Every time David Seifried checks out the latest news from the Tour de France, he probably has an eye on jerseys specifically, the type with the “CSC” in front.
Seifried is no ordinary biking enthusiast. As business development director for Computer Sciences Corp.’s Nordic region, he is the point person in the El Segundo-based company’s sponsorship of a Danish-based racing team. “We started with what we see as the best way to create some top-of- mind awareness within the marketplace,” he said.
While corporate sponsors nearly overwhelm the venerable bike race throughout France, Computer Sciences is an unlikely participant, having only a limited brand awareness in Southern California, much less the world. But four years ago, a group of regional sales executives convinced higher-ups at the El Segundo-based company to sponsor a racing team.
The original goal, he said, was to enhance visibility in Europe, where it wasn’t even getting a phone call when many big outsourcing or computer services contracts went out to bid. “Our capabilities exceeded our recognition in the marketplace,” Seifreid said. “We saw too many large-scale deals that we were not being invited to.”
Since Team CSC was formed in 2001, revenue growth in the Nordic region has averaged 25 percent a year the best for any region in the company.
New clients like the Swedish airline SAS AB and the Danish Tax and Customs Authority have helped propel CSC’s European business to $4.3 billion in the fiscal year ended April 1, up from $2.6 billion four years ago.
Still, the bulk of CSC’s work comes from commercial and government customers in the United States, including the Defense Department. For the most recent fiscal year, U.S. entities made up $8.5 billion of CSC’s overall revenues of $14.1 billion.
That’s where the unexpected benefits of team sponsorship have come in.
Through U.S. media coverage of the race, CSC will gain higher name recognition in its bread-and-butter domestic market, said Yan Skwara, president of San Diego-based International Sports and Media Group Inc. “They are part of the media hype of the excitement of the race,” he said. “That ultimately translates into sales.”
Team CSC competes in 80 races worldwide each year and the sponsorship costs more than $5 million annually. Computer Sciences is also a race sponsor, bartering information technology services in exchange for additional name branding.
“As we achieved more success, we achieve a stronger view of our sponsorship,” said Peter Maneri, CSC’s vice president of corporate communications and marketing.
All this for a company that does virtually no advertising, save for employee recruitment. But as the defense and private information technology sectors have become more global, the company found it has to raise its profile when competing against International Business Machines Corp. and Electronic Data Systems Corp. on consulting, system integration and outsourcing work.
The company’s commitment has increased significantly since 2001, when it spent a little more than $1 million in a co-sponsorship for a brand recognition campaign in the Nordic region. (The other company bowed out after a year.)
As Team CSC has gotten stronger, professional cycling has seen a rise in overall popularity, due largely to the heroics of cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.
Discovery Communications Corp. signed a three-year deal last year to name Armstrong’s team the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team, with plans to package the athlete’s life on and off the race course.
The Discovery Health Channel has already broadcast segments ranging from Armstrong’s cancer treatments to his training for races. They are shown in dozens of countries.
Along for the ride is CSC, getting exposure every time its logo appears on the cyclists’ jerseys, on the standings board or in newspaper stories. It’s also able to provide its clients and prospects with access to the riders.
At the Tour de France, Computer Sciences hosts a VIP tent at the finish line where clients and potential clients mingle with the cyclists after each day’s race. They also are in communications with team owner and race director Bjarne Riis on race strategy. “It would be like standing on the sidelines during a football game where you get all the inside information,” said Seifried.
The sponsorship deal came about after Seifried and other CSC officials in Denmark heard that Riis was looking for backers to form a cycling team. He reached out to Riis and the two cut a deal.
Team CSC’s 27 members come from 11 different countries (nine are allowed to enter the Tour de France). “It was very clear in our discussions that we wanted Bjarne to create that best team possible,” said Seifried. “His PR is very important for creating full value of the cyclists for the sponsor.”
Adding to that brand awareness, the CSC team has been racing well. In fact, David Zabriskie held the overall lead until crashing on the third stage (Armstrong tried to refuse the yellow jersey out of deference to his former teammate). Another CSC team member, Jens Voigt, took the yellow jersey at the end of the ninth stage but dropped out when he got sick.
Armstrong’s biggest challenge could come from yet another CSC rider, Italy’s Ivan Basso, who was running fourth last week and kept up with Armstrong in the mountains during last year’s race before finishing third overall.