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The Wealthiest People in Pro Cycling, Part II

A professor once joked that the exams for his university course always had the same questions, the difficulty for him and the students alike was that the answers kept changing. The story of the wealthy people in cycling is similar, many of same types remain, it’s just their fortunes vary. Following the team owners in Part I, now let’s look at those who own other assets in the sport…

Christian Prudhomme is often seen as the Tour de France boss. Yes he does rule the race but he’s still a salaryman : real power resides with the Tour’s owners, not its employees. ASO, a subsidiary of the Amaury Groupe, is a family business owned and controlled by Marie-Odile Amaury. She took over the reins when her husband died in 2006, and only after he’d won a contested inheritance battle for the empire. Readers will know ASO owns the Tour de France and other races in France and has taken 100% control of the Vuelta a España and have relaunched the Tour of Germany and have deals of varying significance with the Tour of California, the Tour Down Under and more, plus there are other sports events like the Paris marathon, the Dakar rally and more. ASO has been a small cog in the wheel of a larger media empire but the family sold the Le Parisien newspaper (France’s best selling national daily) making the Tour de France more central to the business. The Amaury family bought out minority shareholders a few years ago to take full ownership and the quietly-spoken Jean-Etienne Amaury (pictured, top) is being groomed for the top job. He gives an annual speech at the Tour de France route presentation and his delivery has gone from wooden to enthusiastic, perhaps thanks to some coaching. He trained as a software engineer and spent several years working discreetly on Bloomberg’s IT systems in London before leaving to do an MBA at Stanford University and then assume a role in the family business. Overall they’re discreet, modest – it’s said Madame Amaury drives a small Peugeot – and conservative. Like many things in France change comes slowly and, despite being run by a woman, ASO are slow to back the rise of women’s racing.

Wang Jianlin was trumpeted as pro cycling’s saviour several times over after inking a deal with the UCI that saw his Wanda corporation effectively become the agent to which the UCI had de facto outsourced its Chinese role (a move which may have helped oust Brian Cookson after federation bosses were none to keen to be usurped but that’s another story). Wanda Sports is also behind the Tour of Guangxi and it acquired WTC, the business behind the Ironman triathlon series. It also bought Infront Ringier, the Swiss sports agency whose cycling portfolio includes the Tour de Suisse and running the perplexing Hammer Series. It’s also what Wanda hasn’t bought, sources say Wang asked about buying the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia but was politely turned down. Wanda wasn’t alone, other Chinese billionaires were buying sports assets – see Li Yonghong acquiring AC Milan – but all this meant a lot of capital leaving China and the Communist Party’s highest echelons frowned on this, even the football spending, and wings got clipped. Wang is a billionaire many times over and among the very richest people on the planet meaning he’s got more wealth than everyone else on this page combined – but is arguably less influential in cycling as he’s got plenty else to keep him busy like hotels, cinemas and navigating the politics in Beijing. His sports business is reported to be up for sale, supposedly bankers are working on a New York stockmarket due soon. If so this won’t be an exit but it will be a step back but Wanda Sports will remain an important event organiser in the sport with ambitions to grow.

Who owns the Giro? “RCS Sport” could be a likely response but it’s actually the Bonacossa family, a wealthy clan of Italian aristocrats who had money long before buying into La Gazzetta Dello Sport during the 1920s alongside other activities in politics and sport. They remain owners the pink-paged paper and rent out the editorial rights to RCS in complicated and rather private pact that includes RCS promoting the Giro d’Italia. RCS is the firm running La Gazzetta and the Giro, as well as a larger publishing business with titles like Marca in Spain and was taken over in a corporate raid by Cairo Communications, owned and controlled by upstart media mogul Urbano Cairo (pictured). Cairo began work as a protégé of Silvio Berlusconi and ended up with a criminal conviction but viva l’Italia (or should that be Forza Italia?) and basta the slate was wiped clean with a pardon. Modestly likening himself to the Count of Monte Cristo he launched himself into media and advertising and set about buying public TV Channel La7,  duelling with Sky for sports rights and after shopping around a few clubs, settling on the purchase of FC Torino. Now he controls the Giro and the other races in RCS’s portfolio but these are relatively small assets in a sprawling portfolio. Once upon a time cycling offered the popular connection to the masses which Cairo seems to like but TV and now social media has surpassed it. All the same apparently Cairo’s still not signed a broadcast deal for the 2019 Giro – he could show it on his own La7 instead – and it’s a way to make RAI sweat.

