Lance Armstrong’s shadow falls on a small French sponsorship deal

Earlier today saw a small press release from Tour de France organisers ASO that French clothing company Le Coq Sportif is to provide the leaders jerseys in all ASO races from 2012 onwards, meaning the yellow jersey will no longer be provided by Nike.

Nike poster
It's about the Nike

I put the news of this deal out on Twitter as it’s interesting (to me at least) for several reasons:

  • Sportswear giant Nike have had an on/off relationship with cycling, producing some clothing. It seems they are going off the sport right now.
  • Le Coq Sportif is a traditional French name that has provided cycling jerseys in the past from the 1950s right up until the mid-1980s.
  • We’re seeing a big global name retreat – we’ve also seen Adidas quit – whilst a smaller brand appears.
  • Le Coq Sportif is also a fashionable and retro brand, distinct from the more functional take employed by Nike. We might well see the yellow jersey in 2012 with a more interesting designed.
  • Lance Armstrong and Nike have been linked for years.

It’s this last point that saw several twitter correspondents ask if the deal is related to Lance Armstrong’s media downfall, whether Nike is trying to retreat from the sport because of the bad news linked to Armstrong. Well nobody knows but bear in mind that sponsoring the yellow jersey has very few associations with Armstrong. Like I say, Nike has dipped in and out of the sport. When Adidas left the sport, few asked if Jan Ullrich was to blame.

It’s curious that many people seem to be talking about this point rather than looking at the story of a French company rebranding itself, supporting the Tour de France and trying to use cycling in a positive way to look cool. In other words, ASO signing a sponsorship deal gets viewed through a lense that’s still focussed on a retired rider. It is proving very difficult to escape from Armstrong’s shadow.

Indeed the better story is probably much more to do with Le Coq Sportif’s arrival than the end of the Nike deal. The French business has been slowly building up to the announcement today, they have already launched a range of “World Champion” clothing inspired by cycling’s rainbow jersey. Plus the company has a big pedigree in the sport already, having sponsored teams and races in the past, including its first entry into the sport when it provided jerseys for 10 teams in the 1951 Tour de France. It’s also worth noting the business got bought up by Robert-Louis Dreyfuss in 2005, the Franco-Swiss entrepreneur who bought Adidas and helped it overtake Reebok in the 1990s.


A deal between a French race organiser and French clothing company attracts more scrutiny thanks to the deal it replaces, perhaps for obvious reasons but it’s as if many moves in the sport today struggle to escape You-Know-Who. But Le Coq Sportif was sponsoring cycling before Nike started. Here’s hoping the leaders jerseys look good in 2012.

19 thoughts on “Lance Armstrong’s shadow falls on a small French sponsorship deal”

  1. Nice post.. I agree, the story is far more interesting to see what being back in the TDF will do for an iconic brand like LCS rather than focussing on the Nike / Lance angle. No doubt they will come out with some great looking jerseys.

    A side note.. LCS made a brief (and short lived) return to Premier League football with Man City several years ago, didn’t quite work out for them but I think the UK brand may be a separate entity to the French company. Hoping this works out better for them.

  2. I was so proud to wear my Le Coq high tops to school in the 80’s when everyone was in their Dr Martens. They just about stretched my toe strap to the limit racing the school bus home. It’s cool to be uncool now. Ah those were the days, Le Coq Rocks!

  3. ASO the owners of the Tour de France, have many opportunities to ‘promote French’ brands.
    In the 80’s ASO embraced a marketing strategy that effectively priced the self same brands out of the market.
    The globalisation of professional cycling, with some huge US corporations being attracted to the sport (teams, bicycles, clothing) ensured that ASO noticed & as a commercial organisation, capitalised on the US marketing dollars, that were on offer.
    Now, that the demise of LA’s career, with perhaps the ensuing fallout/backlash from negative image, or simply guilt by tarnished association, proving a risk too far for Nike, or that without such a dominant US personality no longer in the sport, they could spend the dollars more effectively elsewhere Olympics next year.
    Evian – another iconic French brand with Tour de France history was similarly discarded by ASO
    for more successful commercial rivals.
    Incidentally, Evian spelt backwards is Naive, something ASO is not.

  4. Don’t forget about the impact the skinsuit has on the time trials. If the Le Coq Sportif’s skinsuit is of poor quality, it can put the leader at a disadvantage. Skinsuits make a difference, as proven in the wind tunnel.

  5. adidas are back in the sport on the Team Sky and Team GB kit deals (even if it’s rebadged/licenced kit again – I’ve spotted Nalini and Descente stuff badged up as adidas) but their big sporting fish is the Olympics deals. I did hear a rumour that they were planning a bigger comeback into the market. That’s beyond the Stella MacCartney for adidas stuff and the occasional more casual cycling item that pops up in their range.

    And Nike might not necessarily be out of the sport entirely next year. In fact, there could be a point when both men’s and women’s reigning Olympic and World Champions: both Mark Cavendish and Nicole Cooke are Nike athletes. They’ve also seemingly been moving their focus towards the 6.0 stuff round BMX, eg their recent The Pool campaign, so maybe they’re looking for a more urban/vibrant hook. Then again, if they keep Cavendish, what more do they need?

  6. mrg: yes, that’s Twitter’s only sports sponsorship deal so far. Armstrong has a financial investment in Twitter by the way.

    Rider Council: I expect Power Bar to remain, it belongs to Nestlé as does mineral water brand and massive Tour sponsor Vittel.

