Johnston, however, it’s not the agents, the directeurs or the team owners that play the important part in his network, it’s the riders.
“The biggest assets we have are the riders themselves. They make relationships with their own team and from that you gain contacts,” he said. “The biggest influence is now we have riders that have already got some great results coming to us wanting to be the next Richie Porte.”
In turn, it’s the passage of these riders to the top that motivates the generations below.
“It is also wonderful for our current riders to look back after Haas or Von Hoff have broken through because it does allow other riders in the team to see this is possible and it’s reality,” he added.
“There’s no doubt that Porte’s breakthrough has opened up massive opportunities to this team. Our team is known by so many of the top teams around the world and that is about what we do, but a lot of it is about our top riders who have put us on the map.”
The price you pay
The biggest downside for Christie-Johnston and Price is the time on the road with the team means time away from their families. With this in mind, the end goal for Christie-Johnston is to have a sponsor big enough to allow him to pay others to do most of the day-to-day work.
“It is really, really hard to be away from my family. My wife Tracey has always allowed me to pursue the things that I like doing and she has allowed me to make massive commitments to the team, but now with two young girls it just becomes that much harder,” he said.
“They’re losing their dad for a period of this time that I’m away and that’s hurting more and more. How long can I continue to do this?
“Especially when it is for free; I’m giving up my time. I think wives are a bit more understanding if it’s bringing the money home and its part of your job. But when you’re actually not doing it for any financial reward it’s always a tough ask. I know that I can’t do it forever, but hopefully the team can be around forever and I can have a lesser involvement.
“These riders that have made the next step would not have made it without the leeway that Tracey has given me. The team would not exist.”
If not for financial gain, is it the feeling of achievement in helping a rider make his dream a reality that Christie-Johnston craves?
“Yeah it is. Because once they leave the team I can’t help them anymore and I always want to see them reach the highest level of the sport,” said Christie-Johnston. “Some don’t make it, some go to different sized teams and some have just had enough and go and get a job.
“When a rider joins the team it’s with the idea of making it to the highest level, that’s a common dream. That’s the rider’s dream, and that’s my dream, and when one rider does step out and happen to make it, then I suppose that’s most complete thing that can happen.”
About the author
Jonathan ‘Jono’ Lovelock has raced with a variety of Australian national teams, various continental teams and travelled the world a few times over, and is still just 24 years of age.
While trying to find constructive ways of procrastinating during his commerce degree Jono discovered the art of blogging and the rest is history. When not busy riding he was writing and what started as nothing more than a fleeting foray has snowballed into regular features with RIDE Cycling Review and full-time employment with Cyclingnews.com.
Now a free agent again Jono is busily preparing himself for a return to racing, but not without the odd story in between.
Disclosure statement: Jono Lovelock has ridden for the Genesys/Avanti setup for several years and is still listed on the Avanti team page while in rehab from an injury he sustained late last year.