Debating every aspect of Le Tour is one of life’s joys each July, whether standing in pouring rain next to saturated pavé as the peleton nears, or watching television at home. Every time the camera lens catches a rider in one of Le Tour’s many dramatic moments, one cannot miss the team sponsor(s) resplendent on his jersey. Yet who are the sponsors? What do they gain from the experience? What attributes might inform a potential sponsor’s decision to buy such naming rights?
WHO ARE THE SPONSORS?
There are 22 teams in the Tour de France, a subset of eligible pro cycling teams overall. Each team has a sponsor or co-sponsors with jersey naming rights. There are also many more sponsors for each team (e.g. cycling gear) not to mention Official Broadcast Partners and so on.
Focusing on the teams, in 2014 a wildcard entrant is the French team Bretagne-Seche. Great name, what about the sponsor? This one perhaps takes the ‘least glamorous’ prize, in that Bretagne-Seche Environnement is, in fact, a French waste treatment company.
So where are the international luxury brands such as Chanel or Alexander McQueen, or the ubiquitous tech juggernauts such as Apple, Google or Microsoft? Other usual suspects such as McDonalds and Nike or Adidas are also missing.
The most well-known consumer retail brand sponsoring a team in the Tour de France is possibly Sharp, a co-sponsor of the USA team Garmin-Sharp. Sharp is the Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer. Garmin makes GPS products, particularly for bikes.
Belkin is an American manufacturer of consumer electronics and is the current sponsor of Belkin Pro Cycling, a Dutch team. However, Belkin has decided to cease its sponsorship arrangement. Perhaps these international retail brands gain more ‘bang for their buck’ from broad-based television advertising rather than Tour de France sponsorship.
In the ‘most sexy’ category is probably Team Sky, not just because it has the best team bus (truly!). Thanks to the Murdoch influence, this UK team can boast not just BSkyB, the Pay TV network as its key sponsor, but also 21st Century Fox and Jaguar.
Another entrant in the ‘less sexy’ category is Team Katusha, a Russian team whose sponsor is Itera, a gas company in the former Soviet republics and Baltic states. The team name ‘Katusha’ is sourced from the name of a Russian rocket once used by the Red Army.
Lampre-Merida of Italy has a glamorous tone which rolls nicely off the tongue. Yet Lampre is an Italian manufacturer of prefinished sheet materials. Merida is a Taiwan bike manufacturer.
The name of the Belgium team Omega Pharma-Quick Step sounds very sporty. In fact, Omega Pharma is a Belgian pharmaceutical company. Quick Step manufactures laminate flooring.
There is a nationalist flavor for a number of teams. Team Astana, for example, is a Kazakhstan team supported by a coalition of state-owned Kazakhstan companies named after the nation’s capital city, Astana.
For others, the sponsorship benefits are more prosaic. This can explain the lack of correlation between the home country of a number of teams, and the country of origin of the sponsor.
The most intriguing team background is that of the Spaniard, Alberto Contador. Tinkoff-Saxo is ostensibly a Danish team. However it is a Russian registered Danish team owned by the Russian Oleg Tinkov. The sponsors are Tinkoff Credit Systems (a financial institution) and Saxo Bank (a financial institution).
Indeed, financial institutions (of one sort or another) are popular in the Team Sponsor ranks. Cofides, Solutions Credits is a money lending entity. IAM, the sponsor of the Swiss team IAM Cycling, is a Geneva based entity specializing in Swiss investment funds.
Closely related is Ag2r-La Mondiale, a French team. Ag2r Group is a French based international insurance and supplementary retirement fund group. La Mondiale Group is a French based international group specializing in pension and estate planning insurance. There are clear synergies here between the target market and Tour de France exposure. La Mondiale promotes on its website its “wealth management solutions for European cross border market”.
There are some sponsors clearly seeking to maximize national exposure only in their home target market. Look no further than the national lotteries of France and Belgium. FDJ is the French national lottery, sponsoring a French cycling team. The sponsors of the Belgian team Lotto-Belisol are Lotto, the Belgian lottery, and Belisol, a Belgian window and door manufacturer.
Then, of course, there is the most obvious sponsor of all, that which sells cycling related products and merchandise. Here, there is little apparent nationalist loyalty towards the country of origin of the team. The brand will likely feature on whatever team is available at the time. BMC Racing is a US team, but BMC makes Swiss cycling technology for racing and mountain biking. Cannondale the bike company is American based but sponsors an Italian team. Team Giant-Shimano is a Dutch team. Yet Giant, the bike company, is Taiwanese based and Shimano, which makes bike components, is from Japan.
Arguably the smartest sponsor in terms of target market is Europcar, the sponsor for Team Europcar (a French team). This is the Paris based car rental company no doubt indelibly carved in the minds of millions of spectators as they line the route and plan the next leg of their journey.
In the next section we will see what sponsors can gain from the experience, and conclude with a list of attributes for potential sponsors who have a few spare tens of millions of dollars in their pocket and want to get involved.
WHAT DO SPONSORS GAIN FROM THE EXPERIENCE?
