Tour Sponsorship Brings Challenges, Opportunities

Hey, World Cup fans -- there’s another global sporting event going on in Europe right now, although it’s not getting the attention of the FIFA tournament.

The Tour de France just recently completed its third stage in England and will be moving back to France in coming weeks. While it’s not attracting the same level of sponsorship as the World Cup, there are marketers who are willing to dive in. And they can get great returns -- if they do it correctly. 

“The opportunities for brands to associate themselves with cycling are as great as they’ve ever been,” Mark Pinsent, social and content lead at global marketing agency Metia, tells Marketing Daily. “I don’t think [the Tour] has been ever so massively received.”

Brands still may be holding back based on the sport’s history with performance-enhancing drugs, and a general provincial feel of the France-based Tour (despite athlete participants from all over the world). But there’s ample opportunity for many brands to make a name for themselves, particularly along the race course, which draws throngs of fans along its 3,600-kilometer course (and allows itself to be billed as the “most-watched” sporting event), Pinsent says. 

“The key is to get experiential about it, to get out there and be part of the Tour,” he says. (Metia has a client, Wattbike -- an indoor trainer used by the British cycling team -- that is part of the tour sponsorship.) “There’s a great opportunity to do stuff on an experiential level and turn that into content.”

Brands looking to get involved will also want to make sure they’re connected to the sport in more than just name (or dollars) only. McDonald’s, for instance, could use its commitment to children’s sports as a way to gain credibility with cycling enthusiasts. “It’s the pinnacle of cycling, but if you want to engage the community of cycling [you need to show] a commitment to cycling,” Pinsent says.

A tech brand, he says, could have a distinct opportunity, given the amount of data collected on all the participants. “It’s a really data-rich sport, and none of that gets communicated to the audience,” Pinsent says. “It might take a huge tech brand to make that bit work.”

Admittedly, some brands may be wary of getting involved with cycling sponsorship, particularly with through strong connections to performance-enhancing drugs. Although brands can insist on only sponsoring “clean teams,” there’s no real way to guarantee that, Pinsent says. On the plus side, consumers may be more forgiving about what a brand is and is not responsible for.

“That’s a massive issue for brands with cycling specifically,” Pinsent says. “There’s been so much [doping], people understand that brands are responsible. That it all comes down to the individual.”

"Tour de France" photo from Shutterstock.

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