Cycling is not just a sport; it’s a strategy for Sky. As the professionals tussle for the yellow jersey in the current Tour de France competition, the media company is hoping its association with the sport will earn it a podium position in the minds of its customers and employees alike.
Sky is attempting to thread cycling through every part of the business, from marketing through to sustainability. It is trying to own the sport, from the professional side to a gentle Sunday morning family cycle. The strapline “inspiration to participation” is being used to demonstrate its commitment to the professional and amateur side of cycling.
Robert Tansey, chair of the Sky pro cycling board and brand marketing director of BSkyB, explains: “We ran a big analysis of pretty much every sport across the UK on things such as ease of access, environmental friendliness and likely British success. Cycling was the only one that ticked all of the boxes.”
The deal was signed and sealed before the British cycling success at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, with Tansey suggesting Sky got a good deal by getting in early and spotting the potential.
BSkyB has reportedly invested £30m into the sponsorship of Team Sky, which started competing professionally this year. The creation of a professional team in partnership with British Cycling is a deliberate move to get the country behind the Sky brand.
“Team Sky is there to create this epic story – a great sporting achievement that Britain hasn’t achieved yet,” explains Tansey.
While Sky is involved with the sport for business reasons, Tansey claims the aim to get 1 million extra people cycling is more important than the professional goals. It organises Sky Ride events around the country, which enable thousands of cyclists to take a tour of a traffic-free city. This year there will be 11 of them, three of which are taking place in London, as well as other large cities such as Manchester and Birmingham.
Local rides are also organised throughout the year in an attempt to reach its target. Sky Ride’s local programme is a commitment to smaller, community rides, led by British Cycling ride leaders, encouraging people to get on their bikes more regularly.
Ben Harris, brand development director at branding and design agency Anthem Worldwide, believes the cycling association and the wider Bigger Picture remit will help give the brand credibility as it faces a price war. BT announced last week that its TV service, BT Vision, is to drop the price for watching English Premiership football matches. It is offering access to Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 for £16.99 a month, compared to Sky’s £26 monthly subscription charge.
Harris says of the strategy: “Creating out-of-home brand experiences and communities engaged in positive shared activities makes the Sky brand more tangible to the consumer.”
He adds: “It’s not enough these days to simply be a provider of entertainment, Sky has taken a step to build its brand in the physical world, giving something back and creating engagement and loyalty. With the news that BT is looking to undercut Sky dramatically on its sports offer, it seems this strategy is just in time.”
From inspiration to participation: how companies involve their staff and community in their brand
Coca-Cola has opened up education centres around the UK. The strategy enables the company to take local students on educational tours, with the aim being to teach them about the practical world of work. Qualified teachers are on hand at each centre to create lessons based around the curriculum.
Youth marketing agency In4merz also believes in the power of education. Founder Clare Hudson gives regular talks to schools about careers. She particularly focuses on marketing and hopes to set up an academy later this year where teenagers will be able to learn practical marketing and PR skills.
As well as an FA sponsorship deal with the England football team, Tesco has a grassroots football programme in conjunction with the organisation. Called FA Football Skills, the aim is to coach children in the skills of football. Staff are encouraged to volunteer at these training sessions, which take place across England. It is hoping to expand the programme across the UK.
Coffee chain Starbucks also encourages its staff to get involved in volunteer programmes. In 2008, the company announced a large programme in New Orleans to help rebuild the state following the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Starbucks staff helped on different projects, including building houses and planting trees.
Sky aims to get more of its staff cycling to work, cutting the company’s emissions and making staff healthier and happier. It runs cycle clubs during lunchtime for employees and also lends them bikes to enable them to decide if they wish to take up cycling on a more regular basis.
Employees are encouraged to take part in the local Sky Ride local programme, where small groups of people are taken out for a bike ride around the local area by a cycle leader. There is also a more challenging programme where employees can take part in the Étape de Tour, an event held by the organisers of the Tour de France, in which members of the public can race one of the most difficult stages included in the official race.
Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer has a commitment as part of its Plan A programme to encourage employees as well as customers to choose a healthier lifestyle. Trained healthy eating experts in its stores give advice to customers on their food choices while they do their shopping. An e-learning programme is in development which will help staff better understand healthy eating options.