Specialized ends contracts for paid ambassadors
Several Specialized Global ambassadors in the US have announced on social media that their contracts have been abruptly terminated, after months of silence from the brand. This includes longtime adventure athletes Sarah Swallow and Ty Hathaway who said the brand is cutting the entire global ambassador program - sparking a strong social media response.
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Swallow was one of the first Specialized ambassadors who got paid for delivering content and other services for the brand in exchange for bikes, kit and a salary. Last week, Specialized ended Sarah Swallow’s contract, which was meant to run through December 2023, without any notice period.
"While I am grateful for the many relationships and opportunities I gained through my partnership with Specialized, 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," said Swallow. She also mentioned on her Instagram account that the termination of the contract has cut three-quarters of her income.
Lael Wilcox, a well-known Specialized athlete, got no renewal to her contract, either, but was told that she could be moved to the “S-Racing” team - which is not confirmed in writing, yet. Other athletes, such as Steve Fassbinder and Ty Hathaway, reflected Swallow’s experience.
“I was told nobody’s going to be saying they’re an ambassador for Specialized anymore, from someone who gets a bike and gives it back to someone like us who got a salary for being a good representative and providing content,” Hathaway commented.
Specialized Global's official statement said the following: “Our social ambassador program is continuing to change with the needs of the rider, but it definitely isn’t going away.”
Specialized's global ambassador programme can be traced back to 2015 when its marketing department launched a project called Seek and Enjoy - which the ambassadors say "humanized the brand". The now laid-off athletes were recruited to essentially go on adventures on their bikes and be supported by the brand to do that.
“At that time it was pretty unheard of to get paid to do what I do and not be a competitive athlete,” Swallow said. “It was pretty rare and pretty exciting. In 2020 a lot more people were able to become ambassadors.”
“We were showing people that it’s possible that you don’t have to race, you can ride and have fun. You can ride trails and go bikepacking, do all this stuff that people might not have seen before,” Hathaway added.
While the programme worked on a rolling, yearly basis, it was able to provide the ambassadors with a substantial salary that they are now needing to find elsewhere.
[cover image by Sarah Swallow]