Think of cycling in Flanders and you might get images of cobbled farm tracks, lion flags and leaden skies. You should also think of Wouter Vandenhaute because he’s become part of the media landscape. He’s a former journalist and TV producer and after making his money and branched out into other activities. He’s got fingers in many pies, literally with ownership of restaurants but also Humo magazine and he recently stepped down from managing SBS television. He owns 50% of Flanders Classics, the business that owns the Tour of Flanders and other Flemish fixtures. The other half is owned by media firm Corelio, owner of, among other things, the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper and De Telegraaf in the Netherlands. Vandenhaute’s been snapping up races to package them under the Flanders Classic label – Dwars Door Vlaanderen of late – and put them on the World Tour and all while putting the squeeze on rival races, for example the Three Days of De Panne got flicked. This concentration has allowed extra sponsor sales and other cross-selling tactics like hospitality, he’s the one behind the VIP zones and moving the Ronde final away from the Geraardsbergen-Bosberg finale. He’s also made moves into other branches of Flemish cycling like cyclo-cross, snapping up the Superprestige series and has plans to simplify the winter activity with, ideally, one set of elite races rather than competing calendars. He’s bringing business acumen to the sport and while traditionalists rage De Ronde has grown into a huge event in Belgium and beyond. He recently invested in Sporthouse, a Belgian business than does digital communications and helps run social media and websites for Flanders Classics, the Deceunicnk team as well as athletes including Philippe Gilbert and Jasper Stuyven.

Simon Wear is the founder and CEO of Play Sports Network, neither he nor his company are household names but both are worth watching. US media giant Discovery bought 71% of British company Play Sports last month, which ought to make Wear wealthy. After helping to start Cycling Plus magazine in the 1990s, he was behind the bikeradar website and oversaw its takeover of cyclingnews.com. Then Wear quit to found the public relations agency Shift Active Media which does PR on behalf of several cycle industry brands like Zwift and FSA as well as RCS Sport’s races, and this grew into Play Sports which owns the popular youtube channel GCN. Discovery owns Eurosport which means there’s now lots of scope to take GCN’s product placement model into TV, broadcast regulations permitting. Perhaps more interestingly is the reverse with Eurosport rights now under the same umbrella they can distribute live racing online via GCN’s youtube channel and Facebook too which puts the business and Wear at the front of cycling’s media.

Exit James Murdoch, the man behind Team Sky and also a driving force behind the creation of the Velon association of teams but it’s not certain he’s gone for good. Mike Sinyard sponsors two World Tour teams (Bora-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-Quickstep) via his Specialized firm but doesn’t venture many public opinions on the sport. By contrast John Burke at Trek took over the business from his father and the US firm as seen sales soar making him wealthy not in the league of those above; it’s taken Segafredo to help find the budget to recruit more riders while Burke has more views on politics than bicycling but Trek seem to be taking a bigger role in the sport these days, backing a women’s team and increasing the advocacy so the Burkes are ones to watch.

The Wealthiest People in Pro Cycling, Part I


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • IanPa Saturday, 9 February 2019, 7:10 am

    Excellent article, didn’t drink my coffee!!

    I think the call on Simon Wear is interesting, you’re right, as ever, he has been in cycling for a long time, and it appears what he touches moves the sport forward on a commercial front. Probably wont ever sponsor a team, but could well end up being the ultimate player in how we consume it.

    • The Inner Ring Saturday, 9 February 2019, 10:43 am

      That was the thinking, cycling’s media can be quiet slow to change, see how long it took for ASO to get a half-decent website for the Tour, to adopt social media etc, but some have a lead here and a growing position and it’s arguably more revolutionary than sponsoring a team.

