Friday 3 July 2015

Vive le (Aviva Women's) Tour

Fair enough, I am slightly biased, but whilst we all are very excited about the forthcoming Tour de France (and rightly so, as it could be one of the best editions we've seen in years) I can't help but reflect on what a fantastic event we've just had in our own country (The Aviva Women's Tour) and how women's cycling's biggest global event compares to the men's equivalent.

Now, I am a sponsorship guy. My job revolves around achieving maximum returns for my clients, for brands and for our sponsors. So that's my default lens through which I perceive a sporting event, and in particular a cycling event. I have worked on the Tour de France, and I've been to various stages over the last few years, and I accept that the crowds are enormous, and therefore the potential exposure for teams, sponsors and riders is huge. But last week, as I was reflecting on our week in East Anglia, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, I couldn't help but focus on three areas where I think the women's sport outshines and outperforms the men. And consequently, why, if I was in control of the sponsorship budget of many brands, I would be very seriously considering women's cycling as part of my portfolio, or even as my only sponsorship vehicle.

In order to explain these three areas, I'm going to use some stories and anecdotes that I've heard over the last couple of weeks that prove the points that I'm making.

Inspiration - Marianne Vos is quite possibly the most complete cyclist in the world. She is a multiple world champion in different disciplines and has been for nearly a decade. In what other sport would you find someone like that coming over to a foreign country, whilst injured, co-hosting the TV coverage (in a foreign language) and then finding the time (and the patience) to ride from the start to the finish of several stages with an assembled group of riders who saw her invitation on Twitter.

Accessibility - Now I've hung around plenty of team buses and team cars in my time, but never have I witnessed such an approachable and friendly team parking area as there was at this year's Aviva Women's Tour. I've heard stories from Sarah Connolly of how she would find children hanging around the start area, take them down to team parking, introduce them to some teams and next thing you know they're getting tours of the team buses and campers, being given caps, biscuits, gels - you name it. I'm sorry, but this just doesn't happen in men's cycling.

Athleticism - My brother in law has for years rather turned his nose up at women's cycling, purely because of the perceived speed of the peloton and the comparison to the men. He won't mind me saying this but he used to say it was slow and boring. Well, he's changed his opinion somewhat now. Over the first two days of the Aviva Women's Tour, the average speed of the race was a shade under 42 km per hour. In 2014 the Tour de France was won at an average speed of 39.5 km per hour. Now I'm not saying that the women's peloton is as fast as the men's - but hey, it's not far off!! And out of the 5 stages of the Women's Tour, the peloton caught the break within 500 metres of the line on 4 occasions - I'm sorry, but in no way is that boring.

Women's cycling, at the top, elite, level is a fantastic sport, and the opportunities for brands and sponsors to be involved, to make a difference and to see huge returns are there. Here is a piece written by Stef Wyman, owner and team manager of Matrix Fitness on the battles he faces raising the finances to run and to develop his team. . You can see from the article that for a modest sum of money, a brand can quite possibly transform the sport. A brand can have an association with a sport and with athletes that are not only accessible, but are operating at the peak of their powers. The teams and the riders are inspirational to an increasing number of phenomenally passionate fans (67% male, 33% female by the way), and from what I saw on the side of the road a few weeks ago, not only to cyclists who ride out to watch the race, but to children and to families who come out to see their heroes.

Women's cycling is relatively young both commercially and from an organisational point of view - now is the time to get involved.