Commerzbank, the main sponsor of the very successful Commerzbank Triathlon Team announced that they would not extend the sponsorship past 2011 and would focus on soccer instead.
Normann Stadler, Timo Bracht, Marino Vanhoenacker, Mathias Hecht, Maik Twelsiek, Markus Fachbach and Jan Raphael made up this powerful team that first was known as the Dresdner Kleinwort Team. Of these 7 Pros only Timo Bracht was actually sponsored by the German Commerzbank and he already had competed in the gold yellow colors, but when the two banks merged, Commerzbank inherited the team and the contracts, and the other athletes switched from their green kits to the even more distinctive gold yellow ones.
The last few years the team had captured over 40 wins around the globe, among them several Ironman titles, and at the Ironman World Championships in Kona it had become a standard to find 3 of the Commerzbank Pros in the top 15. At the most recent edition in October of 2010, Vanhoenacker, Bracht and Twelsiek finished 3rd, 6th and 12th respectively.
Thus the end of the sponsorship doesn't appear to be performance related but more so a cost saving measure. Commerzbank has been rumored for quite a while to be in financial troubles making this announcement not completely surprising.
"A continuation of the involvement, not even with individual athletes, is not planned. Commerzbank will re-focus the sports sponsoring activities and merge efforts. The bank will move the emphasis of the sport involvement even more so on soccer," said Commerzbank brand manager Uwe Hellmann to the German newspaper Handelsblatt. But no details were given about the financial implications of this sponsorship shift, nor is it apparent how much money Commerzbank currently spends on soccer. But they are currently involved with men's and women's soccer.
But current team manager Jan Wendt announced that he is working hard to find a replacement sponsor and hoped to run a 5-athlete team with a core of the current team and a 1.2 million Euro budget. Asked by slowtwitch how realistic the chances were of this to actually happen, Wendt sounded optimistic.
"Chances are pretty good, I'd say over 80%. But in Pro sports you'll never know before the contracts are signed. Until then anything can happen. But we're very confident," said Wendt to slowtwitch.
Are the athletes at all worried about this situation and how long have they known about this?
"First, they all have confidence that the program will continue with another sponsor. Second, seven months is a pretty long time in Pro sports to get yourself organized. Therefore it is definitely tough because there has been no insecurity for almost five years now. But it's time to either start with a new team or help yourself," added Wendt.
For now though the athletes on the team can certainly help their case with some strong performances through the end of the year. Starting tomorrow with Marino Vanhoenacker who will be trying to win Ironman Austria for the 6th time and along the way break the Ironman record of 7:50:27 set by fellow Belgian Luc Van Lierde in 1997 at Ironman Europe. Last year in Klagenfurt the lanky Belgian was only 98 seconds slower than the all-time record for the distance.
Should the new team effort fall through, most of the Commerzbank athletes should have no problem finding a new sponsor. Who would not want to have athletes such as Vanhoenacker, Bracht, Twelsiek and Hecht representing their brands and products?