300 sponsors approached, no takers to back landmark stage race

The third stage of next year’s Women’s Tour will start in Felixstowe, organiser SweetSpot has announced. That completes the schedule for the five-day, new-for-2014 event, which aims to be a landmark event on the women’s calendar.

The full schedule for the women’s Tour therefore looks like this:

Stage 1, May 7: Oundle to Northampton
Stage 2, May 8: Hinckley to Bedford
Stage 3, May 9: Felixstowe to Clacton
Stage 4, May 10: Cheshunt to Welwyn Garden City
Stage 5, May 11: Harwich to Bury St Edmunds

"This is great news for Felixstowe. A lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes to attract this prestigious event to the area. Hopefully it will prove to be a massive boost, not only to Felixstowe but the entire District,” said Cllr TJ Haworth, Suffolk Coastal District Council's cabinet member for Customers, Communities and Leisure.

Title sponsor search

However, with its stage listing complete, the Women’s Tour has been unable to find a major sponsor. According to the Independent, organiser SweetSpot has approached 300 leading companies, and while a handful are still considering most have declined to be involved.

Despite all the approached companies having equal opportunities policies, responses reported by organisers have included: "We don't believe anyone is interested in women's sport", "we focus our sports investment on men", and "we don't believe there's a market." The most common was  that the event was "not quite right" for the company.

Organisers SweetSport have been “surprised” at how hard it has been to secure corporate support for the race, in the light of the viewing success of the 2012 Olympic women’s road race and the attention paid to female track cyclists such as Victoria Pendleton.

The race will be shown on ITV4; television exposure has traditionally been the golden ticket for a corporate sponsorship.

Ruth Holdaway, chief executive of the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation, said: "It's a shame that commercial sponsors haven't woken up to the opportunity to support women's cycling, which would allow them to reach the many sports fans that will tune in to watch the world's best female riders compete.

"After the success of the Olympics it would be a massive lost opportunity if women's cycling isn't given the focus and investment it needs to develop even further."

Funding has so far come from local councils that will host stages of the race. They have kicked in £500,000, and organisers hope to raise the same again from a range of smaller sponsors even if they cannot find a title sponsor.

The lack of corporate sponsor enthusiasm is in stark contrast to the reaction among women’s teams. The race has pledged to treat and reward riders as well as an elite men’s event, with good hotels and a £50,000 prize pool. It’s hardly surprising that it’s over-subscribed with applications from teams more used to hostel-quality digs even at top races.

SweetSpot director Guy Elliott said: "We've been overwhelmed by the support and immediate buy-in from councils and broadcasters, but when it comes to finding sponsors we have found we are hitting a glass ceiling. It has surprised us how much more difficult it has been to find corporate sponsors – and that comes from a position of having been highly successful in attracting sponsorship from a wide variety of sources for men's professional cycling over the last ten years.

"Almost every potential sponsor we speak to says they love the concept of the event, they believe in the wider social agenda and 'it is the right thing' to do – yet getting them to cross the threshold from sponsoring just men's sporting events has proved both tough and disappointing.

"A few have also come out with 'stereotypical' adverse comments, but they are generally in the minority."

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.