The real winners of the Tour de France: How your business can capitalise on sporting events

The cycling world’s biggest event, the Tour de France, was won by Kenyan-born British national Chris Froome overnight – but even though he’s most likely popping champagne corks, the athlete may not be the event’s biggest winner.

As is the case with most sporting events, it’s the sponsors that take out a good portion of the gold. And this year, plenty of companies, both large and small, have managed to get some attention.

And more importantly, small businesses have too.

In the first stages of this year’s tour, the cycling world was surprised to see Australia’s Orica-GreenEDGE team leading the way, with Australian rider Simon Gerrans wearing the yellow jersey, providing an unexpected boost in coverage to Orica.

The Tour de France’s 21 stages of racing provides brands with 21 opportunities to get their names on screen through team sponsorship, event sponsorship and television advertising.

But the director and co-founder of marketing agency Maverick, Todd Marks, told SmartCompany by “ambushing” events, businesses without large marketing budgets can capitalise on major sporting events.

“This year there have been businesses purchasing trips and running promotions for people to win these trips to see the Tour de France.

“For bike enthusiasts, going into a bike store and seeing ‘win a trip to the Tour de France’, they’re running off the back of the event without having an official sponsorship,” he says.

A number of Australian bike stores, such as the franchise Bike Force Australia and South Melbourne store Bike Now, have also been offering discounts on bikes linked with the Tour de France.

Aside from ambush marketing an event, Marks says if orchestrated well, straight sponsorships can also provide a boost for a business by generating brand awareness and for small businesses this might involve sponsoring a local sport team or charity event.

Know what you want from the partnership and how to leverage it

Marks says before entering into a sponsorship agreement, brands need to know what they want to achieve.

“Having an idea of what you want to achieve helps you with the negotiations and allows you to work out if you actually need to sponsor the event or if buying tickets for spectators could be a better option,” he says.

Marks says there are usually ways of being involved with the event without a “full blown sponsorship”, so it’s necessary to analyse the deal and the event demographics.

“If you’re getting an official sponsorship you’ve got to go into it for the right reasons. With the Tour de France there are around 3.5-4 billion viewers and it screens for thousands of hours around the globe, so sponsorship of the event these days is relatively good value.

“But, if you don’t know how to get what you want out of it, then there’s no point doing it,” he says.

Examine the risk profile

Scandals plague all sports and the best way to avoid receiving negative publicity is to conduct a risk analysis of the different sponsorship options.

“To avoid scandals, it’s about how thoroughly you plan for the sponsorship – every sponsorship comes with a risk.

“You have to assume the worst when going into these things and pick the part of the sponsorship which is less likely to have any risks and downsides to it. Don’t go down the path of focusing on the elite performance of the athletes,” Marks says.

Know when to jump ship

Marks says sponsoring an athlete is a high risk decision, but if you’re a well-known brand a scandal won’t do too much harm to the public’s overall brand perception.

“With the Lance Armstrong scandal, Nike was lucky that its brand has a higher profile than the athlete it was sponsoring, but it’s always a risk when you’re tying yourself to individuals.”

Marks says, ultimately, any sponsorship arrangement should be done for the benefit of the brand and building the perception of the brand as associated with a person or event.

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