      • DaveRides Saturday, 9 February 2019, 4:48 pm

        ASO’s major contribution to the progress of the cycling media has been to push the quality of the TV broadcasts, which then filters through to other races.

        A lot of people in the industry pay attention to the Tour to see what new items of TV equipment make their official debut there, often after a soft debut at a couple of stages during the pre-Tour races during May-June.

        This year will be a big one for that, as it is the calendar year prior to the next Olympics.

  • not yoda Saturday, 9 February 2019, 7:41 am

    Interesting mention of James Murdoch not completely exiting the sport. Personal wealth is tied up with entire family, which complicates things but it is in the 10-20 billion range. Would he spend any cash maybe generated from sale of the Sky network to stopgap any funding shortfalls for the cycling team?

    • The Inner Ring Saturday, 9 February 2019, 10:37 am

      Never say never but I more thinking he’s bound to be involved in corporate projects that could be persuaded into sponsorship rather than spending his own personal fortune on a team.

  • Larry T Saturday, 9 February 2019, 1:36 pm

    Great stuff (as usual) particularly the details on RCS, etc. Regarding LA7 broadcasting the Giro d’Italia rather than RAI, I wonder if this channel has the logistical assets required? RAI cars, trucks, motos, airplanes, helicopters and gawd knows what else(?) are all over La Corsa Rosa each year.
    Back when Italia1 (briefly) had the rights, most thought their productions were a bit thin compared to RAI’s so who knows if LA7 could even pull it off? I’ll be very surprised if RAI lets the Giro go elsewhere, but there hasn’t been a RadioCorsa TV show yet this year…so perhaps something’s up?

    • The Inner Ring Saturday, 9 February 2019, 2:21 pm

      If there’s no Radiocorsa after Il Laigueglia next weekend then something’s not right. As you say it does cost a lot in terms of assets but also experience, you need good moto pilots and camera operators who can stand on the back to film during a wet descent at 80km/h etc. I imagine Rai will sign, it must suit everyone.

    • J Evans Saturday, 9 February 2019, 2:47 pm

      Is there a reason the feed on Italian races continually breaks down in heavy rain when it doesn’t in other countries?

      • DaveRides Saturday, 9 February 2019, 4:03 pm

        That would be RAI not paying their external suppliers (many of which do exactly the same work for France Televisions during the Tour) enough to get the higher quality relay links.

        RCS are missing a trick if they don’t use this impasse over the domestic TV rights as a chance to take control of the world feed production in-house. Under this model, RCS would contract all the external suppliers (mostly EuroMediaGroup subsidiaries) rather than the domestic TV rights holder organising it.

      • Larry T Monday, 11 February 2019, 11:27 am

        Does that really happen? If you compare the 3 Grand Tours, Il Giro probably faces the most inclement weather, but I thought those issues were because the aircraft needed to produce the live feed from the motos were grounded or otherwise impeded rather than inferior technology that is somehow exclusive to Italians. I’ll admit to thinking sometimes Italian plumbing peaked with the Romans, but was unaware their TV technology was so backward/low tech as some have claimed 🙂

    • DaveRides Saturday, 9 February 2019, 3:58 pm

      If a different network gets the broadcast rights for Italy, the first thing they will do (if they haven’t got contingent agreements in place already) is contact the very same external companies which have provided various services for the coverage in previous years.

      A number of companies which are part of EuroMediaGroup were involved in the Giro last year, including EuroLinX (motos, signal relay planes), Videohouse (fixed cameras at stage finishes etc), ACS (aerial vision) and NETCO Sports (on-screen graphics) which all goes on the world feed. RAI don’t do a whole lot – mainly add their live commentators, studio hosts and other segments from their additional camera crews at the stage start/finish.

