Keeping it real in the race for Tour de France sponsorship
For Saxo Bank, the first three weeks of July are always special. Not because of the markets, which are normally pretty quiet at this time, but because of the Tour de France. One of the greatest sporting events in the world, it keeps many of our employees and clients glued to TV screens every afternoon until the spectacular race for the finish on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris.
This year, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Tour and the organisers went to great lengths to create a spectacular route that included many of the mythical mountains of past Tours and a three-day start at Corsica, which has never before hosted the event. I had the pleasure of following nearly half of the stages with the team and I never cease to be amazed at the incredible suffering these guys go through, not to mention their extreme discipline and dedication.
We hosted several client events during the Tour and I am often asked at such occasions why Saxo Bank sponsors a cycling team. This is our sixth Tour de France, with varying co-sponsors, but Saxo Bank has been there uninterrupted since 2008. This year, the team rode under the name Team Saxo-Tinkoff, a reflection of our co-sponsorship with Tinkoff Bank of Russia.
Well, there are a number of reasons why we sponsor a cycling team:
1. When you calculate the number of eyeballs per dollar, the sport beats everything hands down by a considerable margin. Close to 5 billion viewers tune in at some point during the cycling season, but more than 60 percent of that exposure is linked to the Tour. So the exposure to hundreds of millions of people is not possible to achieve in any other sport at the same cost.
2. The team will take your name, thereby giving the sponsors a lot of additional coverage when the sport is covered by the media. Your name is mentioned again and again throughout every stage. I suspect that no matter how much money I paid Real Madrid, I could not get them to change their name to Real Saxo Bank!
3. The sport is incredibly international, meaning that many smaller local events can be used to generate visibility around Saxo Bank. Also, we have about 15 different nationalities among our 29 riders, who often participate in up to three races simultaneously. Some of the bigger riders are famous around the world, but even the lesser-known names are often heroes with significant goodwill in their home countries.
4. Apart from the mass-market branding from TV, we have many chances to offer very special opportunities to those of our clients who follow the sport. This includes invitations to the bigger hospitality events at the races, but also individual experiences that sees one lucky VIP client ride in the sports director's car in the middle of all the action. This is a little like standing in the middle of the field at a Champions League final. And trust me: travelling up a mountain with 500,000 to 1 million fans going wild on the side of the road is an experience you will never forget, even if you are not a big cycling fan.
5. Cycling is the new golf in a number of financial industry circles. Many hedge fund managers, brokers, liquidity providers and, of course, clients have taken cycling to a completely new and higher level in recent years. It is clean, healthy and easy to find time for as you can fit it into your daily life much easier than booking a time and travelling to the tennis court or golf club. There is also lots of nice gear and gadgets you can buy at a reasonable price - boys will be boys, of course, but there's a lot of girls involved in the sport, too, these days.
So there are many good commercial reasons to be a cycling sponsor. For me, however, it was also important that the sport and its values also corresponded to trading and business. There are many parallels between being a trader and being a cyclist. Discipline and persistence are paramount character traits. In both situations, some days will be great and sunny, but other days you feel as though you are riding up the Alpe d'Huez in pouring rain and the wind in your face. It is when life gets difficult that you have to show your true character, whether you are a cyclist or a trader. Hang in there, don't panic and do the right things.
Internally in a business, it is very important to offer employees something to enjoy and support together. The pride and agony we feel for our cycling team at Saxo Bank when things go well or not is an important glue for our internal culture. Many of my colleagues are keen cyclists, love to wear the Saxo-Tinkoff gear with pride and participate in employee events with some of the team's riders. In my view, this internal effect is almost as important as the external exposure.
So Saxo Bank is looking forward to continuing our sponsorship with the team in 2014. This is a decision we make annually in order to be prudent about not entering very long-term liabilities, but we have, nevertheless, renewed every year.
Our co-sponsor for the past two Tours, Tinkoff Bank, will be starting its own cycling team next season. I am disappointed to say goodbye to a good partner, but wish Oleg Tinkov all the best with his new venture.
That means the team will be working on the existing pipeline of sponsor options in the coming months. But if anyone reads this and has an interest in the unique exposure cycling can give your company at a very competitive price, don't hesitate to get in touch.
But how did we do in this year's Tour?
Not too bad, although we did hope to have a stronger tilt at the overall individual victory, the yellow jersey.
But this year, we had to be content with two riders in the Top 5 (Alberto Contador in fourth position and the sensational Roman Kreuziger in fifth), as well as winning the team competition. Only if you have our very high ambitions could you even be remotely disappointed with those results.
Nevertheless, we will return to the Tour de France 2014 with our usual goal: to win the individual competition just as we did in 2008 and 2010. See you there!