NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- From a marketing point of view, Lance Armstrong has already won the last Tour de France he will ever compete in, even though that race doesn't begin until July.
|In his retirement race, Lance Armstrong is competing to win his seventh consecutive Tour de France.
Following his announcement that the race will mark his retirement, the superstar cyclist, who has won six straight Tour de France race, has been mobbed by marketers and media companies buying into the global excitement he generates. In this last shot, Mr. Armstrong goes for a record seventh consecutive win of the world's most prestigious and most difficult bicycle race.
Discovery Communications, which is the sponsor of his pro cycling team, launches a seven-week campaign June 6 to promote its pre-Tour programming that runs June 26 through July 1. The race, July 2-24, is broadcast on Comcast's Outdoor Life Network (OLN).
Verizon and AMD, a semiconductor maker, are sponsoring the U.S. Discovery campaign leading up to its week of programming; Nokia is sponsoring a campaign airing on Discovery's Latin American and European networks. OLN is attracting several new advertisers to this year's race, including IBM, Capital One Financial, Revlon's Mitchum and Levi Strauss & Co. Additionally, Coca-Cola Co.'s Dasani is readying new summer commercial spots featuring Mr. Armstrong, who also is appearing in a new spot from 24 Hour Fitness.
"Getting Lance off the bike was a challenge," said Michele Strykowski, a spokeswoman for agency Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, which created the spot. "Everybody knows him as a cyclist. But he's more than that -- he embodies fitness."
In the spot, Mr. Armstrong runs -- not cycles -- through a town, passing along his fitness mantra to the locals.
In April, Mr. Armstrong announced his planned retirement from cycling competition. His contract with Discovery Communications, which picked up the team after it lost its relationship with the U.S. Postal Service, only requires him to ride in this year's Tour de France. He's also made news lately for an alleged split with rocker girlfriend Sheryl Crow, reported in this week's Star magazine.
Despite the breakup rumors, Discovery has Ms. Crow starring in one of its minute-long vignettes created in-house to promote its week-long Lance Armstrong TV programming. Verizon and AMD are the presenting sponsors of the vignettes, which also feature other cycling enthusiasts, including actresses Laura Dern and Rita Wilson, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, and musician Ben Harper. They offer inside looks into the training, equipment and technology that drive the Tour de France.
Commercial spots featuring Mr. Armstrong and his teammates, who hail from 15 different countries, alongside stars from Discovery Networks series, will promote the company's sponsorship of the team. The tagline declares: "Welcome to the family, Lance."
'The Science of Lance Armstrong'
All the promotions build up to the focal point of Discovery's pre-race programming: The Science of Lance Armstrong, a special that will be telecast on all of Discovery's international channels on the same day and same prime-time slot. It's the fourth TV event Discovery has premiered a program across all of its worldwide assets.
And of course it only starts with the pre-race hype. John West, senior vice president for ad sales for OLN, said the network is about two-thirds of the way toward sellout levels and revenue goals -- about the same place it was last year at this time. In addition to offering sponsorships of leader boards and race updates, the network has put together ad-sponsored vignettes, such as a two-minute travel log sponsored by Expedia. Other advertisers include Nissan North America's Infiniti, Ford Motor Co.'s Jaguar and Land Rover, Trek bicycles and Bissell.
Mr. West said the Tour indexes highly when it comes to income, which helped the network attract a new faction of upscale advertisers. "We've done custom Nielsen research on OLN's Tour de France viewers that examined demographic compositions and households income breaks of $100,000 and $150,000," he said. "We ran that against other upscale sports properties, namely golf and tennis, and the Tour ranks right up there if not higher than those other properties."
OLN ratings spikes
This will be OLN's fifth broadcast of the Tour. From 2002 to 2003 ratings for the Tour on OLN grew 96%, from 2003 to 2004 they grew 18% and this year the network is estimating 10% ratings growth over last year -- a "conservative" figure, Mr. West noted.
"The Tour has been a huge windfall in terms of bringing a new audience to the network," he said. "It's a great tent-pole property and promotional platform to showcase our new programming. So it's not just the revenue but the real sampling of the network by the whole new audience."
Sirius Satellite Radio
Sirius Satellite Radio is hoping for a similar effect. It will offer daily reports from the tour titled Lance in France ... Off the Bike and on the Mic, on its Faction music channel, which hosts the weekly Armstrong Radio show. Because Sirius' music channels are ad-free and sponsor-free, it won't be pitching marketers around the Tour coverage -- but it hopes to use the daily reports to entice new listeners, both cycling fans and more general Lance enthusiasts.
"They've sold 40 million of those yellow wristbands and that means there are 40 million people who want to be connected to him," said Dave Mingey, director-sports marketing for Sirius. The satellite radio network will use online advertising, search engine marketing and database distribution to promote its coverage of Mr. Armstrong to potential new listeners.
"At this time of year, you have lots of consumers who may not follow the ins and outs of cycling," Mr. Mingey said, "but there are more general Lance and Tour fans as well. The show is about what happens after he steps off the bike, the people visiting him and what he thinks as he rides through a classic town for the last time as a competitor."