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This rider agency wants to create cycling’s answer to Cristiano Ronaldo

Corso Sports widens the marketing net for its stars in new deals with top soccer agent, London agency.

Imagine seeing images of Tao Geoghegan Hart on a billboard in London promoting a watch brand. Or João Almeida featured in TV ads in Lisbon.

It could be happening soon.

Two recent deals have connected the likes of Geoghegan Hart and Almeida with some of Europe’s most powerful marketing agencies.

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The agreements are part of a new push by Corso Sports Marketing — a rider agency that represents them and some of the other peloton’s rising stars — to connect their riders with Europe’s leading marketing agencies.

Corso Sports co-founder João Correia said the deals will help open new doors.

“It’s good for cycling,” Correia told VeloNews. “There is a lot of potential in cycling. It was all about finding the right partners.”

In December, the recently crowned Giro d’Italia winner signed on with M&C Saatchi Merlin, a boutique agency in London

And last week, Almeida, along with rising Portuguese star Ruben Guerreiro, penned a deal to link up  with Polaris Sports, the marketing agency of Jorge Mendes, the super-agent who represents soccer superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez, and manager José Mourinho.

Corso Sports will continue handling the cycling side of their client’s contracts, but the freshly minted alliances with the well-connected agencies will help bridge the gap between the sometimes insular world of professional cycling with more mainstream marketing opportunities.

Just as the peloton is a world unto its own, so too is the business of marketing and advertising. The idea is that the high-profile agencies will be handling pitches and commercial proposals, while Corso Sports remains focused on the sport side.

“It’s all about access,” Correia said in a telephone interview. “If you don’t know how advertising works, when budgets come to market, or have relationships with the right people, the only way to break in is they come calling you.”

Correia knows cycling. He was an ex-pro and also worked in marketing with brands and media before starting Corso Sports with Ken Sommer in 2013. Their quiver of riders has now grown to 25, including 21 racers across nine WorldTour teams in 2021. The 2019 world champion Mads Pedersen, and ex-pros Jens Voigt, Laurens Ten Dam, and Ted King are also clients.

That’s plenty to keep their hands full on the cycling side of things.

“We want to surround our athletes with the best professionals in their field,” Correia said. “To fully commercialize an athlete in cycling you need help from people that know the markets, and who are in the business every day.”

Correia admits there’s no singular rider right now in the peloton who transcends the sport. The closest one right now to wider fame is three-time world champion Peter Sagan.

While neither Geoghegan Hart or Almeida are superstars yet, Correia believes both will see increasing marketing and branding opportunities for companies looking to raise their profiles in their respective home countries. The key, of course, is to keep winning.

Corso Sports hopes to explore new marketing and advertising opportunities in the wider marketplace that few in cycling right now are trying to reach.

Another factor in the equation for any sponsorship deal is the teams. They hold image rights, and lock in a series of commercial deals with equipment providers and jersey sponsors to underwrite budgets. Anything that Corso Sports might bring to the table also has to get buy-in from the team bosses.

Correia also said there could be an upside for the teams, especially if an individual rider finds interest from a backer that might widen a commitment from a singular deal to perhaps an entire team.

Finding cycling’s Cristiano Ronaldo

It’s rare to see cycling’s big names break out beyond marketing campaigns that appear in the pages of cycling magazines.

Only the occasional pro rider will break into the larger mainstream market. Bradley Wiggins — also represented by M&C Saatchi Merlin — enjoys wider recognition in the UK following his history-making Tour de France victory and Olympic gold medal in 2012.

To break out, a rider needs to have the results. Winning the Giro catapulted Geoghegan Hart into the larger consciousness after he became just the second UK rider to win the Italian grand tour. Almeida’s two-week run in pink rocketed his profile in Portugal. Both are fun, young, likable, and approachable, assets that appeal to brands.

Right now, Corso Sports hope the marketing alliances will help to kick start their clients’ profiles within their home countries.

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Correia said. “How can we get these guys who are going to be sports celebrities in their own countries, and be able to monetize that.”

Does today’s peloton have the sport’s next breakout star?

Right now, only Sagan comes close to reaching beyond the traditional cycling fan base.

In fact, the now-disqualified Lance Armstrong was the only cyclist who became a global brand on par with the likes of Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods.

Cycling remains dwarfed by other world sports, such as soccer, tennis, golf, and the major U.S. sports. Yet with a fresh and dynamic generation elbowing their way into the peloton, the potential is there for another Armstrong-like character to emerge.

Beyond Corso Sport’s clutch of riders, the peloton is overflowing with young, ambitious, and charismatic riders. The likes of Remco Evenepoel, Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, and Egan Bernal are all poised to become superstars if they continue on their winning trajectories.

Corso Sports is laying the groundwork for its clients in case one of them truly emerges as a global phenomenon.

“Cycling will eventually get there,” Correia said of more athlete sponsorship deals. “The money flowing into team budgets is growing every year. We are trying to get these guys on the best path possible.”

It won’t be until someone starts winning back-to-back yellow jerseys, and has a compelling backstory before anyone edges toward Cristiano Ronaldo-level global recognition.

Vincenzo Nibali and João Almeida at the 2020 Giro d'Italia
João Almeida enjoyed a breakout rookie season in 2020. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images