      EMG companies provide very similar services to France Televisions for the ASO races in France and other cycle races elsewhere, as well as many other sports right up to the Olympics (ACS run all the cameras on wires and rails), FIFA World Cup, MotoGP, Formula E, UEFA Euro and so on. This means many of the crew will work on both the Giro and Tour! EMG’s main rivals in the sphere are NEP, though the use of the word ‘rival’ is loose since different units from both corporations will often combine as part of the same workflow for a large event.

      With so much being provided by external companies already, RCS Sport are missing out if they don’t take this chance to take control of the contracts for the world feed production in-house and sell a clean feed to the Italian broadcaster on the same basis that they sell it to all the international rights holders.

      • Larry T Sunday, 10 February 2019, 10:44 am

        There would be a LOT of work for someone to peel off all those RAI logos from the legions of cars, trucks, trailers, motos, etc. visible at the start, during the race and at the end of every Giro stage if what you describe is true!
        It WAS years ago that Italia1 replaced RAI but their broadcasts didn’t measure up though they did seem far more “commercial” in the sense of trying to monetize every aspect.
        I doubt we’ll get a chance to see how LA7 would do as I’d be shocked if RCS and RAI don’t come together, even if it’s at the last minute.

        • DaveRides Sunday, 10 February 2019, 12:23 pm

          Yes, major events in all sports have the host broadcaster’s stickers applied (and removed) on all the equipment etc used by external providers.

          See this photo of a EuroLinX car at the Giro…

          There would be a couple of RAI trucks at the Giro for use in producing their commentary and studio segments, but the rest would be external.

          • Larry T Sunday, 10 February 2019, 3:12 pm

            I’ve seen a few vehicles with RAI stickers slapped on them at the Giro as the photo shows, but I’m talking about a fleet of white trucks, cars, motos, etc. with blue RAI logos on them taking up a lot of space in parking lots at the start and end of most of the RCS (and other) produced events. I write this because when I’m attending these events in-person I’m always amazed at how much RAI logo’d equipment there is.
            I find it hard to believe all this equipment (and the people who use it) does not belong to the Italian national broadcaster and is instead just stickered up (and unstickered afterwards) especially as they cover plenty of other sporting events in Italy as well.

          • DaveRides Monday, 11 February 2019, 12:34 pm

            There’s definitely some of them which would be RAI, but the majority would just be stickered up for the event.

            The reason for engaging outside expertise is money – what on earth is a network like RAI going to do with all the equipment and people during all the parts of the year when they aren’t required?

            The reason for stickering up equipment is advertising – TV networks ‘sell’ to consumers, production companies operate within the industry only and don’t need a public image. It’s in the interest of the production companies to have the profile of the network boosted, as positive publicity for the network translates into increased chance of the rights deals being renewed and therefore more chance of the production companies to get their contracts renewed as well.

          • Larry T Monday, 11 February 2019, 3:12 pm

            I’ll take a closer look this year (assuming RAI is the broadcaster) at the Giro and at the other RCS events I go to see this year, starting with Strade Bianche next month. When RAI runs the closing credits on the last day of the Giro, the names that zoom past at the bottom of the screen are almost all Italian and it’s a very long list.
            As you no doubt know, RAI covers a lot of sporting events all over Italy so I’d guess their equipment and staff gets used far more than you might imagine and as a national entity their focus does not have to be solely on the bottom line when it comes to profits.
            ASO and their broadcast partner OTOH might have a far different arrangement?

  • Walter Burns Monday, 11 February 2019, 10:05 pm

    The Amaury family have always been popular. When patriarch Émilien Amaury died in a fall from his horse in the late 1970’s the left-wing newspaper Libération apparently ran the headline “Amaury falls off horse – horse unhurt”.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 12 February 2019, 9:19 am

      That’s right, the owner of rival paper Le Parisien died and Libération’s headline was “Le cheval d’Amaury sort indemne d’un accident”, “Amaury’s horse unhurt in accident”.

      Looking back the Tour de France was long a clearly identifiable asset of a newspaper and rival papers didn’t want to add much glory to it, these days there seems to be less competition, the coverage from Libération and Le Monde is as good as L’Equipe’s in July now.

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