Call Yourself a Fan?

Friday, 28 January 2011

You might think the typical cycling fan owns a couple of bikes, gets up on a Sunday morning to ride and attends a bike race or two during the year to cheer on his favourite riders.

Wrong. That may well describe you or a friend but the fact that you’re coming to a dedicated blog written in English suggests you are not the typical fan, rather you are more likely a very dedicated fan but probably in the minority. Let me explain more.

Give it some juice, the Zoncolan stage starts in ten minutes

The biggest watchers of bike races are in France, Spain, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland are men aged over 60. And the second largest component of the audience? Women aged 35-55. Yes, the sport you love is mostly watched by pensioners and housewives. Whilst the sport is booming in the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand, it’s been popular for a long time in “old Europe”.

The viewing figures are skewed a bit because a lot of racing happens mid-week. A broadcast of Paris-Nice will attract pensioners and housewives because they are at home and able to the mid-week stages shown during the afternoon. The Giro, Tour and Vuelta offer 45 days in total of mid-week viewing and that’s before you add on coverage of all the other weekday races, like stages in Tirreno-Adriatico, the Vuelta a Murcia, the Tour de Suisse and many more, not to mention one day events that don’t happen on a weekend. In short, the majority of racing and TV coverage is shown between 3.00 pm and 5.00 pm, a time when most Europeans are at work, leaving a small audience of people at home.

Indeed many of the sponsors are in the sport to reach this demographic. Cofidis targets people wanting consumer credit. Phonak sold hearing aids, in the past Cadel Evans was pedalling to promote anti-snoring treatments. It’s not all fusty, French sponsors like the sport because of the massive coverage in July and also the way they can reach parts of rural France that other marketing means struggle to penetrate.

And when the Tour de France comes then audience figures explode. Whilst hardcore fans want to see particular riders in battle, I suspect a majority of the French public would still be gripped if you filled the race with teams from the Pro Continental ranks. It is the race itself that creates the drama and the public tends to identify with the suffering. This might horrify readers but the average Frenchman would struggle to pick Contador or even Thomas Voeckler in a police-style line up. Come July many will improve the recognition but the public tend to cheer whoever is doing battle.

To some extent even connoisseurs of cycling see this already with the Giro d’Italia, it might lack the best riders but it’s perhaps the best race on the calendar, the absence of Contador and Andy Schleck hasn’t done the race much harm.

But all this is substantially different when it comes to what the French call the “anglo-saxon” world. I struggle to explain to locals in France just how popular cycling is becoming in London, New York and Sydney, not to mention other places in the English speaking world. To continental European readers, note the sport is exploding in many countries around the world and these new fans are much younger and more interested in riding themselves. If you think the peloton has plenty of English-speakers, there will be more and more to come. Another difference is that these new fans are often wealthier professionals, it is increasingly common to see them travel to races in Europe on expensive organised tours, to ride the finest bikes worth of a pro team and more.

So note the difference between fans in one place and another. This isn’t to pigeon-hole everyone, you’ll find senior citizens following the sport in New Zealand, you find young fans rooting for Ivan Basso or Tom Boonen.

  •  The text above is about TV viewers. If you want to compare riders between Europe and the Anglo-Saxon world, see my Man, You Look So Euro! piece.
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{ 4 comments }

Yves January 28, 2011 at 10:10 pm
Paul January 29, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I remember reading a passage in Dan Coyle's book about Lance Armstrong. It compared the fans at European races and fans at American races. He noted that in the States, everyone was young and healthy; everyone was drinking fresh orange, and you'd have to be brave to pull out a cigarette. At the roadsides of Europe, he noted that it was mainly fat old men, smoking heavily, and getting wasted on Belgium beer. It wasn't a place you'd take your kids.

I found the contrast very interesting indeed.

maryka February 1, 2011 at 1:20 pm

35-55 year old women as default description "housewives"? Ouch.

TheInnerRing February 1, 2011 at 1:23 pm

maryka: Of the viewing demographic, yes. By definition those that are at work can't watch the afternoon stages so it's a self-selecting demographic, I'm not saying all women in this bracket are at home.

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