Martin Jahn: “The Tour de France stands as a testament to the reliability and performance of Škoda vehicles.”

By We Love Cycling

He often finds himself up close to the action, watching the Tour de France from the sidelines, not just out of professional duty but because he’s thoroughly captivated by the atmosphere of the world’s largest cycling event. “It’s unparalleled – much like our partnership with A.S.O.,” Martin Jahn, Škoda Auto Board Member for Sales and Marketing, says with a smile. On the final day of February, the company renewed its partnership with the organisers of the Grande Boucle, extending it to 2028.

For two decades, Škoda Auto has been the main sponsor of the Tour de France and is set to continue in this role until at least 2028. How much time does Martin Jahn spend in the saddle?

Less than I’d like, truth be told. I have a great passion for cycling, but my work commitments don’t allow me to ride as much as I want to. That said, I relish every opportunity I get to ride.

The recently extended partnership with A.S.O. involves a total of twenty road races. Which is your favourite discipline?

I proudly own a mountain bike from our Škoda cycling collection. So, even when I manage to sneak some cycling time in my busy work schedule, I feel a strong connection to our brand.”

Did the negotiations with the French organisers of the Tour de France for the new contract take up a lot of your time?

It was around a year-long process. We had multiple meetings with colleagues from the Marketing department. From the very beginning, both sides showed a clear eagerness and enthusiasm for continuing our collaboration. I was continuously updated and took part in the final meeting. However, before we could announce anything, we had to navigate through the evolving landscape of EU legal standards, which impacted the precise wording of the contract and its eventual publication.

Was ending the partnership between Škoda Auto and A.S.O. ever a consideration, in light of general budget cuts?

No, never.

Škoda and ASO
In a move reflecting their dedication to the sport, Škoda Auto continues its journey with the Tour de France, extending their sponsorship agreement until 2028.

The partnership between the largest Czech carmaker and the most famous stage cycling race began in 2004. Have the conditions changed significantly since the first contract?

I can’t comment on the financial aspects. What I can say is that we’re supplying more vehicles than in the past, as the organiser’s needs have expanded. The Tour de France serves as excellent proof of the reliability and functionality of our products. There’s hardly another sport where mobility plays such a significant role. At the same time, our mission extends beyond merely promoting the brand. We’re also dedicated to building a global cycling community. We recognise our responsibility in supporting the sport, which is why we sponsor the race, or races, on a global level rather than teams or individuals. We see the cycling community as one of the subsets and a perfect example of what our newly defined target group of everyday explorers might look like. Our products are designed for people who are eager to discover new things. So, the Tour de France is a case where the values of both Škoda Auto and A.S.O. intersect.

With the Tour de France being the second most-watched sporting event in the world after the FIFA World Cup, is there pressure from other car manufacturers to replace Škoda as a partner?

The arrival of new car brands and the changing strategies of existing ones certainly bring a need for visibility. And I’m convinced that being the general partner of the Tour de France would appeal to other companies, as well. However, we consider our partnership with the organisers to be very strong, proven over two decades, and we have no intention of giving it up.

The Tour de France was watched globally by 3.5 billion people in 2023. Can you assess how much impact the association with the Tour has on sales?

There are certain ways to measure visibility, for example. It would be naive to think that marketing or specifically sponsorship doesn’t impact sales, but whether we sell ten or fifteen thousand more cars as a result can’t be precisely measured. Generally, we’re growing in cycling markets such as Spain and France, where the Tour de France definitely has an influence. Our partnership with A.S.O. gives us a huge reach, which is evident in countries like Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, where cycling is tremendously popular. But I will mention one impact on sales: the cars driven in the Tour de France as organisation vehicles are subsequently sold as used in France. Participating in the Tour then becomes a very interesting sales argument for our dealers.

The Tour de France places a great emphasis on ‘cleanliness’, with racers being fined for disposing of waste outside designated zones. According to the rules, they can only throw away their water bottles in specified sections.  Does this align with Škoda Auto’s focus on a green future?

Sustainability is one of the pillars of our corporate strategy, and this extends to our sponsorships. Our sponsorship strategy focuses on sustainability and diversity. We’re increasingly electrifying the fleets for the races themselves and will continue in this direction. A.S.O. shares a responsibility towards the planet in their activities, as well. They’re seeking partners for charging systems, for example. Sustainability is being addressed in all areas, even in promotional items, where products are delivered without packaging to reduce waste. We’ve also incorporated sustainability into the design of new trophies for the winners and the Green Jersey for the Tour de France 2024. But I’ll keep the details to myself for now. That will be something to look forward to.

The contract includes twenty races, among them Paris-Roubaix and Tro Bro Leon, which are full of cobblestone sections and classic country trails. Do the organisers require specially modified vehicles for these races?

Not at all. It testifies to the durability of our vehicles. Apart from the Director’s car, we always use series-produced vehicles that have been handling the rigours of the world’s biggest races for twenty years.

During the negotiations for the contract extension, was there any discussion about the possibility of the Tour de France starting in Prague?

Linking the Tour de France, our partnership, and the start of the race in the Czech Republic is a wonderful idea. However, it’s a very complex issue, and our influence, despite us being the general partner, is minimal. If something like this were ever to happen, we would of course be thrilled. But we don’t have the power to directly influence where the Tour goes. Nonetheless, if there’s ever a request from the Czech Republic for the Grand Départ, Škoda Auto will certainly advocate for it.