Did success in the Tour de France lead to growth on social media? [spoiler: yes. But, if you're not a leading rider or team, can you still drive growth?]
“To create the first British winner of the Tour de France within five years”
That was Team Sky’s initial aim at the formation of the team in 2010. As of late afternoon on the Champs-Elysee last Sunday, it was mission accomplished once again: Chris Froome's win was the third for Team Sky within that five year period.
Yet after battling through allegations, unsavoury fans and gruelling mountain stages, one big question remains. What did this unprecedented success mean for Froome's social growth? And does on-track/ on-pitch performance always trump all other variables?
All the Tour De France social media data in this report was tracked in Scout, a Seven League analytics tool. If you're interested in having access to the system, which has been tracking close to 4,000 athletes, clubs, federations and sponsors across most of the sports you can think of, get in touch.
Having dominated from Stage 7, Froome's social growth gradient almost replicates that of the course itself.
The stand-out moments earned the Kenya-born athlete his greatest increases. His performance on the treacherous mountain climb of Stage 14 (+8,434), and eventual victory (+19,017) are the defining moments. Yet it was not only success that defined his social growth. The doping accusations on 19th July also saw Froome's following rise (+8,781) as the media spotlight glared upon him.
However; intriguingly, winning the yellow jersey did not make Froome the individual social champion.
The Social Yellow Jersey
The Tour was billed as the fight between the 'fab four'; Chris Froome of Sky, Nairo Quintana of Movistar, Alberto Contador of Tinkoff-Saxo and Vincenzo Nibali of Astana. From the off, Nibali and Contador fell behind the other two, leaving a shootout between Quintana and Froome.
In the race for the social yellow jersey, Froome was leading all the way until the final week. Thanks to a string of impressive rides in the mountains though - especially his effort on Alpe d’Huez on Stage 20 - Quintana won out on social media growth.
His Alpe d’Huez exertions led to a spike of over 34,000 new fans and followers, 20% of his total increase across the tour’s duration. In fact, Quintana nearly doubled his Facebook fans across the duration of the tour.
Meanwhile Contador, who finished fifth, grew just 3% throughout across all platforms.
Switching our attention to the teams, we find that Sky dominated. They added 78,749 followers to their Twitter and Facebook channels throughout Le Tour, a strong growth rate of 8% which tipped them over the one million follower mark. Their strongest channel was Twitter, gaining 37,486 followers and increasing by 10%.
At the start of the event, Trek Factory Racing were second behind Froome's team for total fans. Following a poor tour however, Trek only grew 2.7% throughout and left Sky with a near 380,000 follower lead.
The largest percentage growth came for Movistar, winners of the Team Classification in the race, who gained 43,090 fans and saw their social presence grow by an impressive 13%. Again, sporting success drove digital growth.
The Feel Good Story of the Tour
If sporting success were the only route to growth, however, digital marketers would be forced to lead a particularly dull existence; their efforts rendered more or less meaningless, dwarfed by the impact of variables they have no control over.
Luckily for them/us, the Tour de France also delivered an example of how a great story can also drive growth...
Thanks to a wild card entry, MTN-Qhubeka became the first African team to compete in the Tour de France. The team and its riders defied all expectations: Daniel Teklehaimanot became the first African to wear the Polka Dot jersey at Stage 6. Steve Cummings, one of the record number of Brits in the race won a stage, on Nelson Mandela day. Before Friday’s mountainous stage, they were even up to second.
On Facebook, they achieved the highest percentage growth of any team for all but three of 23 days on tour. Even with an 8,000 fan lead at the beginning, Team Cofidis were overtaken by the 'people's team' MTN-Qhubeka on Facebook.
Compared to the teams that finished the Tour above them, MTN-Qhubeka out-performed everyone for overall percentage increase: combined growth across Facebook and Twitter was 28%.
Velon CC Going Pro
GoPro cameras mounted on the bikes were a big feature of this year's Tour. With GoPro having brokered a deal with the Tour and Velon CC, it allowed the teams to broadcast footage of the day from the bike's perspective.
This partnership actually led to significant growth for Velon CC itself during the Tour. As the content resonated with fans, their Facebook and Twitter enjoyed a combined percentage growth of 65% (+3,649 of fans added). In particular, Facebook saw an impressive percentage growth of 159%.
Tour De France Social Media Winners
As the roads of France rest for another year, the social numbers highlight a few interesting trends. The most obvious (and most difficult to impact on) is that victory is the best predictor of social success.
There's encouragement for marketers though, as the power of a strong narrative was demonstrated by MTN-Qhubeka's growth. The real challenge for them, and any other underdog who's able to fleetingly capture the attention of a digital sports audience, is how to retain and convert those people into fully engaged fans.
Funnily enough, we can help with that.