The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

The Amgen Tour of California: cycling draws sponsors

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The Amgen Tour of California comes to Pasadena on Saturday, with thousands of spectators and a growing list of corporate sponsors.

Cyclists began their seven-day tour in Sacramento, pedaling their way through more than 720 miles. The overall finish will take place in Thousand Oaks on Sunday. The annual event brings a niche audience of outdoor enthusiasts, that are attractive to companies, said Neal Rogers, editor in chief of VeloNews, which covers competitive cycling.

“Most people that watch a pro-cycling event also have some sort of direct relationship with cycling, maybe they’re not competitive cyclists, but they own a bike, go out and ride recreationally," Rogers said.

RELATED: Pro bike race pedals into downtown LA

That niche audience is why Crunchies Food Co., a small Westlake Village-based snack business is a sponsor.  CEO James Lacey said this is his firm's sixth year being a sponsor in the race and over the last two years has increased its sponsorship of the event.

Crunchies makes freeze-dried fruits and veggies and with just 36 employees, the small firm says the Amgen Tour of California elevates its brand.

“This has really given us a lot of leverage with our retail partners and we see over the long-haul that people will try the product," Lacey said.

Crunchies awards jerseys to the best young riders during each stage of the race and samples of its products. Lacey wouldn’t say how much Crunchies is paying to be a sponsor.

Rogers guesses that Amgen, as the race's title sponsor probably spends $3 million to $4 million a year and he believes other higher level sponsors pay around $500,000 to $1 million. The Amgen Tour of California declined to comment on how much top sponsors pay.

The cost of sponsoring a continental U.S. bike team is relatively low compared to some other professional sports. Stephanie Scott, an event marketing manager with Jelly Belly Candy Co. said she believes cycling "provides a great bang for the buck." 

Over the years, Jelly Belly has reduced the amount of money it spends sponsoring some motor sports, she said.

“It wouldn’t make sense for our business to invest in NASCAR to really be competitive, so we chose to step away from that a few years ago," Scott said.

What’s been tricky is there’s been scrutiny over bike races after cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to doping during competitions and was stripped of his titles.

RELATED: In 'Cycle of Lies,' Juliet Macur talks new revelations in the fall of Lance Armstrong

Rogers said the controversy caused some companies to reconsider their sponsorship.

"Whether it was a healthcare brand or a financial institution, they don't want to be perceived as anything unhealthy or dishonest," Rogers said. 

At Jelly Belly, Scott said the company did have an internal discussion about the Armstrong scandal, but decided to continue to be a bike race sponsor because of the UCI's efforts to clean up the sport and a new generation of bikers that want to "prove to the world they can race clean." 

The Amgen Tour of California's sponsorships weren’t impacted by the Lance Armstrong scandal, said Kristin Bachochin, the tour's executive director. She said every year, sponsorships continue to grow.

"You know, the Amgen Tour of California has never been about one rider," Bachochin said. "There's so many great riders."


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