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Ochowicz ‘optimistic’ in sponsor search to replace CCC

Longtime manager won't comment on Rally links, says world pandemic presents unique opportunity to save team for 2021.

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CCC Team manager Jim Ochowicz said he’s talking to potential sponsors around the globe and expressed “optimism” that he will be able to reel in a new partner in time to save the WorldTour team for 2021.

With title sponsor CCC, a Polish shoemaker suffering big losses during the coronavirus pandemic, confirming it will end its deal at the end of 2020, Ochowicz has been busy chasing leads.

“We have a half-dozen active discussions going on with potential sponsors,” Ochowicz said Wednesday. “I am optimistic, but you can’t take anything to the bank until you have a signature on a document.”

Ochowicz declined to comment on rumors that one of the suitors is the U.S.-registered Rally Cycling. Reports have surfaced that there might be some sort of merger in the works, but Rally team officials told VeloNews late last week those reports are inaccurate. Ochowicz said he would not comment on any sort of deal until the ink is dry on a contract.

“It’s not productive to the process having rumors and people making assumptions,” Ochowicz said in a conference call with journalists. “We’ll speak to anybody, but we are not going to confirm any discussions at this time.

“Two years ago we were in the same shoes as today,” he said. “During that time, we had a lot of rumors and opinions of where people thought we were headed. In some cases, it did us a lot of harm, because people made assumptions that we had a sponsor and published that, and then people assumed we had something lined up, and backed out of discussions with us.”

Ochowicz, who managed 7-Eleven and Motorola before BMC and eventually CCC, is no stranger to sponsor searches. He described the task as a full-time job for any team manager, one that for Ochowicz got a lot more urgent when CCC decided last month to pull the plug on the team. The team was forced to slash wages and lay off some staffers.

Oddly enough, losing a title sponsor in the middle of a world pandemic has its pluses and minuses. On the negative side, Ochowicz said he is largely limited to meeting potential suitors via Zoom chats or over the phone, when in normal times, he could jet in to meet possible partners face to face, or go out on a bike ride with someone.

“I am used to sitting down with a  person or group face-to-face having a discussion. It’s a little more personal,” he said. “You’re trying to adapt to this new system, and it has slowed down my process.”

Without racing, Ochowicz said he’s also losing the opportunity to show off the team’s infrastructure and impact in a race setting. Nothing impresses a would-be sponsor more than seeing the team’s trucks and buses surrounded by fans at a packed start area, or to put an interested partner into the lead team car during a climbing stage at the Tour de France. Ochowicz said the resumption of racing later this summer will be a boon for his sponsor search because he will be able to bring people into the action, albeit perhaps under some restrictions due to the pandemic.

On the upside, Ochowicz said some businesses are growing despite the shake ups provoked by the COVID-19 outbreak, and said cycling is seeing an unprecedented boom.

“It’s an unusual time for cycling in the world we live in today,” he said. “It offers opportunities in a crisis situation like this. Globally, it’s a boom for cycling. That’s good for us as a sport, and good for me when I am talking to potential sponsors. They like the cycling story. It’s healthy, and it brings a lot of things that are ‘in’ right now. It’s a good situation for us who are going to try to sell the sport.”

Ochowicz has an ace in the hole that he hopes will seal the deal — a WorldTour license valid through 2022. As of now, it appears that CCC Team is the only squad among the 19-team WorldTour league that is looking for a new title sponsor. Ochowicz says all that counts in his favor even as the clock is ticking.

“There is value for that to have the ability to have success with sponsors, because we know we will be at the Tour de France, at Paris-Roubaix, at the Giro d’Italia,” he said. “That allows us to make that statement that others cannot make.”

Having a WorldTour license helped saved the day for BMC in 2018, and Ochowicz is hoping to pull one more rabbit out of his sponsorship hat. When? He sets no deadline, especially since the reshuffled calendar has pushed everything later into the fall.

In the meantime, he said riders on his team, including star Greg Van Avermaet, are free to search for new teams. He hopes they stay and give him some time to save the team, but he he said he’s not holding anyone back.

“If any of our riders would get an offer, I would support any decision they would have to make,” Ochowicz said. “I believe in this program, and we’re putting a lot of energy into this. Everyone is very supportive of keeping this organization going into 2021 and beyond.”