With two major UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) professional bike races taking place in the UK every year, we speak to Alastair Grant, Commercial Director of SweetSpot Group, about how The Tour of Britain and the Women’s Tour are delivering on the legacy of 2012.
Give our members an overview of the proposition?
We are proud to organise two of the world’s most prestigious cycle races, with The Tour of Britain in September a cornerstone of the British sporting calendar that attracts the world’s top teams and riders every year. Alongside that, since 2014 we have organised The Women’s Tour, a five-day stage race for the world’s best female riders, a flagship event on the new UCI Women’s WorldTour calendar. These races, and our range of other cycling events (both elite racing and mass participation), provide a fantastic opportunity for brands to be associated with one of Britain’s most successful sports, and in The Tour of Britain and The Women’s Tour, two major international sporting events, which effectively promote Britain to the world. Cycling is an exciting, dynamic and fast growing sport, and we are confident that the scale of these iconic events, with huge live attendance on a national basis, extensive engagement opportunities and worldwide television audiences, presents major opportunities for brands.
What “bigger picture” does the activation strategy seek to meet?
Our events have a range of sponsors, from Official Partners of the Race (who sponsor jersey classifications, for example SKODA and their long-running partnership with the King and Queen of the Mountains’ jerseys) to a range of official partners and suppliers across many key sectors. There are two main areas where our events contribute towards positive change, which is hugely important for us as organisers.
Firstly through The Women’s Tour, we aim to positively change the stature of women’s cycling and the coverage that the sport receives. With our partners and stakeholders we have created an event that, in three years, has become a key part of the UCI Women’s World Tour and is widely acknowledged by fans, media and riders as being a world-leading event in terms of professional organisation, media coverage and equality of delivery. In 2017, the race will take another major step forward with a grandstand finish in central London on an iconic circuit around Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and other world famous landmarks. We have also partnered with Breast Cancer Care to organise a charity ride for 1,000 women ahead of the race to celebrate 25 years of the Pink Ribbon, which is synonymous with the fight against breast cancer.
The second area is through inspiring more people to be active. Our research shows that attending the events inspires 71% of spectators to be more active, whether that is getting on their bikes for sporting, health or transport reasons. This area is of particular importance to the local authorities who host the events. SweetSpot also work closely with our stakeholders and British Cycling to organise school and community rides and events around the professional races. In 2016, we directly engaged with over 150,000 children via school packs, flags and other learning materials, providing an inspirational platform to promote cycling and healthy activity to the next generation. Our goal going forward is to increase this number and continue to improve the level of that engagement with the help of our network.
How is the effectiveness of any relationship measured? What metrics do you use?
As you would expect, the objectives our various partners aim to deliver against varies by brand, including brand awareness and consideration, the platform to create and tell stories, direct sales, customer acquisition, lead generation, customer entertainment, staff engagement and experiential marketing. We collaborate with each of our partners to ensure we measure meaningful results and also work with independent agencies to track various measures including media ROI, economic impact and brand affinity. There is a lot to go through as our events deliver more than 80 hours of global TV coverage, as well as thousands of pages of print and online coverage. Once we have reviewed the results, we work with each partner to identify how we can continually improve delivery against their own objectives. The effectiveness of the events is also shown by the long-term relationships we have with a number of key partners, including the likes of SKODA, Chain Reaction Cycles, Adnams and Yodel, who have all been involved for over five years and remain committed to key partnerships going forward.
What are the current trends, and how are they affecting how you deliver against strategy?
The sport of cycling is on an upward trajectory, with participation growing and central investment in projects such as road safety and participation driving schemes increasing.
At an elite level, it was recently announced that the World Championships would be coming to Britain in 2019, we’ve seen a British winner of the Tour de France in 4 out of the last 5 years, we have one of the best women’s races in the world in The Women’s Tour and Team GB had another fabulous medal return in Rio. At the same time participation in cycling continues to grow apace, so it would be fair to say that interest in the sport should be an all time high! However, the sponsorship landscape is not as positive – there have been 3 teams that have folded this year due to lack of sponsorship whilst events on the world calendar have also suffered with established races being cancelled and / or downscaled. The global economic backdrop, and Brexit in particular, have caused the wider sponsorship landscape to soften generally, meaning that rights holders have to work even harder to recruit and retain partners, and be innovative in what and how they offer rights to ensure that they deliver against objectives.
How are you harnessing and executing on digital strategy, and what problems / opportunities has this created?
The Tours deliver excellent digital engagement, with more than 1.2 million unique UK visitors to our websites across the 2016 events. We are also working to further improve our digital platforms to better engage with our audience and to deliver effective digital engagement opportunities for our key partners by creating extensive, unique content annually for our website and video channels, utilising video in particular as an effective means of engagement with fans of the event.
SweetSpot also delivers mobile wifi solutions at stage finishes and works extensively across all social media channels to deliver content and insight to our audiences across the world, all year round. We have created commercial opportunities and access for partners to digital assets through developing our digital strategy, and are keen to continue to develop our presence and effectiveness in this key area.
Social media – cure or curse??
Definitely a cure – social media is an important area for us. Social channels are a fantastic way for our events to connect directly and engage with our fans. The mass audience, free to attend nature of our events, also clearly means that they are unticketed, so the likes of Facebook, and especially Twitter, provide a great way for the Tours to interact with people both at the roadside and around the world watching on TV. We also utilise our social media channels to promote and activate some key commercial relationships and deliver content to our audiences. Our network, including partners and other stakeholders, reaches more than 2.5 million users and this is an important area of engagement.
Cycling fans, and the professional riders themselves, are amongst the most engaged users on social media of any sport, so it is important for us to be very active across social media channels.
What learning’s have you gained from the relationships so far?
Our company has been organising The Tour of Britain since 2004, which is a lifetime in terms of the evolution of the sponsorship market and it has been an exciting ride growing The Tour of Britain from a niche event to mainstream, as well as creating a major global race from scratch in the Women’s Tour. As with all rights holders, we have had to adapt to changing times in recent years and have worked hard to remain relevant and current in a fast moving world. Our digital engagement and content creation is key in this area, although TV viewership of The Tour has happily bucked the general trend of declining audiences of live sport.
As an unticketed event we have learned that we need to work hard to create connectivity with our national audience and have exciting plans to overhaul this area going forward.