Taylor Phinney, Tour of Utah 2015

Race sponsors – where marketing intersects with cycling

Cover:c Taylor Phinney, Tour of Utah 2015
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull

You see their logos on banners, barricades and race vehicles. Stages are named after them. They present gifts to the riders on podiums. Their logos are on the stage winners’ jerseys.

They are cycling race sponsors – the businesses that make pro cycling races possible.

Cadel Evans, Tour of Utah 2015 Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Where marketing intersects with cycling

Marketing at cycling races is as old as cycling races themselves.

The first Tour de France in 1903 was conceived by Géo Lefèvre of the newspaper L’Auto (predecessor of today’s L’Équipe) to increase circulation after sales stagnated to which they attributed to their longtime competitor Le Vélo.

Cycling races had previously been used to promote newspaper sales but no one had tried such a long distance race. The first Tour de France started on the 1st of July in 1903 in the village of Montgeron and, as they say, the rest is history. Along the way, it’s gotten a bit more commercial. One of the most popular aspects of the current day Tour de France is the publicity tour that precedes the race each day, arriving an hour before the riders to the delight of the fans as they scramble to collect the hats, food, product samples and trinkets tossed from the parade.

A cycling race is a big – and yes, commercial – event. Bringing the event to fruition is a huge undertaking with thousands of people and months of work involved. It is not a cheap endeavor.

Enter the sponsors.

Just like publishing or television, sponsors are required to bring content to market. In this case, it just happens that the content is the race.

Tour de France 2015 Publicity Caravan Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

And, while some sponsors are happy with a logo on a barricade, others are a bit more inventive. Such was the case with Malouf, a creative company headquartered in Logan, Utah, the host city for the start of the 2015 Tour of Utah.

Sweet dreams for the Tour of Utah 2015 riders

When Jake Neeley of Malouf heard the riders at the Tour of Utah would be staying in the dorms at Utah State University, he saw an opportunity to improve the spot where these pro cyclists placed their heads during the race.

Malouf, a maker of high-quality pillows and sleep products, gave each rider of the 2015 Tour of Utah a pillow of their choice during the team presentation ceremonies prior to the race. The riders had fun with the project and seemed to thoroughly enjoy the selection process.

Jeff Louder, Brent Bookwalter, BMC Racing Team, Tour of Utah 2015 Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With a professional bike race in our back yard and a good number of employees who race locally, our interest in sponsoring the Tour of Utah came quite easily. That interest went beyond just getting our logo printed on a banner or having our name mentioned during race events; we wanted to make a more personal impact. As a creator of high-end pillows, we knew we could promote better recovery by giving each rider a pillow to use during the race and after.

As each team left the stage, I loved seeing the excitement of the riders when they learned we were giving them a pillow! We gave away over 200 pillows, but dozens of pillow filled selfies was all worth it.

If this is the fastest Tour of Utah to date, we might just have to take some credit.”

Jake Neeley
Marketing Communications Manager, Malouf

BMC Racing Team, Tour of Utah 2015 Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media