For cycling enthusiasts around the world, Sunday’s final stage of La Vuelta marks the end of a tantalising summer of Grand Tour racing - but it isn’t just the fans who’ve benefited. With global interest in professional cycling at an all-time high, this season has also presented the brands that sponsor the racing perhaps their biggest opportunity yet.
With their logos emblazoned across live race coverage the world over, many brands partnering pro teams understandably count their annual spike of TV exposure as a worthy return on investment. But in 2023, with an increasingly fragmented media landscape and an audience consuming content across an array of platforms, there is now more scope than ever to connect more deeply with audiences through partnerships. It’s the forward thinking brands who not only invest in sponsorship rights but who activate those rights that are cutting through the noise and gaining the most value from their associations with the sport.
At SHIFT Active Media, we are seeing many of our clients driving more value from their sponsorships with an activation-led approach, not just in professional road racing, but other key categories including MTB and Gravel. By harnessing PR and Social Media execution, underpinned with data-led strategic insight, we’ve enabled brands including Pinarello, Campagnolo, LOOK, Ohlins and Continental to more deeply engage their audiences via credible brand storytelling, compelling content and positive earned media coverage.
With a year-round competition calendar, race activation is becoming an increasingly important pillar of our comms approach and proving an effective way to keep our clients’ brands in the media conversation all season, complementing key launches and filling the gaps between product announcements. Combining that with global data from our dedicated research panel, the Rider Research Hub, which found that over a third of cyclists actively find out more about a brand they’ve seen sponsoring a team, upscaling visibility of partnerships presents an open goal for marketers.
As La Vuelta got underway last month, our PR team was on the ground in Barcelona taking international journalists and opinion formers behind the scenes of INEOS Grenadiers to deliver a deep-dive look at the Italian brand’s long-running partnership with the biggest team in cycling. Choreographing key stakeholders on both sides including Fausto Pinarello, Geraint Thomas and team technical staff to communicate the partnership’s intrinsic role in the development of Pinarello’s road bikes, it led to feature coverage across some of Europe’s biggest sports news outlets with a collective reach of over 300 million.
The partnership with INEOS Grenadiers has been further leveraged this year to announce Pinarello’s return to MTB, with content and PR storytelling around star riders Tom Pidcock and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot’s development roles in its new ‘Dogma XC’. Earlier in the Grand Tour season, the Tour de France provided a high profile platform to deliver key PR moments for several other clients including LOOK, Corima and Factor. In collaboration with the Israel-Premier Tech and Team Cofidis outfits, we harnessed the excitement around the iconic race to capture and distribute exclusive bike tech content, securing global coverage for flasghip new products.
Beyond traditional PR outreach, the convergence of brands with pro teams presents a natural sweet spot to drive deeper engagement via Social Media. Throughout the year, the SHIFT social team have leveraged any available sponsor rights to deliver season-long campaigns across Road and MTB. This includes inviting Ohlins’ 250K Instagram followers to pose questions to its off-road star riders, and deploying content creators on the ground at key UCI events and training sessions to follow the Continental Atherton MTB team as they test and race the new Gravity tyre range. We’ve also harnessed Continental's road team partners, including UAE Team Emirates, to communicate its tyre performance advantage and leveraged the success of the AG2R team to align Campagnolo with race defining moments.
These are just some recent examples, and the opportunities for cycling brands to better leverage their sponsorships is ripe for the taking. To do so requires careful stakeholder management, informed planning and of course flawless execution. Here are the five key things to consider when developing a PR & Social sponsorship activation plans:
Understand what rights are available. A good sponsorship contract should always include allocated time / access to the team and athletes. The tools available for the job should help define your approach.
Sweat the assets. Access to the team is usually going to be limited, so ensure you maximise every opportunity across a multitude of outputs and channels.
Be bullish when negotiating coverage. Giving journalists and opinion formers exclusive opportunities is one thing, ensuring the resulting coverage delivers value for your brand is quite another. Media relationships can play a key role here.
Be authentic and credible. Overly branded content or a flimsy narrative shoehorned into your PR messaging will lack credibility and could even lead to negative coverage. Devise genuine reasons for your brand or product to be integrated into the story.
Be ambitious, but realistic about what’s achievable at race events. Save the creative ad campaign video shoot for the off season, and instead focus on simple, deliverable tactics on race day.
At this time of year, when conversations in boardrooms inevitably turn to plans and budgets for next year, it will be the brands that take an activation-first approach who will win the sponsorship race in 2024. Interested to know more? Whether you need support amplifying your cycling partnerships through PR and Social or in any aspects of Paid Media, Creative or Strategy & Research, get in touch at email@example.com.
Tom Foy, Head of PR