SBJ/Aug. 25-31, 2014/Events and Attractions

Cycling tour sponsors find activation points in social media, postrace festivals

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge for the fourth straight year featured a live television broadcast and a million or so spectators spread across its seven days — all of which create a host of activation challenges for the race’s partners.

The bicycle race, held Aug. 18-24 in Colorado, featured a Tour de France-caliber field of pro teams, and while race organizers provide activation zones at each stage’s start and finish, the majority of spectators are spread across the 100-mile-long courses. The live broadcast airs primarily during business hours, so many hard-core fans tune in via the webcast, called Tour Tracker.

Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, is presented by cycling itself, which can be confusing for casual American audiences.

With that in mind, Shawn Hunter, the race’s CEO, said his marketing team works with partners to create strategies for each brand.

“We work with them year-round to figure out how they can be big on-site and big on television,” Hunter said. “We

Start/finish zones and postrace festivals gave sponsors such as Lexus and Smashburger flexibility for activation opportunities.
Photo by: FRED DREIER

push each other each year to see how we can get better.”

Second-year sponsor FirstBank stood out this year by rolling out a social media strategy to engage serious cycling fans. The bank partnered with cycling media strategist Jasen Thorpe, who took over FirstBank’s Twitter and Facebook pages to discuss race strategy and rider histories, and conduct interviews with cycling personalities. Thorpe also organized a “super fan” contest that awarded a signed jersey to the race’s best fan.

James Reuter, executive vice president at FirstBank, praised the activation as a “natural fit” for cycling fans.

“Social media is the best news outlet for cycling fans because coverage of international races can be hard to find,” Reuter said. “That is where the conversation is taking place.”

Along the course, brewer Sierra Nevada hosted a series of viewing parties at partner bars and restaurants, while Smashburger promoted the race in its restaurants. FirstBank also held viewing parties in downtown Denver for fans.

At each stage’s postrace activation festival, brands sampled products and promoted healthy lifestyle themes. Smashburger filled its booth with backyard-style games, such as Whac-A-Mole and cornhole. New partner Lexus operated a bicycle valet for fans who rode to the event, and displayed its new RC F sports coupe at a tent. Candy company Jelly Belly sampled its Sports Beans products. Colorado State University raffled off a bicycle. Sierra Nevada supported three pouring stations and asked fans to vote for their favorite beer.

Brands also showcased TV spots on the NBC Sports broadcast and the Tour Tracker, but unlike previous years, the race was unable to sell a presenting sponsorship for the webcast, which previously was owned by RadioShack.

Hunter said he fielded a handful of small offers for the Tour Tracker deal, but he decided to keep the low-six-figure property open.

“It’s a special piece of inventory,” he said. “We want to wait for the right partner.”

Fred Dreier is a writer in Colorado.

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