Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Oh, the irony

So it looks to like the organizers of the Amgen Tour of California, AEG, have reached a promotional agreement with Amaury Sports Organization, the organizers of the Tour de France (as well as Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Paris-Nice), wherein the two organizations will work together to promote one another's events. Separately, but of no less significance, Amgen has agreed to a three-year extension as title sponsor of the Amgen Tour of California.

Now I don't know about you, but does it strike anyone else as odd that Amgen, maker of Epogen and Aranesp, two leading brands of synthetic EPO, would be sponsoring a bike race? I mean really, what does Amgen stand to benefit from having their name plastered all over the event other than reminding the riders of what could make the difference between winning and getting dropped? I could see a brand like Coca-Cola, Nike, Gatorade, or even Verizon or Motorola as a sponsor here, but Amgen doesn't even sell consumer products, so what good is it to build brand recognition at a large, public event like the Tour of California?

Realistically, the target market for Amgen's products is physicians. After all, you're not supposed to be able to get Aranesp or any of Amgen's other products without a prescription. Except in Switzerland. Are there really that many physicians following the Tour of California that it's a good investment for Amgen to be the title sponsor? If there are that many docs watching, why isn't Serotta also a sponsor? How many non-cyclists do you know who actually watch bike races on TV or follow coverage on Velo News or similar? That's what I thought--you can't think of any. So the exposure a company gets from sponsoring a race is pretty much limited to the spectators whose town the race passes through and the cyclists following the event in the media. Amgen's sponsorship means one or more of three things is true: their marketing team is extraordinarily stupid (quite possible); way more oncologists and other physicians are following domestic cycling than I thought (probably not); or Amgen is unabashedly promoting its doping products to one of their target markets (you do the math).

Here's the thing--if ASO is so concerned about their image that they won't let Levi ride, or, more significantly, won't let Contador defend his title, why on earth are they climbing into bed with the manufacturer of doping products? This year's team Astana has almost nothing to do with last year's doping scandal-ridden team Astana other than the name. It makes no sense to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm no lover of Johan Bruyneel and whatever team he happens to be directing this year. But for ASO to be all self-righteous about who they will and won't let ride in Le Tour while gladly inking a sister-race deal with an event named for an EPO manufacturer smells kind of fishy to me.