Tour de France 2015: Should Team Sky's sponsors be worried by doping allegations?

 
Joe Hall
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Chris Froome and Team Sky are on track for another successful Tour de France (Source: Getty)

Chris Froome leads the Tour de France in commanding fashion. More than three minutes ahead of his rivals with just four stages remaining he looks set to deliver Team Sky their third win in three years.

And yet if Sunday's cycle into Paris is a procession for Froome, it could be one tinged with cynicism and dispute after a Tour in which Team Sky have continually been compelled to bat off allegations of doping after every impressive stage win.

Read more: Doping in cycling - why middle-aged businessmen are embracing performance-enhancing drugs and scaring the pros

They have gone so far as to release some of Froome's performance data in order to quash the talk, yet their name has appeared in as many headlines surrounding allegations of misconduct as their impressive performance.

With a number of companies such as Rapha, Jaguar, Oakley and Shimano supporting the team through lucrative sponsorship contracts, keeping up a strong, popular image is important.

Should sponsors be worried by negative headlines surrounding Team Sky? We asked three sports marketing experts to deliver their opinions:

No, every sponsorship has bumps along the way

"Specifically to Team Sky I would say no.

"Purely because they’ve gone on the record with regards to doping so consistently. They’ve firmly set their stall out as a clean team. Sky are fighting the PR battle on the front foot. If I was Sky you wouldn’t be sat there thinking 'this is really bad for us'. I’d be thinking ‘We’re the number one team and we’re not hiding behind a no comment’. So in this instance it would be a no, I wouldn’t be worried.

"Is there a rub off on the sponsors in terms of negative publicity? I guess you start on the principle that the whole reasons you sponsor someone in the first place is to receive image by association and to enjoy positive publicity off the back of the rights holders that they’re sponsoring. So sponsors don’t like negativity because it goes against the very principle that you enter into the sponsorship with in the first place.

"That said, you have to accept that there are going to be bumps along the way. I’ve worked with countless clients, whether it’s been rugby and 'bloodgate', rugby and European politics, extramarital activity, financial scandal. It just unfortunately comes as part of the territory."

- Rupert Pratt, co-founder of sports and entertainment agency Generate Sponsorship

Read more: Froome retains Tour advantage

No, these are unsubstantiated rumours

"Team Sky has earned a reputation that is associated with success, technological innovation and a well-managed team with a zero-tolerance attitude. The unsubstantiated negative headlines may spark controversy, but sponsors should wait until allegations are proven before evaluating their partnerships.

"When Chris Froome cycles down the Champs Elysees to win this year's Tour, all those associated with Team Sky will get to bathe in that reflected glory, so they shouldn't worry about the negative headlines just yet."

- Alexandra Dallas, associate director at sports communications agency Pitch

Yes, but it's right to stick around for the time being

"One of the main reasons sponsors partner with a team or an individual is the halo effect in terms of fame, courage, integrity, excitement that they can bring. A sponsor’s main concern is to protect its brand image which in many cases it would have spent tens of millions of pounds trying to build up.

"So of course sponsors need to be concerned because doping on the Tour in particular has involved many teams and individuals. However, in my view, unless there’s overwhelming evidence to the contrary as there was with Lance Armstrong, consumers are unlikely to blame the sponsor or consider switching brands for its support. It would only be the failure to react very promptly and withdraw on the proof of doping that would be catastrophic.

"If you look at the Lance Armstrong situation, when there was overwhelming evidence that he was a serial cheat and a liar nearly all the sponsors withdrew apart from the main team sponsor US Postal, who had a huge commitment and just didn’t want to believe it, and Nike stayed with them until Armstrong actually came out and admitted it which I believe was poor judgement.

"But I don’t believe that Team Sky staying with these brands at the moment is poor judgement. If, at the first hint of controversy, they jumped ship that would be seen as being weak."

- John Taylor, founder of sports sponsorship firm John Taylor Partners

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