Discovery’s Pitching Lance

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More than a year after signing a deal to sponsor Lance Armstrong and his cycling team, Discovery Communications Inc. this week kicks off a marketing campaign built around the reigning Tour de France champion.

The media blitz for Discovery’s networks — featuring 30-second promos that use Armstrong to promote various Discovery programs and one-minute vignettes sponsored by Verizon Communications Inc. and AMD — will lead up to the Tour, to be held from July 2 to 24.

Armstrong, who won his sixth consecutive Tour de France last summer, has said that he will retire after the 2005 race.

RIDE HIM NOW

Discovery appears intent on riding Armstrong’s popularity while he remains on top. In April, the company flew talent from several programs on its networks to Austin, Texas, to shoot a series of humorous promos with Armstrong and the casts of Discovery Channel’s American Chopper, Animal Planet’s The Crocodile Hunter and TLC’s What Not to Wear.

One of the 30-second promos begins with Armstrong, decked out in his Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team jersey, opening the door of his hotel room to investigate the sounds of grinding metal coming from inside.

When he enters the room, American Chopper’s Teutul family shouts “Surprise,” as viewers see a racing bike Armstrong was supposedly using on the Tour that week, which the Teutuls have butchered with a pair of their signature chopper-style forks.

“Sorry Lance,” Mikey Teutul says. The response from his father, Paul Sr.: “Shut the f--- up!”

DCI, which has a three-year sponsorship deal with Armstrong, began incorporating him into its programming last year. The Teutuls built a bright yellow motorcycle painted the same color as the leader’s jersey in the Tour de France for their Discovery show, while the cast of Overhaulin’ on TLC renovated a 1970 Pontiac GTO that was bought for Armstrong by his girlfriend, Sheryl Crow.

But this summer’s campaign is the first big marketing push by Discovery that will incorporate Armstrong.

“The purpose of the spots is to welcome Lance and the team to Discovery Networks,” said Derek Koenig, Discovery Networks senior vice president of marketing.

While DCI plans to run promotions featuring Armstrong across its networks, the company won’t buy broadcast spots or other media for the campaign, which may allow it to reach viewers that already don’t watch DCI channels.

But Koenig said Discovery expects to gain wide media exposure during the Tour de France from Armstrong and other team members who will wear the new blue-and-white Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team jerseys.

“The cool thing about having Discovery on the jersey is that gets picked up by every outlet worldwide,” Koenig said.

Comcast Corp.’s Outdoor Life Network has U.S. cable rights to the Tour de France.

'CHASING #7’

Discovery’s seven-week campaign is built around a “Chasing #7” banner. Beginning today (June 6), DCI will run the series of one-minute vignettes, in which celebrities and athletes discuss the training, equipment and technology used by the Discovery cycling team. The spots include Crow, Amanda Beard, Dennis Haysbert, Sugar Ray Leonard and Laura Dern.

The campaign will lead up to the June 27 premiere of The Science of Lance Armstrong, which will run on both on Discovery and The Science Channel at 8 p.m. Discovery will also run the program on its networks worldwide.

The hour-long special takes a look at Armstrong’s high altitude training methods and wind tunnel testing, and high-tech equipment.

Koenig said DCI expects to incorporate Armstrong more into its programming and marketing after he retires this summer.

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