‘We can make a real impact’ - Chief Marketing Officer Ian Elliott on why MAAP is putting its money in women’s cycling

The clothing brand is supporting British Continental team Lifeplus-Wahoo in 2024 as women’s cycling offers an increasingly attractive sponsorship opportunity

From the first time the women’s peloton tackled the brutal cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, to the reintroduction of the Tour de France Femmes, to UCI stipulations of a minimum wage and maternity leave, women’s cycling has taken a series of important steps in the past few years. In turn, the professionalism of the sport and quality of racing has improved tenfold, something that has increased viewing figures and engagement of the biggest women’s races in the world.

It’s not just from a fan perspective that women’s cycling has become more popular, either. Steadily, more and more sponsors are taking an interest in women’s racing, becoming acutely aware of the big return on investment and the opportunities for storytelling within the sport. One of the most recent, major cycling brands to involve themselves in a professional women’s team is Australian clothing manufacturer, MAAP. The Melbourne-based company announced a partnership with Continental team Lifeplus-Wahoo at the start of this year, marking a new chapter for the British team who have achieved some impressive results in the sport since their inception in 2016.

MAAP has also risen to prominence in the cycling apparel scene since it was founded just over a decade ago, asserting itself as one of the coolest and most forward-thinking brands on the market. The company’s global success has meant that sponsorship of professional teams is a logical next step for MAAP, but as the brand’s Chief Marketing Officer, Ian Elliott, explains, MAAP were looking for a partnership that meant much more than simply putting a logo on a jersey.

“For nine years, Lifeplus-Wahoo has been an independent women's professional cycling team. As a founder-led and founder-owned independent cycling clothing brand, being able to connect with a women's team that is essentially working to provide pathways for women to get to the most pointy end of the sport at the WorldTour, it totally connected with us as a brand,” Elliott explains.

MAAP’s own strapline includes the phrase “we exist to propel the sport of cycling forward”, and Elliott believes that supporting women’s cycling is a crucial way to do this. Lifeplus-Wahoo’s plucky resilience over the seasons – fighting for survival on multiple occasions due to loss of sponsors – and the fact that the team constantly punches above their weight at races, was a big draw to Elliott and his colleagues.

“We were starting to think about, should we go down the men's WorldTour route? Should we go down the men's WorldTour route that has a women's team? What would be the right way forward? We started talking to Tom [Varney, Lifeplus-Wahoo team manager] and the spirit that he brought forward and the values that he was sharing about the team, it's infectious,” Elliott says. “He is somebody who really believes in what the platform he's created can do, especially if he brings the right partners on board that can help build an even bigger platform.”

Similarly to the progression of Lifeplus-Wahoo, MAAP’s growth to the stage that it can now offer sponsorship to professional teams, has been steady. Elliott explains that one of the first outfits the brand supported was a local criterium team in Melbourne, they then backed an Australian Continental team, before moving on to becoming the kit provider for Trinity Racing, a multi-disciplinary elite racing team, originally based around current Ineos Grenadiers professional, Tom Pidcock.

“As an independently owned cycling brand, we have to be really thoughtful about the investments we're making. If we overextend ourselves, we're going to essentially deliver something that's not the standard that we would hope both from a product performance perspective, but also from a storytelling perspective,” Elliott says. “We were having a lot of conversations with different WorldTour teams, but when we started to really drill down what we wanted to focus on as a company, we knew we could get behind a WorldTour team – we have the resources, the product and the availability – but is that going to give us the chance to make a real impact?”

MAAP don’t shy away from the fact that sponsoring a women’s Continental team involves less financial investment than an entire WorldTour outfit, but Elliott is keen to stress that this wasn’t a factor in the brand’s decision to back Lifeplus-Wahoo. He explains that MAAP is a brand with a passion for storytelling, and argues that stories which come from within the women’s peloton can often be the most interesting of them all.

“How we think about things philosophically is like, what sort of story can we tell? Of course, podiums are great, performance is amazing, but, what's the why? Why are these riders getting out there every day and showing up to pursue this sport? That's really interesting and I think even more so within the context of women's professional cycling,” Elliott explains.

“There's something that's just genuinely inspiring about people who are in pursuit of something that is just so pure, for the absolute electric feeling of getting out there and just pursuing excellence in that domain. These women are, in many cases, making pennies to the dollar in comparison but they are pursuing it because it makes them feel more alive. Some women are also out there to actively make a point and to be a model and to show other women that this is something that they themselves can also pursue which is really positive reinforcement.”

Lifeplus-Wahoo’s eye-catching 2024 team kit was only the start of the activations that Elliott says MAAP has planned with the British squad for the year ahead. Creating a strong visual identity for the team is one thing, but ensuring that fans know the people who are wearing the kit is another important part of what MAAP hopes to achieve in 2024.

“When somebody rolls up to the start line, all you see is that person. You just see a person that's there to perform and what's really sad about that is that it's only the tip of the iceberg,” Elliott says.

“Women's cycling represents a very small percentage of overall media coverage relative to men. When you think about why people watch things, they typically watch things because they have some sort of emotional connection with the subject matter. If we want to increase viewership of women's cycling, and if viewership is driven by an emotional connection to a thing, then how do we build empathy? So our thoughts at MAAP are to connect people with what made this athlete who they are.”

Elliott adds that MAAP has a detailed plan on how they will work with the Lifeplus-Wahoo team for the season ahead, including ensuring that MAAP’s investment in the British team trickles down to cycling’s grassroots. While a common belief is that race results determine the success of a brand’s sponsorship of a team, Elliott argues that thought process is outdated. Instead, he believes that much more value can be found in creative ways to allow fans to truly connect with the athletes they watch on television.

“We need to be thinking differently about how value is delivered in sponsorships and partnerships,” Elliott says. “We're not sponsoring Lifeplus-Wahoo to see a GC winner at the Tour de France. That's not the point. One day, we want to sponsor a men’s and women’s WorldTour team and we will absolutely do that. But in terms of right now, this is how we can make the greatest positive impact, and that’s what is most important to us as a brand.”

Shop now