Earlier this morning, we were shocked but not surprised to hear that Specialized suddenly ended dozens of Ambassador contracts, mostly on the adventure side. Find details and some thoughts on what this means here…
I got a text early this morning about an article summarizing the latest blow to folks on the fringes of the bike industry. And this isn’t the first bad news I’ve heard in the last week, unfortunately. In a conversation with a friend the other day, she let me know that Diamondback terminated her sponsorship. It’s sad to hear, but a grim reality in the bike industry right now, as most companies are feeling the post-boom hangover after a roaring couple of years during the pandemic.
This latest blow was felt by dozens of Specialized ambassadors, many of whom were in the more niche adventure corner of the cycling world, a product of the big-S “Seek and Enjoy” campaign that started some eight years ago. Our friends Steve “Doom” Fassbinder and Sarah Swallow were two of the unlucky victims, who VeloNews confirmed both got the contract termination letter last week. From Sarah’s Instagram post this morning:
Before I say anything more, I want to recognize that I have been very privileged to do this work and live this lifestyle for eight years. It’s a dream job, and I don’t take it for granted.
While I am grateful for the many relationships and opportunities I gained through my partnership with Specialized, I am disappointed that there was little to no consideration of this decision’s impact on the most loyal and influential promoters of the Specialized brand. There was no notice, contracts were ended early, and the timing of the termination occurred so late in the year that most brands have already established their budgets and contract agreements for the following year, leaving ambassadors little-to-no time to develop new relationships and replace lost income.
Ambassador relationships are important for brand identity; they allow brands to stay connected, relevant, and engaged in cycling communities. We humanize brands and are event organizers, trail builders, route makers, writers, photographers, and advocates. Support from brands allows many of us to do the community work that we do. As a relatively new field in the industry, we can learn from this situation and advocate for more considerate terms in our future contracts. I take my role in representing brands, building community, developing routes, and advocating for the sport very seriously. I work hard at it, am passionate, and love what I do. This work impacts people’s lives by inspiring them to get out, try a new adventure, connect with others, and expand their perspectives, and I plan to continue doing it. I am looking forward to the new relationships and opportunities that will come of this.
This made me think back on the meetup overnight ride that Cass and I did with Sarah after the Specialized launch event back in 2016 when this all started. In short, it’s a shame to hear that this endeavor got dropped. As with other brands who’ve adopted bikepacking into their marketing language, it was refreshing to see Specialized put resources and effort into promoting a more open and progressive side of cycling. Conversely, it’s troubling to see this—as well as initiatives from other brands, like Diamondback—get neglected in favor of typical racing sponsorships and business as usual.
We think sharing stories from the adventure and non-competitive side of the cycling world is essential to making more riders feel welcome and represented, and we’re grateful to have this platform to do so. It’s a shame to see such narratives and the people who create them dropped from other outlets, likely in favor of less approachable stories of extreme performance that can feel unattainable—and often uninteresting—to most of us who love riding and traveling by bike for the rich experiences it can provide, as beautifully showcased by riders such as Sarah and Doom.
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