NTT Pro Cycling have confirmed that the team are looking for a new sponsor after Japanese telecommunication company NTT stated that they will not be renewing their contract with the team.
Rumours about the future of the team's sponsorship deal had circulated for some time, but on Monday evening, NTT announced that the partnership would be coming to an end after six years spanning the team's previous guise as Dimension Data.
"After six years of partnership with NTT Pro Cycling (formerly Team Dimension Data), NTT will conclude its title sponsorship of the cycling team at the end of the 2020 season," read a statement from the company.
"While sport will continue to play an important role in the company’s partnership landscape, it will also now invest beyond sport in a wider range of partnerships that focus on the impact that technology can make in supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in the coming decade."
During the Tour de France, reports emerged suggesting that the team's future was under threat, with the NTT contract set to finish at the end of 2020 and no replacement or extension forthcoming.
Back in April, the team was reportedly attempting to extend the sponsorship contact with NTT, while Danish window brand Velux was rumoured as a potential title sponsor after Dane Bjarne Riis joined the team as general manager at the start of 2020.
Riis said during the Tour de France that he was "confident" about finding a new title sponsor, adding that he had "experienced this before" and that "we hope to have some news soon."
Riis and his business partner Lars Seier Christensen had been in talks to buy part of the team upon Riis' appointment to the manager position, though the deal had still yet to be done by mid-June.
Doug Ryder's call to the team
Cyclingnews has learned that the entire roster for both the men’s WorldTour team and the Pro Continental squad were asked to dial into a call at around 6pm CET. During the call it was announced by Doug Ryder that NTT would be leaving the team at the end of the year.
Cyclingnews understands that, until recently, Ryder had been assuring a number of parties that a new sponsor would be announced in the coming days or weeks but those dreams now look to be over.
It's no secret that NTT have been quiet in the transfer market in recent weeks. They have failed to sign any new recruits for 2021 for the simple reason that they had no confirmed sponsors beyond this year. It's understood that Daryl Impey was at one point a target for the team but when NTT failed to submit a contract in writing, his decision to join Israel Start-Up Nation became even clearer.
Several riders within the team has expressed a desire to stay, such as European champion Giacomo Nizzolo, but with no contract extensions offered at any point it was clear that the team were running out of options and time.
Last week Cyclingnews spoke to one of the team's directors, who said that news on the team's future had dried up and that everyone was unclear about the future. At the same time Cyclingnews sent several questions to the team’s press officer for Doug Ryder to answer, including whether or not the team had a plan B if NTT pulled out. Cyclingnews was given a 'no comment' response to all questions put to the team.
This news leaves the management with only a slim hope of keeping the team together. Ryder still has a WorldTour license for the next two years but the idea of bringing Bjarne Riis in to help drive the sponsorship search has proved unsuccessful so far.
One source has told Cyclingnews that Ryder refused to throw in the towel during the call with his riders, and that he is still holding out hope for a miracle but at the same time the team boss also told the riders and staff that they should try and find jobs for next season.
During the call, Ryder told his riders and staff that NTT had made their decision over the weekend and that their reasoning around not extending their contract was because the team had failed to find a second sponsor that in Ryder’s words 'were significant to NTT and their business'. Ryder called this a complete u-turn and difference to what they had said in the past. Ryder added that the news was devastating but added that he would fight every day to keep the team going.
Ryder also said that there were still some positive leads and added that he would take calls or ideas from any of his riders, and that if they needed references for other teams then he would be willing to help.
He also added that a merger with a second division team was also being discussed. The call was attended by Bjarne Riis, who called this a tough moment for everyone on the team.
Campenaerts: Sponsor search is at 'five minutes past 12'
One of the team's star riders, former European time trial champion Victor Campenaerts, said that a new sponsor would be ideal, but added that he's certain he'll find a place somewhere, with the upcoming Giro d'Italia putting him in the shop window.
"It would be nice to have a new sponsor but it's five minutes past 12. I think it will be very difficult to get a new sponsor," he told Sporza.
"I am, of course, looking forward to a new team, because I want to remain a professional cyclist. A new sponsor would be ideal but I can't wait for it forever.
"It's not an easy moment to change teams. CCC is also in trouble, and many teams have already been formed. There won't be many options.
"I think there will be a place for me somewhere. It's not according to the plan for me and I would have preferred it to be different, but I can't do much about it. Hopefully I'll ride a good Giro – that can help to attract a new sponsor or can give me good contracts with a new team."
As of Monday evening, no riders – Campenaerts included – have agreed a move away from NTT.
The team has existed as a team in its current form since it was founded as MTN Energade Road Team in 2008. Since then, the squad has moved up the ranks from Continental level to become and established WorldTour team.
The team has since won seven stages at the Tour de France, three at the Vuelta a España, one at the Giro d'Italia, and also the 2013 Milan-San Remo.