There’s been talk that the Tour de France could be up for sale, various journalists have published pieces saying the Amaury family have held discussions with potential buyers, often concluding that a sale seems unlikely.
The Tour de France is a very valuable asset but not the money-spinner some might take it for. A little-known government decree prevents the owners from maxxing out on the TV rights. However the changing media landscape could see the race become more valuable as more channels hunt for an audience.
The decree is the “Décret n°2004-1392 du 22 décembre 2004” and enshrines in the law the requirement for the Tour de France to be screened on a TV channel that is free-to-air. This decree reprises a list compiled in 1986 of 21 unique sporting events deemed so essential they must be available for all to see rather than screened on subscription channel or shown pay-per-view. Here it is:
- The summer and winter Olympics
- Any international football matches featuring the French team
- The opening game, semi-finals and the finals of the FIFA world cup
- The semi-finals and the finals of the UEFA European football championships
- The UEFA Cup final if a French team is taking part
- The football Champions League final
- The final of the football Coupe de France
- The Six Nations rugby tournament
- The semi-finals and the final of the rugby World Cup
- The final of the French rugby championships
- The final of the European rugby cup if a French team is taking part
- The final of the men’s and women’s singles in the Roland-Garros tennis tournament
- The semi-finals and finals of the Davis Cup and Fed Cup if the French team is taking part
- The French Formula 1 GP
- The Tour de France
- The finals of the men’s and women’s European basketball championships if the French team is taking part
- The finals of the men’s and women’s World basketball championships if the French team is taking part
- The finals of the men’s and women’s European handball championships if the French team is taking part
- The finals of the men’s and women’s World handball championships if the French team is taking part
- The athletics world championships
It’s interesting to note the Tour de France features in its entirety while the only the finals of the Rolland Garros tennis tournament feature. A sub-clause says the Tour de France “can be limited to significant moments” meaning not every stage has to be shown live from start to finish but implying we’re supposed to see the finish and more of every stage.
The Tour de France is more than a bike race, more than a sports event. It is a socio-cultural phenomenon where one sixth of the French population will stand by the road each year to see the race and its publicity caravan.
What does it mean?
In simple terms the Tour de France has to be shown on a mainstream TV channel in France. Therefore it can’t be bought out by a specialist sports broadcaster like Canal+, Eurosport or BeIn TV so there’s no bidding war for the Tour de France TV rights. These subscription channels can screen the race if they want, and Eurosport does, but only because France Télévisions has bought the primary rights.
The decree rules that a channel has to be free and available to 85% of households on the French mainland. The advent of digital TV means there are more free-to-air TV channels which fit in this bracket so it’s conceivable that a channel like Canal+ can buy the rights to the Tour de France and then broadcast the race on one of the free channels it operates like D8. D8 has a low audience with a 3% market share so Canal+ would have to make a big investment but it might see this as a way to drive an audience to the channel.
Easier said than done because filming the Tour de France requires a level of expertise perhaps unseen in any other sports event thanks to the peripatetic production, changing landscapes and more. It’s why the team at Euro Media France who bring the Tour de France to your TV are also employed by other races. The image below is from the recent Dubai Tour and look closely and you’ll see the French-plated motorbike (yes, they shipped a bike out) and the cameraman’s helmet is marked DOM for Dominique Kowalski, a veteran of many races.
Maybe the foreign rights could be shaken up? The Tour is a big event but foreign audiences are still small. In the US NBCSN’s audience averaged a reported 288,000, the UK averages double this making it a niche product despite the growth in these markets. It’s partly why ASO sold the German rights to ARD for less than €5 million, it looks like a bid to grow the audience again rather than find the highest bidder.
There are regular questions about the Tour de France and TV rights and recent tales of the Tour de France being up for sale suggest the Tour de France could be bought and turned into a bigger money-spinner if only the TV rights could fetch a higher price. It’s not so simple as a protective government decree prevents an all-out bidding war.
Digital TV does mean there are more bidders given the number of channels has increased. However any challenger probably has a small audience and therefore meagre ad revenues and so their ability to pay more is limited.
- On the subject of media rights, a footnote to say Swiss media company InFront Sports & Media has been sold to Wanda, a Chinese real estate developer. InFront handles the UCI’s TV rights management for the Worlds and is run by Philippe Blatter, nephew of the infamous Sepp.