Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bad blood?

My marketing friends and I are a little torn on the issue of Amgen (maker of banned blood boosting agent EPO) sponsoring the inaugural Tour of California. This could be a great partnership or a really bad one.

First off, I applaud any US company for getting involved with a major event in this country. Cycling has proven to be a very hard sell in the US, even with the "Lance factor" of recent years. It is no small financial undertaking that Amgen is committing to and I think they should be thanked for their generosity, even if it seems entirely misplaced.

Though I applaud Amgen, I have serious reservations about this stunning marriage. Cycling, like all sports (don't fool yourself into believing otherwise), is in the middle of numerous drug related controversies. The drug of choice? EPO. EPO, among other things, increases the oxygen carrying potential of blood. This leads to better recovery, better muscle function and the potential for better performance during racing and training. Essentially, it makes the body better at supplying oxygen to hungry muscles and improves performance that way. Amgen was on the front of developing the drug and certainly had no idea it would end up becoming the endurance athlete's drug of choice. Still, the dark shadow of EPO has been sullying the reputation of cycling for years now.

Sport with bad image, meet maker of drug that has contributed significantly to the problems in your sport. Maybe the two of you can work together and make something happen. Maybe a bike race, as opposed to helping to create a better and more reliable test to detect the presence of the drug in athletes who use the drug to get an unfair advantage.

On top of this absurd relationship sits two different governing bodies in the sport who have given their blessing to this catastrophe; USA Cycling (the US governing body) and the UCI (the international governing body). Both of these federations could have said, "you know, this just doesn't look right, when we are sending the public message that we are against doping in our sport." Instead, they said, "well, so long as the check doesn't bounce, you've bought yourself a bike race!" Now, I totally understand why they did it- money. Corporate money at that. That's really hard to come by in this sport and industry. Without that money, I'm sure the race would not be happening this coming year. BUT... it sends the wrong message. The World Anti Doping Association, WADA, has been at odds with cycling for years now and certainly feels even more justified now. It is rather akin to having Budweiser as the corporate sponsor for Alcoholics Anonymous. It might work, but is sure looks bad from the outside.

Amgen professes, and I do not doubt them, that the sponsorship is to showcase their support of the sport and to draw a positive connection between Amgen and cycling. Plus, the hope is that they can promote the other drugs they have developed for such worthy foes as kidney disease and cancer. No doubt, Amgen is doing some wonderful things in the medical world, but do they really need to sponsor a bike race?

This, to me, is a good example of the right intentions going horribly wrong and a bad Marketing/PR decision.


Posted by Tim Jackson at 7:46 PM


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