Specialized suddenly ended all its global brand ambassador contracts, multiple former sponsored riders report.
Sarah Swallow, director of the cycling event Ruta Del Jefe and general community organizer, began Monday morning with an Instagram post that many in her cohort would rue.
In the post, Swallow explained that she and dozens of others around the globe would no longer bear the title “Specialized ambassador.”
“Here is the deal. Late last week, @iamspecialized terminated all its global brand ambassador contracts, including mine,” she wrote.
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Swallow stated her gratitude for the opportunities she gained through the arrangement via Instagram. But, she said, the way Specialized handled the terminations left a bad taste in her mouth. And, she noted, it exposes her and other athletes to added financial stress.
“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,” Swallow wrote.
Specialized Cuts Ambassador Program
GearJunkie cycling editor Seiji Ishii, who has experience with ambassador agreements, confirmed Swallow’s tip that many brands are likely close to finalizing their 2023 marketing budgets at this time.
Specialized did not confirm the reported contract terminations to GearJunkie. But multiple ambassadors who commented on Swallow’s Instagram post corroborated that the brand had dropped them by email, too.
“Our UK women ambassadors were cut too! After 4yrs! With an email. So sad,” wrote Becky Hair, another former Specialized rider.
Like Swallow, though, Hair took to Instagram to express her gratitude for the experiences and connections she made through her contact with the California-based brand.
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Ambassadors play pivotal roles for any brand that hires them; social media’s popularity shows no signs of flagging. In the cycling world, as close-knit and niche as it is, ambassadors can be especially critical to establishing brand identity.
“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,” Swallow wrote.
A Specialized marketing representative did not respond to a request for comment from GearJunkie as of this writing.
Hold Brands Accountable
In a Monday morning interview with GearJunkie, Swallow charted a path forward that she hopes can earn brand ambassadors better contractual protections in the future.
Swallow said that Specialized terminated her in the middle of her 2-year contract based on a clause that reserved “either party’s right to end the partnership at any time.”
Moving forward, she’d like to see that qualified with appropriate causes for termination.
She went on to advocate for writing 3- to 6-month severance pay into contracts, and a time-based requirement that a company would notify an ambassador facing termination with enough time to seek out another deal.
Ultimately, she thinks it boils down to organizing her cycling ambassador community to pursue a solution. When asked if she and any such group she helped form would pursue legal representation, she said:
“I’d be open to it. The biggest thing that I’ve come out of this is that there needs to be some sort of community that can work together and protect ourselves — and hold brands accountable. If that would mean working with lawyers to do that, I think that would be very helpful.”
Swallow is using a Google Form to build the community she described. If you’re a brand ambassador or sponsored athlete and are interested in joining the group, check it out.