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Tour stories – what’s new for the Tour de France?

SGLP’s Simon Gresswell takes a look at this year’s Tour de France and why it is ripe for brand extension opportunities in a number of areas.

The Tour de France will be different this year… well it is every year, but with more of the same drama, more of the same blood, sweat and tears… more of the same emotions, challenges, incidents, accidents and protests… and that’s just among the teams.

And while the elite riders remain fiercely competitive, they also have an unbreakable bond as athletes, cemented by experiencing the same levels of extreme physical and mental pain, over 21 almost back to back daily stages.

It’s an endurance challenge, with ever-changing routes, environments and conditions, with tangible and intangible rewards along the way, unexpected events, good and bad surprises and worthy competitors and adversaries, right the way through. It is real-time, recurring and unique moments… sounds like a game, with every revolution of the peloton’s wheels.

So how will this year be different?

The drama and the pain will be there for sure, but the theatrical stage for this year will have a more than its usual touch of ‘tricolore’ and its final act will be played out on the Cote d’Azur with a backdrop of the Mediterranean, as the 2024 Tour de France not only starts in Florence, a breath-takingly beautiful city in the heart of another country that’s in love with cycling and ‘2 wheels over 4’ in general, but it finishes in Nice – the first time the race has finished outside of the Paris region in its entire 121-year history.

TDF1Yes, the Tour, the most iconic, unique and precious of France’s sporting assets, will ‘ceder le passage’ to the Paris Olympics, and therefore the ‘flamme rouge’, the famous sprint-finishing straight up the Champs Elysees, will be re-ignited on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. And while much of France will be ‘bleu, blanc, rouge’ for all kinds of other sporting endeavours, the Tour’s route, the leader and the winner of the 110th Tour de France, will remain resolutely yellow and black, with accents of green, white and red polka dots.

Like many annual sporting events, the brand’s challenges for licensing, merchandising and retail are clear. It’s only three weeks every year, in the early summer/holiday season, it moves around daily and nightly and as part of its sporting tradition, they give away between 12-15 million products (sponsors’ branded freebies), across the entire route, from the magnificent mobile party-cum-premiums purveyor that is ‘la caravane publicitaire’.

In terms of merchandising on the ground and online, the ASO invests in bespoke solutions, smartly running multiple micro-term, temporary stores in fan villages and selling as D2C as possible, via mobile van sales all along the route, as a custom fit for their retail needs.

Fanatics continues as the online partner and gradually ups the ante every year, with bestsellers returning, new lines and designs getting braver and funkier, as wider international interest, purchase and reach grows YOY.

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The superlatives, facts and stats about the Tour’s burgeoning global reach, growing fanbase and fantasy club, amazing locations, stages and track record of winners and record-breakers are all true – the Tour remains the most-watched, annual sporting event in the world.

From a professional perspective and a wider licensing and brand extension potential, it’s also clear that the spectacle, the challenges, the riders, their endeavour, their grit, their heart, their misfortunes and their unfathomable stamina, remain engaging, mythical and magnetic to the 12m fans who line the route and the 150m+ TV viewers in Europe alone and the 1.25bn+ social interactions the Tour generates. Plus, now also the audience for Netflix’s Unchained, returning for its second season today (11 June).

So, the brand demands a strategically selective approach to further commercialise in relevant and innovative ways, in wider markets. This is an annual sporting event, with the added challenge, of an itinerant itinerary, that in truth, most non-specialty retailers would likely not commit to, wrt sell-through and inventory risk.

All of this was always and continues to be well-understood here at SGLP HQ. But firstly, at this point, I offer my ongoing gratitude to Poetic Brands and Danilo for their strong, early and continued commitment to support and market the brand and its fantastic emotions, artwork and imagery, through relevant categories for core cycling and sports fans. And to the two x DTC companies, that unfortunately were not quite the right fit for the brand’s strategy, at the respective times it piqued both their interests.

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And what is also understood here, is that while like many sports, the endemic categories prove the strongest, especially in technical equipment-based sports, the essence, experience and the ‘esprit de corps’ of the Tour, continue to capture the collective imagination of cycling fans, sports fans and endurance competition fans.

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The Tour is a sports event brand not necessarily applicable to all traditional licensed product categories or general retail internationally. It excites incomparable numbers of fans in the host markets (for the start city and France) on an annual basis and event merch, plus home-made TdF homage articles, abound. It offers opportunities for occasional and promotional windows/gifting, for example around Father’s Day, which falls conveniently close to Le Grand Depart every year – a fact taken advantage of by fast fashion partner, JULES, in France for the last four years.

So the challenges are clear, but what about the opportunities?

The brand has long since taken opportunities in the gaming world and the virtual space, enhanced and accelerated by virtual versions of the race itself in 2021, driven by a technical-turned-commercial relationship with Zwift, which blossomed into a long-term, title sponsorship deal of the now fully-established, Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift. It has immersed itself in the worlds of NFTs, fantasy and collectables, complemented by a robust array of sports performance, branded partners.

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Yet other, more endemic, brand extension opportunities exist and are under negotiation. LBE is hurtling around the globe, hitting on the most inclusive, participative, thrilling and endless-permutation sports, games and activities, with multiple generations now seeking enhanced sensory and physical leisure experiences, over passive product purchase.

Discussions in this space are several stages ‘up the road’ – no surprise… is there a more appropriate sporting event for future competitive socialisation? With its iconic branding, name resonance, unmistakable ID and colours, crazed and sometimes crazy fans from multiple nations, four prize jerseys to compete for, win and buy, its multiple formats of sprint, time trial and hill climb stages, its changing conditions of blazing sun to lashing wind and rain and a mind-boggling combination of surfaces and roadways to negotiate, all topped off with magnificent backdrops and dioramas of mountains, vineyards and sunflowers. Plus the ongoing general classification (GC), all leading ultimately, to one big winner and all on screens or in a multi-sensory experience like no other?

Well, this is perhaps the fully-evolved future of LBE, where more time, more immersion and more sweat becomes part of the experience, or ongoing series of experiences, be that at a dedicated destination, or as an experiential spin class or themed-environment, in the many forms these now exist on land, sea and in the air. More on this space soon… but it all feels as translatable as ‘Vive Le Tour’ does.

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But what else is different in 2024?

Netflix series Unchained season two drops on 11 June, eagerly anticipated, with key characters/ ‘actors’ and archetypal good guys and bad guys now established for the audience.

Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift is now in its third year and like so many women’s events, is growing exponentially in terms of audience, followers, reach and commercial support, thanks to the innovation, bravery and determination of Zwift and the ASO, to champion equality.

There will be a gravel stage – as if there isn’t enough controversy and jeopardy in and around a peloton, or on the fearsome climbs and frightening descents the Tour is so renowned for, this could make or break someone’s challenge

The Tour de France 2025 will have its Grand Depart in Lille, so TdF fever comes even closer to the UK again next year.

The Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, will break the stage wins record (that’s my firm hope, but don’t put your house on it) as this is a man so respected in the world of the Tour, that after being injured out of last year’s race, he received by far the biggest ovation at the global launch event for the 2024 route in Paris last October… and I mean by far. And his middle name is Simon, so say no more…

So, if you’re seriously interested in working with the Tour de France, in a relevant, innovative and deliverable way, we may still be able to get you in a lead car, ahead of the peloton, on a stage in this year’s race… so think creatively and big.

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