For the first time in decades, Chattanooga's premier bicycling team won't be sponsored by a fast food company.
Krystal has announced it will leave Chattanooga by 2013, and the company has pulled the plug on some local sponsorships along with its headquarters, said members of Scenic City Velo, Tennessee's Road Bike Club of the Year.
"When it was announced Krystal was selling, we thought we were in good shape at first," said Mark McOmie, who oversees the team's $35,000 budget. "But then they started replacing all the top-tier management."
Robin Derryberry, a spokeswoman for Krystal, argued that the company was maintaining "a high level of commitment" to its charitable giving in Chattanooga.
But she did acknowledge that the company is "taking a hard look" at everything it has sponsored in the past.
While Krystal takes stock of itself and pulls up stakes, the team of 250 cyclists needed new uniforms for 2012 -- and the deadline long since has passed, McOmie said.
Then, the Village Volkswagen auto dealership called.
"There are a lot of folks in the market and in the Tennessee area that recognize the strength of the Krystal team, so it's good exposure," said Brad Cobb, president of Bowers Automotive Group.
Cobb, a bike enthusiast, said cyclists already love the Volkswagen brand, so the pairing just makes sense. Plus, the deal builds on Volkswagen's momentum in the Chattanooga area as the company's new $1 billion plant sets U.S. sales records.
"Typically the cycling community is environmentally-conscious, and I think our product line meshes really well with them," Cobb said.
Village Volkswagen already sponsors the Scenic City's three-state, three-mountain ride that attracts as many as 2,500 riders every year. VW also backs the River Gorge Omnium, he said.
Neither side disclosed the size of the financial commitment. But having a logo on the back of 250 cyclists represents a huge marketing potential, said Steve Strain, president of Scenic City Velo.
"Scenic City Velo is the dominant club in Tennessee," Strain said. "We have dominated the Road Club of the Year standings for the last three or four years."
In addition to hosting races here in Chattanooga, club members race all over the world, where they now will be advertising for Village Volkswagen on their jerseys -- instead of Krystal.
"From a business perspective, if you look at the demographics for cycling, it's a good market," Strain said. "You're looking at people who are willing to spend money on equipment, with disposable income, and that's desirable for a sponsor."
Along with the bike team, Krystal also has yanked its sponsorship of the Chattanooga Fellowship of Christian Athletes, leaving that organization searching for a new sponsor, said Jay Fowler, executive director of the group.
Derryberry maintained that Krystal still may sponsor some Chattanooga-area organizations in 2013, even as it prepares to move to Atlanta.
"There's going to be a strong commitment to Krystal's hometown," Derryberry said. "We're looking at different opportunities to stay connected in Chattanooga."
Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...