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The rough guide to starting a bike team: Matt Hallam interview, part 3

The 'rider-manager' who set up an elite-level cycling team from scratch in just 8 weeks

18 months ago, Matt Hallam decided to set up an elite-level cycling team to promote this new business, Crimson Performance. This was no straightforward task. He had no experience of running a bike team before. And he had just 8 weeks to find sponsors, to find a team of riders, to sort out paperwork, admin and lots more besides…

In this final part of a three-part interview, Matt Hallam gives his tips to others thinking about setting up a new elite-level cycling team, and tells us where he’d like to take the team next.

If you missed Part 1, catch up on it here. Part 2 is here.

From a sustainability point of view, if you put all your eggs in one basket with a big cash sponsor, and that sponsor pulls out after a year, your team is going

Matt Hallam warming up before the Redditch round of the Tour Series. Photo: Alex de Palma

If you were advising someone who was trying to set up a new team for next season, what tips would you give them?

Have a vision of you want to do with your team from the outset, have a plan of action. For Crimson, I’ve called it my three-year plan. Where do you want to take the team? Create an identity around the team; it’s really important.

Have contacts, contacts for everything. These contacts don’t need to be cycling related at all. There’s only a handful of sponsors supporting our team that are from the cycling sector. All our cash sponsors are completely outside of that. Our title sponsor Orientation Marketing are digital marketing specialists, Brother are technology giants, Grasscroft operate in land development and ANS are the UK’s biggest cloud service provider. Be diverse in who you approach for support and think outside the box. A lot of my contacts are a result of the work I do, which has helped me massively.

My biggest piece of advice is don’t put all your eggs in one basket with sponsors. Try and spread the risk. From a sustainability point of view, if you put all your eggs in one basket with a big cash sponsor, and that sponsor pulls out after a year, your team is going. Trying to fill that void is a very, very difficult task. We’ve seen it with the likes of certain teams folding, you could see it from a long way off, with a huge amount of responsibility on one sponsor’s shoulders.

Some teams put all their eggs in one basket, with one singular big cash sponsor, and unfortunately sometimes it just doesn’t work out

If you can spread it across a number of different smaller cash sponsors, it’s going to work from a sustainability point of view. If you lose one sponsor at the end of the year, it’s not the end of the team. You can always try to find someone to fill that gap. So, that’s a massive piece of advice. It might seem like a common-sense approach to it, but some teams put all their eggs in one basket, with one singular big cash sponsor, and unfortunately sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

Be honest to why you started in the first place. Stand by your vision of what you want to achieve with the team, that’s really, really important. Starting a race team is a lot of graft no doubt about it, being focused on achieving small short-term goals really helps. Be resilient too, deals sometimes fall through and plans don’t always materialise, but not letting these negatives effect what you are trying to achieve is really important.

Be a people person with your sponsors. You know, the fact that I communicate with my sponsors all the time really does help. I am open and honest with all the sponsors in the team, they trust me 100% to make the right decisions with how the team operates and how the sponsorship money is spent. Creating strong relationships with the businesses and people supporting the team is a prerequisite. Finding new sponsors each year is tough, having sponsors that back you year by year is testament to a well run team that provides value to it’s sponsors.

Have riders that actively engage with sponsors and act as ambassadors for the team. I am lucky enough to have a group of 21 riders that all chip in with sponsor engagement. Whether it’s a tag on Instagram or a mention on YouTube, we all put a lot of effort into creating social outreach. Social engagement comes easy to certain riders and harder to others, but the main thing is we all take ownership with it. Our growth over the last year has been helped by our strong social presence.

Just getting 30 grand together, and registering yourself as a UCI Continental team, just to have the UCI badge on your jersey, that’s just not worth it

Matt Hallam Photo: Alex de Palma

You have a three-year plan with the team. This is year two now. Where do you see the team going in the future?

Well you know, having a race team, is quite a fickle environment to be in. It can change very quickly. But, I’m pretty confident with our sponsors we have for 2019, that we could carry a lot of those agreements across to 2020 if we want to.

Next year, we originally wanted to try to go to UCI Continental level. But I don’t know whether we’re going to do that or not. I’m not too sure. I think we need to maybe take stock of what we’ve achieved, and if we really need to do that as a team. I think it’s going to very much be dictated by how this season goes for us, in terms of our goals in the third year.

From the outset, my initial goal was to try and go for UCI Continental status, but I just don’t know whether we need to do that in our third year or not

From the outset, my initial goal was to try and go for UCI Continental status, but I just don’t know whether we need to do that in our third year or not. You know, it’s just a dynamic environment running a race team, and you never know what opportunities are going to come your way. But I think we carry on doing what we’re doing. You know, we’re growing our social presence, getting more people interested in the team, and just developing those relationships with our sponsors further.

It is a lot to weigh up. And ultimately, you’ve got to consider the strength of the squad as well, in terms of their ability to compete in UCI races. You’ve got to have a very, very strong squad of riders, and that’s forged over some time, and through having a bigger budget obviously you can pull those riders in.

So, doing it on a shoestring isn’t something I want to do. I’ve learned how to do that at elite level, but at Continental level, I think you need to have the infrastructure to do it well. Just getting 30 grand together, and registering yourself as a UCI team, just to have the UCI Continental badge on your jersey, that’s just not worth it. And again, the strength of riders in a squad is the driver to go to UCI.

Photo: Alex de Palma

If you missed Part 1, catch up on it here. Part 2 is here.

Find more info on the Crimson Performance race team here.