The Women’s Tour 2014 – can anyone spare £500,000?

Following on the tidal wave of support for the men’s Tour of Britain in the last couple of years (sometimes literally, given the amount of rain), next year should see the first edition of the women’s equivalent – The Women’s Tour – which is planned to take place across the East Midlands, East Anglia and south-east England. Internet forums and the cycling media in general have been abuzz with excitement at this new edition to the sporting calendar, the UCI are fully behind it, local Council’s have done their bit when it comes to funding and organisation, ITV4 are covering the event…what could possibly go wrong?

Well, quite a lot by the sounds of it. It’s hard to believe, but as reported in the Independent newspaper recently the race is still without major sponsorship, which leaves it £500,000 short of funding and presumably in jeopardy. Can it really be the case that no major corporation considers this to be money well spent? For the armchair fan like me – certainly no expert in the business of sports sponsorship – it seems inconceivable that The Women’s Tour would not be marketable, but apparently that’s the case. Hard to believe…

…except that the backdrop to this is the fact that, according to the Independent, just 0.5% of sports sponsorship money in Britain goes to women’s sport, and it is estimated that men’s sport receives around 50 times more media coverage than women’s.

Victoria Pendleton  (Photo: johnthescone - Flickr)
Victoria Pendleton
(Photo: johnthescone – Flickr)

The Independent reports that of the 300 leading companies approached for support of The Women’s Tour, when declining the opportunity their responses included ‘we don’t believe anyone is interested in women’s sport’, ‘we focus our sports investment on men’, ‘we don’t believe there’s a market’, and that the event is ‘not quite right’ for the company. So, some brutally honest opinions, and some fudging the issue, but if a company who is known to support major sporting events is choosing not to support this one, there is almost certainly only one reason for that.

Corporations who invest huge sums of money in sport advertising don’t do it on a whim, or because they’re sports fans, or because they think it’s a great event; their people have crunched the numbers, and concluded that it doesn’t pay. Whatever reasons they give, their decision is likely to be a cold financial one

But at the same time, women’s cycling in the UK is currently cresting a wave of popularity and has never had such a high profile. In terms of star names and positive publicity the sport in the UK can boast the likes of multiple Olympic champion and household name Victoria Pendleton, former World and Olympic champion and outspoken anti-doping campaigner Nicole Cooke, 22 year old current World Sprint Champion and Sunday Times and Sky Sports Young Sportswoman of the Year Becky James, Olympic Road Race silver medallist at London 2012 Lizzie Armitstead, not to mention the likes of Laura Trott, Sarah Storey, Emma Pooley, Jo Roswell and the rest, who have all had their share of success and publicity on both track and road.

Lizzie Armitstead (Photo: Sum_of_Marc - Flickr)
Lizzie Armitstead
(Photo: Sum_of_Marc – Flickr)

With such raw talent and success to work with, the sport has seemingly been doing a great job of capitalising on this surge in popularity by getting The Women’s Tour (very nearly) off the ground for 2014. It would be a massive missed opportunity if the rise in popularity were to stall for lack of financial support.

Being an optimistic type I find it hard to believe that a sponsor or two won’t break cover over the months to come and stump up the cash required to get the show on the road. In fact, who knows, perhaps going public with their frustrations in the national media is part of the plan of the race organisers (SweetSpot) to flush out some interested parties?

It was encouraging to read a recent piece in the Guardian newspaper about a petition submitted by top British cyclist Emma Pooley and three others – and backed by UCI president Brian Cookson – campaigning for the re-reinstatement of a women’s Tour de France to run in parallel with the men’s event each year. Although the organisers of the Tour (ASO) have been non-committal on this, they have made a vaguely encouraging response in saying ‘nothing has been decided yet but when the time comes we will say what may or may not be possible’. Could this be a sign of a bit of positive momentum that potential sponsors of The Women’s Tour might latch onto?

Either way, all this is a stark reminder of how the business of sport is integral to the sporting contest itself, and that anything approaching sporting equality between men and women appears to be a million miles away.

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