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Cannondale-Drapac secures new title sponsor EF Education First

The Cannondale-Drapac pro cycling team will survive after all.

Exactly two weeks after Cannondale-Drapac announced a potentially fatal loss of funding, management company Slipstream Sports has signed a deal with EF Education First, an international education company that specializes in language schools, cultural exchange programs, and educational travel.

EF Education First will be the first naming partner for the team, and the agreement secures the team’s future for at least three years. The exact monetary value of the sponsorship is not known. According to a Slipstream Sports representative, the long-term plans call for EF to eventually replace team co-owner Doug Ellis as an majority owner of Slipstream Sports. Ellis will remain with Slipstream as a board member and business strategist.

The deal puts Slipstream back on solid financial footing, though 2018 will not see the team move up too far from its slot as one of the poorest teams in the WorldTour. Team CEO Jonathan Vaughters expects to see budgets increase after 2018.

“We had a bit of a hole to dig out of from 2017, when we were running the team pretty threadbare. So if people are expecting us to go and buy Peter Sagan out of his contract, that’s not gonna happen,” Vaughters told VeloNews. “The fundamental thing to understand about this is that [EF] are working towards becoming the majority partner in Slipstream sports. It is not just a plain sponsorship deal, at all. It’s a much more involved partner. As far as rider recruitment and all of that, they will be an integral part of that decision making.”

The deal with Slipstream marks EF’s initial foray into pro cycling. Former Secretary of State John Kerry helped the deal along in its later stages, according to Vaughters.

Slipstream shocked the pro cycling world in late August when it revealed it faced a $7 million funding gap after a potential sponsor pulled away from a deal for 2018. The team released all riders and staff from their 2018 contracts as it sought replacement funds. The team then started a crowdfunding campaign, with all donations up to $2 million matched by current partner Fairly Group. The effort has raised more than $530,000, which will be matched to $1,060,000.

The team will keep crowdsourced funds and will fulfill all promises associated with donations — everything from mugs and tote bags to rides with the team.

The cash raised through crowdfunding will be used for two purposes. First, the team will drastically increase its spending on science and technology. “Everything from aerodynamics to nutrition. Just executing well on what is known to work,” Vaughters said. “We haven’t always done that. Sometimes when you’re scraping on a budget, things fall through the cracks.”

Second, the crowdfunding donations will be used to further the ongoing efforts of sponsor Michael Drapac to prepare riders for life after their athletic careers.

“The reason [Drapac] is involved in pro cycling is his passion is for whole athlete development,” Vaughters said. “Meaning that the riders are growing up as adults and whole human beings, intelligent people who can function in the world and find success outside of being an athlete. Some of the crowd funds will be used to assist with that.”

According to both parties, the crowdfunding campaign had an outsized impact on EF’s decision to step in with funding.

“Without that groundswell support, and how much that demonstrated our value to the fans of this sport, this wouldn’t have happened,” Vaughters said. “Everyone knows companies are looking for engagement from people. It’s not the number of people, it’s the engagement. Man, did that demonstrate a high level of engagement, all the way up to people’s wallets.”

EF was inspired to step in and become the team’s title partner, and eventually its majority partner, “after learning about the #SaveArgyle campaign and witnessing the incredible outpouring of support from fans around the world,” said Edward Hult, EF’s CEO for North America.

Earlier this week there was buzz that a sponsor signing could be close. However, team riders were not told of any impending deals. On Thursday, team CEO Jonathan Vaughters emailed the team to say that all 2018 contracts would be enforced.

Education First was founded in Sweden but is now based in Switzerland. It has offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Denver, Colorado and reaches into 116 countries. The company provides educational travel services, immersive language programs, among high school exchange programs, among other academic programs. It is the official language training partner of the Olympic Games.

“I’m proud of how the organization held it together through all of this — the riders, staff, sponsors, the fans,” Vaughters said. “I didn’t want to let our other sponsors down, the new partners down, the riders and staff down, our fans down. I’m relieved that everyone stuck by me and that I didn’t screw this up for anyone.”

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