First, there is the scale of the marketing opportunity. Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) (also the parent company of the French newspaper, L’Equipe) owns, designs and organises the Tour de France. ASO promotes the benefits of sponsorship on its website. The statistics are staggering*:
- 12 million spectators line the route
- 2 million spin off products worldwide*
- 70 licence holders for brands worldwide*
- 1000 different products for brands sold per year*
- Hundreds of thousands of customers for products on Tour de France route
- 3.5 billion spectators from 190 countries tuning in to watch on television
[* denotes statistics likely also to cover Dakar Rally and other ASO events]
Secondly, the ASO through the consistency of its own marketing efforts, and those of its predecessors, has created some of the most powerful brand icons in modern sporting history. Any sponsor would want to pay to be connected with them!
In this respect, one can look no further than the yellow jersey or ‘maillot jaune’. Worn by the leader of the General Classification category for almost 100 years, the origins of the yellow jersey are not without debate. However, there tends to be agreement that because the original organizing newspaper (L’Auto) was printed on yellow paper, this inspired the colour marking the leader (see article here).
Crédit Lyonnais for many years sponsored the yellow jersey, such that its name was emblazoned on each side of it. Through a process of acquisitions, LCL (a nod to the former Crédit Lyonnais name) continues to sponsor the yellow jersey.
Crédit Lyonnais is also the source of one of the quirkier trophies in sport, namely, the toy lion. Handed to the wearer of the yellow jersey after each stage since 1987, it is not a favourite with everyone. An amusing post by Erin Beresini explaining its origins describes the toy lion trophy as “emasculating” and “weirdly infantile”. So entrenched in tradition is the toy lion trophy that even though it is no longer the bank’s mascot, it continues to be distributed during the Tour de France to this very day.
Thirdly, there is an apparent lack of ambush marketing risk associated with the Tour de France. Ambush marketing has traditionally been regarded as the enemy of the sporting organizer, because the successful activities of unaffiliated brands can undermine the benefits and cost of official sponsorship. Major events legislation in many countries outlaws the practice in connection with specific events.
The ASO no doubt has strong intellectual property protection, such as registered trade marks, to cover Tour de France terminology and other related badges of origin. Official sponsors will be licensed to use relevant terminology and brands but not unlicensed parties.
An interesting challenge for the Tour de France each year concerns the need to supervise marketing activities in countries other than France which host the Grand Départ. For instance, Rebecca Kelly, in an interesting article here, explained how enthusiastic Yorkshire and other English businesses should avoid crossing the line in promoting their connection with the 2014 Tour de France.
So, where are the apocryphal stories about successful ambush marketing campaigns in connection with the Tour de France common to so many other large scale sporting events?
For example, so plentiful was ambush marketing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics that Global Language Monitor awarded ‘medals’ to the most successful ‘NAM’ or ‘non-affiliated marketers’. Red Bull, in this context, was awarded a Gold medal for its ambush marketing success, including its advertisement of a person jumping from a space capsule to earth. This could be contrasted to the ‘Terracotta” medal awarded to official partners with less successful marketing efforts. For instance, official partner Omega was at risk of receiving this least coveted award. Whilst the brand would appear on screen every time there was a timed event, it apparently failed to resonate with viewers.
Copious searches of Internet search engines have failed to find something similar in relation to the Tour de France. Possible reasons for the lack of ambush marketing examples include:
- There is no ambush marketing activity in the Tour de France (Possible)
- Any ambush marketing activity is so immersed within the hordes of spectators lining the route it goes largely unnoticed (Likely)
- The ASO has educated businesses effectively about the Do’s and Don’ts (Possible)
- The ASO does not care (Unlikely)
In fact, the ASO clearly appreciates the importance of owning all aspects of the marketing space of the Tour de France as this comment attests: “When it comes to stealth marketing, sport is the sphere favored by partners keen to give their image a credibility boost.” (refer ASO website promoting the benefits of developing a relationship with its marketing team).
ATTRIBUTES OF A TEAM SPONSOR
Based solely on a review of existing team sponsors, a few common themes emerge.
- There is no need to have an international profile. Some sponsors are firmly focused on gaining exposure in their home target market, having likely regard to the TV audience in their home State.
- Money permitting, nationalist sentiments, and a desire to support a national cycling team, can play a role.
- There is no better place for a cycling manufacturer to promote its brand than in the Tour de France.
- You do not need to be a sexy international retail brand to become a sponsor (the data indicates the opposite).
Orica likely cannot believe its luck. This Australian based multi-national provides commercial, blasting, mining, tunneling support systems and chemical products to more than 50 countries worldwide. The Australian team, Orica-Greenedge, has had unprecedented success for such a new team. It featured in the 2013 Tour de France (when the team bus became stuck at the finish line, plus winning the Team Time Trial and individual Stage success) not to mention the 2014 Giro d’Italia. Its role as team sponsor can only serve to enhance Orica’s credibility in the international markets it is presently focused upon.
- For up and coming tech companies, the Tour de France might prove a great marketing opportunity. NetApp, for instance, is a US data storage, cloud computing and big data company. Its marketing message might normally be drowned out by Google and Apple. Yet by sponsoring Team NetApp-Endura, a German team, NetApp is able to broaden its international profile. [Endura is a cycling clothing company based in Scotland.]
- If the prospect of targeting a European market appeals, one should look no further than the Tour de France.
- Teams looking for new sponsors should target enterprises as large as national lotteries, through to car rental companies and the like.
- There is no particular correlation between the home country of the team or that of the sponsor, if the marketing sums add up.