Britain’s summer of opportunity: Royal Ascot and the Women’s Tour of Britain

Royal Ascot | Repucom

With the UK domestic football season finally over, the next few weeks offers the golden, once-a-year, opportunity for other sports to briefly dominate Britain’s sporting consciousness. The conclusion of the Premier League means that, save for the inevitable transfer stories and pre-season friendly games, the likes of tennis, golf, horse racing, cycling and cricket – and the brands that sponsor each of them – should get their moment in the spotlight before the football juggernaut begins again in August.

Wimbledon is two weeks away, while next month sees The Open golf championship, British Grand Prix and the start of the Ashes. This week, however, Britain’s summer of sport has begun in earnest, with the pre-Wimbledon Aegon Championships grass-court tournament at London’s Queen’s Club, the Women’s Tour of Britain cycling race and Royal Ascot.

Ascot helps to ride the summer out

Royal Ascot is Britain’s most popular race meeting and the country’s third-largest spectator sports event, behind only Wimbledon and Silverstone’s Formula One race – around 330,000 spectators attend each year, while 4.3 million watched last year’s meeting on Channel 4.

As much a social and royal occasion – Queen Elizabeth II has visited every year of her reign – as a sporting event, this week’s five day meeting includes over 30 flat races and has long since established itself as one of racing’s most prestigious fixtures.

Repucom data shows nearly one in five Britons currently consider themselves to be fans of horse racing. 61 per cent of those fans are male, against 39 per cent female. Some 17 per cent are in the 16-24 age bracket, with nearly 34 per cent aged between 25 and 34.

“Horse racing benefits from extensive free-to-air television coverage in the UK, courtesy of Channel 4’s exclusive deal,” points out Jon Stainer, Managing Director of Repucom UK and Ireland.

“Horse racing fans and sponsors are also benefiting from extensive year-round coverage, but Royal Ascot occupies a particularly special place in the calendar. It sits both alongside other high-end British sporting staples like Wimbledon and other highlights of the summer social season like the Henley Royal Regatta. That’s why it tends to attracts brands of the ilk of Longines, Bollinger and Stella Artois.”

Qatar Investment & Projects Development Holding Company (QIPCO) last week extended its sizeable support of British horse racing, agreeing an extension to its title sponsorship deal for the British Champions Series and Ascot Racecourse until 2024. The Ascot element was an early renewal of a deal originally struck as recently as January this year.

Excitement on wheels

This week’s Aviva Women’s Tour of Britain, meanwhile, represents an opportunity for another sport vying for the summer limelight, cycling, to underline its recent UK growth.

Last year’s Tour de France Grand Depart in Yorkshire was a remarkable success, attracting huge crowds and spawning this May’s Tour de Yorkshire legacy event, while the SweetSpot Group-organised Tour of Britain and this week’s Women’s Tour are now established events on the annual cycling calendar, alongside the likes of Ride London, which combines includes elite and mass participation events in the capital. UK insurer Aviva signed up as title sponsor for the Women’s Tour, which takes place for the second time this year, and September’s Tour of Britain in April.

Underlining cycling’s rising prominence in the UK, Sir Bradley Wiggins attracted a capacity crowd to London’s Olympic velodrome earlier this month as he smashed the UCI Hour Record, generating significant media coverage in the process. Next month, Team Sky’s Chris Froome begins this year’s Tour de France aiming to regain the maillot jaune he won in 2013.

“Cycling’s growth in Britain has been well-reported,” Stainer says, “but we are now seeing events establish themselves on the calendar in the UK and working hard to deliver increased value to partners.”

Cycling´s UK audience types

Repucom’s Sponsorlink research has identified three primary types of cycling audience in the UK. Nearly four million participate in cycling and follow professional road cycling; over 3.5 million cycle but don’t follow professional road cycling; while well over eight million follow road cycling but don’t participate in cycling themselves. Repucom research shows that although all three groups have an affinity with cycling, there are significant differences in the way they engage and consume the sport.

“Identifying the differences in cycling audiences, as we have, is another step in the sport’s road to commercial maturity,” Stainer suggests.

“The ability for sponsors to increasingly be able to target specific segments of the market – and event owners able to do the same as they create commercial structures around these new events – will be a valuable tool as the sport continues to expand in popularity. This summer’s events will provide another intriguing case study.”