“Before [winning last year’s NorCal league competition], I was just a number in a sea of other numbers,” recalls Carmel High junior Mallory Roberts as she reflects upon a definitive moment in her cycling career, a moment which brought the attention of many sponsors.
Roberts is currently fighting to attain this season’s leader’s jersey in her varsity league, an endeavor made exclusive to top-tier cyclists, which in her case accounts for the top 1 percent of female NorCal league cyclists.
According to Roberts, female cyclists are the largest growing demographic, and compose about 18 percent of her NorCal high school league with an exponential growth of 10 percent per year.
“I think that’s a big reason why many sponsors have reached out to me,” she explains. “Because of this, a lot of companies recognize the potential of this as a growing market and see me as a possible ambassador for the sport.”
It’s not as simple as just being an exceptionally good rider, but instead the athlete’s first priority is to serve as someone able to promote and sell a product.
“In my experience, the attention my NorCal league win generated quickly and any inquiries for a possible sponsorship was pretty much the result of good networking,” Roberts continues. “Different companies will prefer different styles of riding and personalities to represent their product, but exposure and marketability are two extremely important factors no matter who you represent.”
Like many other sports, cycling is, in Roberts’ words, a financially taxing sport that’s equipment intensive. However, with the aid of a sponsorship, the costs can be significantly buffered. Distributors sometimes have budgets set aside for sponsoring athletes at a grassroots level, but they’ll usually do this via bike shops so the athlete has a place to go and get their equipment serviced.
“In terms of both sponsorships and getting contacted by companies, the entire process basically generates its own momentum and has circulated really quickly,” she remarks.
Her impressive performances at last year’s NorCal and state championships were venues that have gained her exposure from thousands of participants and supporters, but, most of all, the attentive watch of her potential sponsors.
“Talent,” explains Roberts, “is certainly a major qualifier in getting the attention of these sponsors, but a commonly overshadowed factor lies in your ability to promote yourself and the manner in which you communicate with others.”
The give-and-take equation is a vital one in any business relationship, which Roberts exemplifies through follow-up promotions, social media and corresponding with multiple representatives.
Roberts shares one such example of the vitality of frequent networking during one of her races: “Things like this can be easily broadcasted within a day—you never know who you’re going to ride beside. I like to mingle at races, and it so happened that this girl I was riding alongside was a pro, which was then relayed to her representative who later contacted my bike shop.”
Although Roberts remains a little hesitant, there’s more than a plausible chance of her cycling career going the professional route.
“For Mallory, school comes first,” says Todd Roberts, Mallory’s father and coach. “The good news is that many colleges have big cycling programs that can help her progress to the next level. Sponsors are great for covering some of the expenses inherent to the sport. They also provide the opportunity to meet professional athletes and leaders in the industry. For those reasons a solid sponsor can help her grow as an athlete.”
Roberts intends on making cycling a lifelong pursuit and a way of life in which she can freely express and evolve alongside her sport.