Why The Tour de France Is The Only Cycling Race
Fights to the edge of physical limits, on tracks, where your old Volkswagen bus would overheat – broken bones – Scandals. These are the reasons why a billion people a year are watching.
Have you ever heard of the Giro d’Italia? – I don’t know. Maybe… The Vuelta d’Espana? – Ehhhh Deutschlandtour? – No. None of these races is the original.
With the day of its invention, the world went mad for bicycles – everybody wanted to have one – everybody wanted to cycle or watch someone who can.
Bike racing became more and more popular. The newspapers picked up on that, – Television and radio did not yet exist – and thought, we can use this for us: we’ll sponsor these events and report about them.
People loved the races. They stood at the track and bought newspapers. They wanted to know..: Who won, what jersey did he wear and which bike did he ride. The bicycle industry was booming.
For 50 years, no one had thought of running a road race over several days – this idea was born out of necessity. Because the newspaper L’Auto had fewer and fewer readers, the editorial team had to come up with something new and more exciting.
History and Tour Formula
That’s how the idea for the world’s biggest bicycle race was born – “the gigantic professional race to revolutionize the world of cycling”. And that is exactly what happened.
The first Tour de France was so successful that after a short time readers almost exclusively bought L’Auto.
The other newspapers had to shut down. Yes, we’re talking about the Tour de France, but the motto was – “to do the biggest bike race in the world” – so the Tour quickly lead to Germany, Italy, and Spain.
But at some point, even the biggest tour was not exciting enough anymore. The boss of L’Auto was annoyed. In his opinion, too many starters crossed the finish line.
So he promised: the next tour will be harder. One year later he chased the riders through the high alps – the stories about the tour became more exciting – L’Auto sold even more.
For storytelling purposes, the tour leader had to put on a squeaky yellow jersey – now iconic. So, let’s summarize: The tour now lasts not 6, but 15 days. The route leads over really tough mountains Everyone can see at a distance who the leader is.
The tour is getting longer and longer. In 1926 the route was longer than from Paris to Moscow and back. There was always a lot of experimentation with the Tour formula.
For example, it turned out that people found it more exciting if there were several shorter stages. After the liberation of France (in 1944), L’Auto was banned for political reasons.
Shortly afterward a new magazine was launched to take over the Tour. L’Equipe – financed by the (later publishing magnate) Emilien Amaury. New name – old recipe – same success.
For the first time, French television now had to pay for the rights to report on the tour. The tour should no longer just sell the newspaper, but also finance itself. It is becoming more economical – there are more sponsors, the stage cities have to meet new criteria and broadcasting rights bring in more and more money.
Until 1989, French automaker Peugeot was willing to provide cars for free and thought it was generous. But from now on its costs to be an official supplier.
Peugeot refuses to pay more than 500,000 francs. Competitor Fiat gratefully accepts the offer of 6 million and becomes the new sponsor. Everything’s going great.
The profits are still going up – until the first doping incident. But the Tour de France doesn’t mind for long. How popular it is can be seen in the anniversary year 2013.
250 cities want to become stage finishes. Almost the whole world is applying – including Tokyo and Qatar. Things couldn’t be better. For whom? For the tour owners A.S.O., the Amaury Sports Organisation.
It now owns the entire Tour de France. Actually, it’s a three-week promotional event that is the biggest cash cow for A.S.O.
But how does that actually work? The ASO pays French states around 300,000 euros a year. In return, it is allowed to use the roads – that means driving on them – and using them as advertising space.
The only other costs are personnel costs and prize money. That’s it! ASO has nothing to do with police and roadblocks. The cities pay for those themselves. And they’re even happy to.
Because the Tour de France brings in a lot of money: “A week before the tour started, all hotels and restaurants were fully booked.
A caravan of 4,500 people, each of whom spends an average of between 150 and 200 euros, just do the math …” Utrecht is a good example of how much it costs cities to be there.
In 2015, the city raised almost 17 million euros for the Grand Depart. What else does it take to be a stage city? You pay money to ASO and commit yourself to specific advertising.
Only authorized Tour de France products can be sold at the start and finish. A mayor once got upset that he had to pay so much money to see the racers for ten minutes – and the advertising caravan for several hours.
Speaking of the advertising caravan: For almost everything, the tour has a partner or official supplier. Skoda, for example, has provided the car fleet for years.
The main partners of the Tour de France must contribute 5 million euros to stay with it. Then some official partners have to contribute around 2 million. And then there are the official suppliers.
Various caterers, car rentals, hotels, airlines. They also pay another million each. Remember. The A.S.O. pays a total of 300.000 Euro and the riders bring their own bike.
The race hasn’t even started yet, and the A.S.O. has already made a fortune. But the winners are not only the tour owners and the cities – but the sponsors also benefit, otherwise they wouldn’t have been doing everything they could for decades. Why? Hours of visibility.
Now you might think – Amaury you cunning fox – that’s not bad. But on top of that, there is also the TV income.
There are no exact figures – but it is estimated that at least half of the total income of the tour is generated by broadcasting rights. – One billion people are sitting in front of the TV. You’re not giving that away.
Strategy and Mediatization
How did this race become so incredibly lucrative?
1. Be innovative
The tour was pimped again and again. Shorter stages & tougher mountains. It was always made more exciting. The different jerseys that were added little by little helped of course.
2. Get the whole world
If you are everywhere, you have fans everywhere. Early in the history of the Tour, riders who didn’t come from France won, and they were celebrated.
3. Tell a good story
“Tell a good story” – and the founders were able to do that. They were great writers and marketers and knew how to get their readers excited about the race and the riders.
4. Be the Original
The Tour was the first big stage race and the original is rarely beaten. Since 1903 the tour has been held every year. Except when there was a war. Sounds easy, but it’s not. Ask the Vuelta. “The what?”
The Tour de France and the media are a perfect match: The Tour isn’t an evening sport on prime time. Cycling races are relatively easy to integrate into the television program.
Especially during the summer break, when many people suffer from sports withdrawal. The spectacular stages – the really exciting ones – are of course at the weekend – when almost everyone can watch them.
6. Easy to understand
If you can ride a bike – you can understand the Tour de France. Sure – a strategy also plays a role, but one thing is clear: the first rider to cross the finish line wins.
But in the Tour you don’t just watch the race – the cities are also shown from Be the Original watch a race and then think: I want to go there. Damn, that’s a beautiful chapel. Even the people who don’t care watch it because they just think it’s beautiful.
That’s why it’s the most-watched sport by non-sports fans. And that is why three weeks are marked in the calendar of racing fans. What is your most memorable moment in the Tour de France?