Tour de France – A New Arena for Marketers?

By R. Larsson, Advertising Week

What with the recent release of Netflix’s latest sports series ‘Tour de France Unchained’, and the conclusion of the Tour 2023 this weekend, it might be time for brands to start considering whether they’re making the most of an excellent marketing opportunity.

While this may be considered a more niche sport than football, the specificity of the sport leads to incredibly devout fans who are a huge asset for brands. The ‘Tour de France Unchained’ has already been renewed for another season, demonstrating that popularity.

We spoke with leading marketers in the industry to get their thoughts.

David Balko, Chief Client Officer, Tribal Worldwide

The ‘Tour’ is a wonderful opportunity for brands to connect with one of the truly great endurance events in sport.  As the sport undergoes a renaissance, attempting to put its past issues behind it, brands are evaluating the opportunities around the largest event in the cycling calendar.

And with a growing and increasingly passionate audience the chance to reach a widespread, international audience is certainly there – the 2022 Tour had the best overall pan-Europe Tour de France television performance for five years, with fans watching 40% more programming minutes than the year before.

However, the tarnish from the doping era still lingers and this, alongside the necessary due diligence around such a deal, will make some brands nervous about participating. But for the brave, and those willing to back clean athletes, the Tour remains a great opportunity. 

Oliver Maltby Executive Creative Director, Interbrand

The world’s most played sport may be Football/Soccer, but the most watched sporting event happens every year in France. The Tour de France has pulled in 3.5 billion viewers in the past – to put it in perspective, that’s three times a Super Bowl. Yet, there’s so much more pageantry and showmanship (and sponsorship) in American Football vs Cycling. Le Tour just isn’t as packaged and polished of an entertainment product compared to other sports. Part of this may be cultural, or historical, or logistical in terms of how to engage with the sport and its riders.

The recent trend of behind-the-scenes documentaries from streaming companies has breathed new life and excitement into the sports they feature. We’ve previously seen it in American Football ‘Hard Knocks’, Soccer ‘All or Nothing and Welcome to Wrexham’ and now F1 and Cycling. The F1 series has been called the ‘Drive to Survive effect’ as it has grown the U.S fan base by 10%. It’s safe to assume there will be an ‘Unchained’ effect for Le Tour in a similar way.

As the sport gains more fans through new channels, there will be more opportunities for sponsors to find unique ways of connecting with the event. Some of this must be celebrating the riders and turning them into year-round household names. Sport is more than who wins and losses, it’s a life story of adversity and achievement we all connect with. ‘Unchained’ will be another move to take cycling mainstream, but this is still the first stage of many.

Alex Beazley-Long, Senior Strategist, Imagination New York and Houston

Following the doping scandals that were associated with Lance Armstrong’s career, cycling has emerged as a cleaner, more respectable proposition for brand partnerships. Further solidifying its reputation is a new Netflix series ‘Tour de France: Unchained’, focusing on the most storied and prestigious event in the sport.

With smaller sports such as cycling, brands have the opportunity to create a more developed and integrated sponsorship, as increased ownership of the property in the eyes of consumers leads to better attribution and advocacy. They also get direct access to a smaller but often more passionate audience, which can help to generate better value and ROI.

The Tour de France itself is undervalued by brands currently, and the launch of the Netflix series means it is perfectly poised for sponsors to generate value from the event. A previous sports series from the streaming giant gives a good idea of the potential impact. Following the debut of ‘F1 Drive to Survive’ F1’s U.S. fan growth was about 10 percent, per a Nielsen study. And an incredible 34% of Netflix viewers became fans of F1 racing after watching the series.

It is also the perfect time for brands to establish a presence in France, as this year’s Tour is the first in a series of high profile events being hosted in the country, with the 2023 Rugby World Cup following in the Autumn whilst the 2024 Tour will precede the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.