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BENIDORM, Spain (VN) — WorldTour team LottoNL – Jumbo is strengthening its link with the United States. Not only did it sign Tennessee native Alexey Vermeulen over the winter, but it has plans to bring in one or two more Americans. It is a nod toward BrandLoyalty, owned by billion-dollar Texas corporation Alliance Data Systems, but also a bid for future sponsorship deals.
In Benidorm on the Costa Blanca in Spain’s east, the Dutch team trains for the 2016 season that has begun this week with the Santos Tour Down Under in Australia. When VeloNews spoke with LottoNL general manager Richard Plugge, Vermeulen had just left for a four-hour ride with teammates Robert Gesink and Sep Vanmarcke.
Dutch lottery LottoNL and supermarket chain Jumbo pay most of the bills for the team in yellow and black, but BrandLoyalty is securing its future through 2018.
“There are two faces to the team,” Plugge said. “The team is Dutch, we want to keep that Dutch core, but there’s the international side that’s important to BrandLoyalty and Bianchi bicycles.”
BrandLoyalty came onboard from the hugely popular speed skating team in 2015 when LottoNL replaced outgoing sponsor Belkin. The name may not be familiar, but its work should be. They provide European supermarkets and retail stores with reward programs – points to earn products like Star Wars gadgets – to build loyalty and repeat business with their customers.
Its problem was that it was growing quickly and was unable to attract top employees because its name was unknown. It found success with speed skating and has used the cycling team to carry its name through Europe.
Toronto-based LoyaltyOne bought BrandLoyalty in 2014. It all falls under the umbrella of Alliance Data Systems, which manages card service programs for stores Victoria’s Secret, J.Crew, and Pottery Barn.
BrandLoyalty’s former owner and now CEO Robert van der Wallen is the link to the team. So convinced, he said that he would make sure the team is funded through 2018 regardless of what happens with an ongoing Lottery merger in the Netherlands.
“Robert knows how to reach out to fans and create a fan base, which is what I’ve been aiming to do,” added Plugge. “Those fans who pay money to go to Yankees games regularly are more likely to buy a baseball hat or other memorabilia. It’s the same for the fans that are a part of our team.”
With Vermeulen and new riders like Italian Enrico Battaglin and Slovenian Primoz Roglic, Plugge is building his base and creating global links. They could help strengthen the Alliance Data connection or bring in new sponsors to keep Plugge’s team competitive.
LottoNL’s budget, one of the smaller ones in the sport in which Sky races with a reported 24 million British pounds ($34.1 million), is around 13 million euros ($14.2 million).
“It’s hard to find sponsors in this sport, you need a lot of money for a team in the WorldTour. I want to, with a Dutch core, create a global feeling, and America is an important market,” Plugge said.
“We wanted one or two Americans because BrandLoyalty and Bianchi have a big interest in the US. We followed Vermeulen, we got him, but we want one or two more Americans for 2017.”
A group of seven cyclists with Roglic and Battaglin began in the Tour Down Under this week. Vermeulen will start his season nearby in Spain at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana on February 3.