Every year millions of French people have the Tour de France riding through their town or village. Many are indifferent, plenty will enjoy the day and some will fume with rage at the traffic chaos caused by road closures. But on the whole hosting the Tour de France is seen as a good thing and towns pay for the privilege. How much does it cost?
Of course it’s not just French towns, ASO has branded the grand départ and packaged it into a portable sports event. This start is distinct with a high price tag that’s around the €2 million mark. The fee paid to ASO brings the world’s media to the start for several days, typically Wednesday to Sunday and helps put the place on the map.
What’s different is the other towns along the route. There are 36,000 mayors from Paris to villages and most of them would love to see the race visit their corner of France. An ordinary stage costs about €50,000 for the start and often more for a stage finish, perhaps €80,000. The difference is obvious, the finish town is by definition a destination and the media coverage is much bigger as the start of most stages is not live on TV.
The numbers so far are for ASO’s cash fee. Assume 20 stages where each start and finish town is paying €50,000 and that’s 40 times €50,000 or €4 million in hosting fees to add to the €2 million for the grand départ. It’s good business but it’s behind the TV rights money which is ASO’s greatest source of income and also the sponsorship income where, I understand the sponsorship deals for the four jerseys in the Tour de France generate about €6 million alone.
But the cash fee is only the start of it. If possible ASO will arm-twist the town into hosting a stage of Paris-Nice or the Dauphiné, you’ll often find places tested by these races before they appear on the route for July. But the real costs add up. Britain’s hosting of the start next year will cost more £21 million.
On top of the fee for ASO comes a lot of extra costs. The Tour sends a pack with a long list of jobs to complete, for example removing street furniture for the run in to a race. This is subject to negotiation, some towns will pay to rip up the roads in order to showcase their charms. Others find the costs are not worth it and the Tour’s stage finish will take place on some uninspiring outskirts of the town, often by a sports complex where there’s easy parking and a gymnasium to double as a press room.
All this extra work is not cheap. The numbers in France are not so easily available but Switzerland’s open government helps us. For the 2011 visit to Porrentruy – Thibaut Pinot won – the authorities calculated the total cost adds up to 900,000 Swiss Francs (€720,000 / US$ 1 million) when you factor in everything from road resurfacing to police cover to cleaning litter after the roadside crowds have gone. Politicians voted unanimously in favour. “It can seem a lot, and it is, but we asked the other Swiss municipalities that had staged the race before and they all got dividends back. In general everyone says it’s something important for the continued development of the region” said Jean-Claude Salomon of Porrentruy.
Winners and Losers
Note the costs and benefits fall on different people. In general taxpayers as whole have to pay via local contributions and on the day many celebrate but a few rail at the road closures. The winners are more obvious, notably the tourist industry. The Tour alone needs about 4,500 hotel beds every night and the race puts a spotlight on the regions charms.
There’s also an interest for the local mayor to say oui. You’ve probably seen the podium ceremonies which finish with the rider shaking hands with various men-in-suits and invariably the mayor is there, a nice photo-op.
But there are losers. The Stage 20 time trial of the 2014 Tour between Bergerac and Périgueux could be a vital moment of the race but it means a town like Périgueux will suffer plenty of disruption. As Sud-Ouest newspaper reports, when the Tour visited Périgueux in 1994 it was bad for the shopkeepers as customers didn’t bother coming to town.
The Tour can be a draw but often only cyclists will make the trip to see the race. Instead it forms part of the summer calendar for towns along the route, alongside the jazz festival or medieval battle recreation, something that’s happening for tourists to enjoy but not always the reason to visit.
Is it worth it?
During the Tour there were many comments on Twitter from people saying they wanted to visit Corsica, the world got to see the “island of beauty” and it probably has helped the tourism industry. But what of the other places like Chorges, Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule or St Malo that hosted a stage start or finish, do you remember them? It’s said a huge audience is watching but the spotlight is on the event itself. Unless there’s anything really exceptional, the TV images often showcase fields and castles rather than municipal pride, when the finish comes the focus is on the sprint train or the whites of a rider’s eyes. Meanwhile the attendant journalists are grabbing rubbery baguettes from service stations instead of sampling local produce and sleeping in out-of-town motels rather than visiting historic city centres so they don’t always have much to write home about.
For me a place has to stand out to get noticed. For example you probably want to ride up Alpe d’Huez given the association with the Tour de France even if the climb is actually a rather functional road that leads to a concrete ski resort. Clearly the association with the Tour has worked and the ski resort does a roaring trade in the summer from cyclists. I think the Vosges should gain but they still won’t be a huge draw as everyone wants to ride up “the Alpe” even if it’s full of traffic because it’s so famous.
Towns pay plenty for the privilege of hosting the Tour de France. Millions of TV viewers will watch, thousands of journalists will arrive. It’s a big deal, you can’t get the Olympics or FIFA World Cup to your town as easily. But just like the riders, not everyone can win with a stage finish.