    Alex Murray: good point with Sky but I thought that was because of the GB set up for the Olympics, not a real motivation to crack the cycling market. Both Nike and Adidas have tried, under licence, but it’s a niche that’s maybe not suited to their big ambitions / budgets.

  7. Stay tuned. Both Adidas and Nike have strong Oregon presences, and I don’t think the former is in Portland just to poach talent from the latter.

  8. Good news re Le Coq Sportif taking over Le Tour jerseys. Let’s hope that they stay true to their cycling heritage and provide something which befits such an event as the TDF. Too many years now, the leader jerseys have been pretty basic, ill fitting, out sourced and pretty “bog standard” all areas. Know first hand of at least two Shack riders who have some of their kit “adapted” by a clothing company who I rate as true artisans.

  9. Nike needs to back away from Lance because frankly their record of sponsoring athletes who turned out to be dopers is horrific and I’ve never seen a mainstream media outlet (for very good commercial reasons) tackle it head on as an issue.

  10. Isn’t the more pertinent question why anyone would purchase a Nike or Adidas products in the first place. Their on-again and off-again commitment to the sport would only make me wonder whether they are truly committed to producing a top-notch product. Their lack of support for other cycling events / teams only further indicates that they are in it for brand recognition and the potential benefits to their other lines of clothing versus the a commitment to cycling itself.

    My assertion that Nike is leaving sponsorship for the TdF due to the Lance issue is because in the US, Lance still equals cycling for most of the US population. And for the reason above (i.e. – Nike was never in this sport to sell cycling specific gear, but was more hoping to attach to a specific athlete with the hope that fans and athletes in general associate Nike with athletic achievement and endeavors in only the most loose terms.
    Once the bloom was taken off the Lance Armstrong name, there really was no reason to be in cycling. And sadly, this is why the Le Coq Sportif sponsorship kind of sucks. They are going to product a sub-par jersey, and going to use their sponsorship to advertise a brand which has no real interest in developing high-quality cycling clothing and gear.

  11. Nike went into the cycling buisness for one reason. Lance. It was to keep building the Lance brand. The product was outsourced to Giordana and it was to make sure the swoosh was on the jersey. They sponsored the TDF jerseys for one reason as well. Lance. They knew he would be in the Yellow jersey and they wanted the swoosh on it. As soon as Lance retired, cycling was dropped from the Nike brand. Its not a big enough money maker and they don’t have the global athlete with a global story so it went to the wayside. I imagine ASO got them into a long-term contract. Nike is not equipped with the proper distribution for cycling and compared to running, football or sportswear, its is not even worth it. Cavendish will have shoes, but the UK Olympic team is Adi. Don’t expect Nike to come back to cycling anytime soon. They will continue to focus on the bigger sports with more revenue.

  12. Remember the innuendo behind Nike and Ronaldo’s withdrawl from the World Cup once? I thought there was some form in their being politically involved to support their athlete? The removal of the all-powerful Nike is surely a good thing, no inference that they may interfere in making sure their athlete doesn’t get busted, etc. There was always the suspicion that Lance was protected by the money he brought in.

    Nike has always backed the athlete, not the sport, which is different from many other brands. This worked best with Carl Lewis, but backfires massively when that athlete is Marion Jones. Serves them right if they don’t care about the sport anyway. Good riddance.

    To suggest Le Coq jerseys are going to be inferior is rubbish, and is just a “US is best” massive bias. You do know that people make pretty decent clothes and sports gear outside of the US don’t you? No evidence whatsoever that the jersey or skinsuit would be sub par…

    As many cyclists in the UK, US, Australia, etc. are ‘Euro snobs’ anyway, the Le Coq brand will probably work a lot better than the Nike one did. This may be a massive boost for the Coq in those countries, where the old school cool of the little rooster logo remains but the products haven’t been available.

    On the flip side, when someone wants to buy a Le Tour jersey they don’t have any choice in which brand they want – they’re all by the one sponsor.

  13. adidas left the sport? You couldn’t get more blanket coverage than their involvement in the GB and SKY set-ups. They have an enormous shoes and clothing range and always have done. Nike will continue to be involved as they have Cavendish contracted – the only road cyclist the British main stream press are interested in reporting. le coq sportif have the history, they made the first yellow jersey, but they make no real cycling product beyond these PR pieces. Unless they collaborate with someone who knows what they’re doing then forget about anything happening. It’s as relevant as Skoda providing the cars. It’s an exercise in brand association in their home market of France where Le Tour has a cultural impact beyond the actual riding. Cheaper than double page ads in l’Equipe every day of the summer. The diminishing impact and coverage of Le Tour is why Nike are out and a tiny brand like le coq sportif are able to afford this deal. The event will not even be on terrestrial TV in Europe’s biggest market Germany next year. It just got too dirty and a wider public don’t care anymore. You don’t even know for sure if the winner in Paris will be stripped of the title days or weeks later. It makes for a nice evening viewing, but the innuendo and question marks have killed it. ASO also have a long running dislike of Nike and the associated Lance circus, so they would have been keen to take a price drop in the deal in an effort to symbolise a return to the purer, Frencher values of old that le coq are tied to. Or was that an era where it was just nicely ignored? Maybe now the off-road exploits of Danny Hart destroying the field down a vertical mountain river are more inspiring to more people. An incredible spectacle aligned only to astounding bike riding ability, with no tainted beef, excuses or leaked claims in sight.

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