5 years ago by Info Circuit

Performance, Value, ROI

How Rally UHC Cycling Became a Leader in Cycling Sports Marketing

The following is a feature story written by Jeff Haden of Inc. Magazine.

Owning a professional cycling team can be a lot like owning a motorsports team. Money buys speed… and because revenues from sponsors, event payouts, etc. typically do not cover operation costs, the owner finds a way to make up the difference.

Breaking even is the goal, but is usually just a dream.

Unless you’re Rally UHC Cycling, the U.S. based UCI Pro Continental team that regularly punches above its weight  — and turns a profit.

In 2002, Rally UHC owner and managing director Charles Aaron cobbled together a living as a valet in inner-city Baltimore and wrote business proposals in his spare time.

Seventeen years later? Charles has built, from scratch, a multi-million dollar cycling team backed by Rally Health and UnitedHealthcare, that has become a leader in cycling sports marketing.

And a team that, after recently secured an invitation to one of the world’s most historic one-day races, Le Flèche Wallonne, in just its second year in the Pro Continental ranks — marking the first time an all-North American team will take part. And just this weekend Brandon McNulty won the Giro di Sicilia, making the 21-year-old the first American winner in the race’s 24-year history.

All of which made it the perfect time to talk to Charles about how to launch a cycling team that is clearly built to last.

European general manager Stéphane Heulot alongside Charles Aaron during France’s Classic Loire Atlantique.

Obviously, you didn’t just wake up one day and decide to start a cycling team.

My story is not uncommon. As a kid I was a bike racer, raced juniors, had some success in the senior ranks… but I just didn’t have what it takes to go farther.

The last year I raced the bike company I worked with said, “Hey, would you like to run our team?”  I had always been intrigued by leadership, responsibility, what drives teamwork… plus I believe in the power of cycling and sports marketing to create a ton of value…

So I was a wanna-be pro racer who pivoted.

I’m a wanna-be pro racer who pivoted and landed a job running a cycling team.

I had a lot to learn, though. My first sponsorship meeting was with a major bank on the east coast, and one of the questions asked was, “What are the demographics?” and I didn’t know the word. (Laughs.)

Learning curve aside, you had a very successful run.

It was a really great 8-year run of running a pro mountain bike team.

Then the recession hit, 9/11 hit, GM reevaluated their marketing strategy and spending and we lost Cadillac as a sponsor… it was just brutal.

I had a tremendous amount of success at a young age and then the world changed. (Laughs.)

I took a job valeting cars at the Baltimore Hyatt, working nights and days. I was broker than broke. It was a painful time but was also one of the most defining and reflective times of my life.

I learned things I didn’t want to know about myself… but I also learned to believe in myself.

Read the full story on Inc.com.