Armstrong Helps Versus Put Pedal Down on Integrations

The prospect of seeing Lance Armstrong make his final run at an 8th Tour de France victory has cycling enthusiasts turning to Versus in droves––and advertising dollars have followed suit.
Through the first four days of the three-week event, the Comcast-owned network’s morning coverage is averaging 484,000 viewers, up 16 percent from the comparable period a year ago. Thus far, the deliveries have been remarkably consistent, as the 8.9 km prologue stage was seen by 463,000 viewers Saturday afternoon, while 430,000 fans tuned in on Independence Day to watch the 223.5 km stage 1 trial.
Cumulatively, Versus has delivered 1.16 million viewers in its first four days of live coverage, a five percent increase from last year’s 1.1 million.
While riders won’t reach the Champs-Elysees until July 25, early indicators suggest that demand from advertisers will outstrip last year’s haul. Comcast does not disclose its ad sales figures for the Tour, but Kantar Media, estimates that the 2009 race brought Versus some $9.5 million in sponsor dollars.
While heavy hitters like Nissan, General Motors and Anheuser-Busch InBev have bought up time in the 2010 Tour, this year marks the first time the Versus ad sales team has offered clients integrated on-air opportunities, a new wrinkle that has sparked a great deal of enthusiasm among the endemics.
According to Steve Margosian, senior vp, marketing solutions & sports sales for Comcast Sports Sales, racing bike manufacturers Trek, Specialized and Cervelo have signed on for integrations in this year’s race. All three brands will be featured in specially produced product showcases, in which a Versus correspondent and a company representative will demonstrate features like wheel design and suspension.
“We literally throw to a pre-produced showcase created by our people in France,” Margosian said, adding that the segments will run between 30 and 60 seconds. “These three are the biggest bike manufacturers that we have always done business with, and as you watch over the course of the 20 stages, each client will get approximately two opportunities to demonstrate their wares.”
The trio of bike manufacturers have also invested in standard 30-second spots.

Versus has also expanded its endemic base to present opportunities for purveyors of cycling accessories. These include saddle manufacturer Fizik, Easton Wheels, water bottle designer Clean Bottles, the Camelbak hydration system and Headsweats, the maker of the official Tour headgear.
Unlike the three bike brands, the aforementioned accessories clients have negotiated non-unit deals.
Versus is retaining inventory for its clients that enjoy most favored-nation status, and if Armstrong makes a serious run for his final title, the lat few stages will be particularly attractive to viewers an advertisers alike. “At this point in the Tour, it’s fair to say we’re pacing strong,” Margosian said. “We think we  have a real shot of doubling the revenue we brought in last year.”
Per Nielsen distribution estimates for June 2010, Versus is available in 73.9 million households, down 2 percent from 75.3 million in the prior-year period.