Tour TV Audiences Down as British Bike Sales Rise

Tour de France Television

Ok, the headline exaggerates wildly but that’s half the point of the story below. TV audiences in France fell for the Tour de France, in part because there was no big battle for the yellow jersey throughout the race. Meanwhile Bradley Wiggins’ Tour triumph is claimed to have boosted bike sales in the UK. Are both stories true?

First TV audiences for the Tour de France in France averaged 3.4 million per day, down from 4.3 million last year – a 20% fall – according to L’Equipe newspaper. The relative measure of audience share fell too, from 40% to 34.6%. However an absolute record was reached this year with all time high of 5.4 million viewers for Stage 14 from Limoux to Foix, the day the stage saw tacks dropped on the road. After ramming Johnny Hoogerland off the road last year, perhaps TV executives tried other methods to liven up the race this year?

Just joking. The audience figures were down but we need to remember that last year was an exceptional year for the Tour de France. The yellow jersey was worn by a Frenchman for a long time and every day the predictions that Voeckler would lose his maillot jaune were proved wrong until he forfeited it on the last mountain stage and even then the race result was not decided until the final time trial when Evans grabbed the lead from Andy Schleck. In other words, if this year’s numbers are down then it’s more a return to normal figures, no doubt many were bored by the lack of fight for the yellow jersey but the numbers were similar to previous years. In other words, Wiggins didn’t really French sink TV, the story is more nuanced.

  • Does French TV matter? Yes. If the Tour is shown around the world, the largest segment of the audience is in France. It’s the French TV crews who produce your image and when a journalist asked me the other day for a list of the most powerful people in cycling, I picked Daniel Bilalian, the head of France Télévisions Sport as one of the big beasts. It’s he who told the UCI to get rid of race radios.

Now to Britain where reports Bradley Wiggins’ Tour triumph has given bike sales a boost, with payments company Visa reporting an uptick in sales of 5.1% compared to the same period last year. Impressive as the UK economy wallows in economic gloom. Are Wiggins and Cavendish inspiring the nation into cycling and consumerism? Well the answer is perhaps but beware of headlines. Because as people pointed out to me on Twitter, the weather has been bad in Britain – isn’t it always bad? – and so the damp weather has had a big effect. The same for other factors like the oil price and more. It’s about the narrative, we can attribute many things if it sounds right. Us humans like our stories simple and a payments company wanting some free publicity won’t get it if it says “a wide range of factors, perhaps some unknown, have caused an increase in sales” then there’s not much to write about.

Beware of headlines. TV audiences might shrink in France but they’re a return to the norm and the Tour is as popular as ever. Meanwhile if the cycle industry sees a pick-up in the UK then British success has surely inspired some but it’s also a function of other factors, especially the weather, crucial for an outdoor activity in a temperate climate.

But short attention spans matter. A consistent theme on here is how the sport is adapting to television. When I wrote about the Tour being boring during the first week, I was still enjoying the race but worried that more casual viewers with a finger on the remote control were ready to stop watching. As for cycling in the UK, it’s about time it picked up. Along with Germany it is one of Europe’s largest consumer markets but the country lacks many big races. The more the sport can grow in the UK and Germany, the more the sport will grow in Europe and beyond as sponsors know they can take their brands to prosperous households on a pan-European basis instead of a selection of Euro nations.

37 thoughts on “Tour TV Audiences Down as British Bike Sales Rise”

  1. I lived in Sydney when Cadel won last year and heard some crazy numbers about the increase in BMC Team Machines being sold in August. I now live in London so it will be interesting to see what happens to cycling here over the coming months. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if Wiggo’s success is only a small contributor to the number of bikes being sold. With the Olympics so close, I have witnessed a huge increase in commuters who obviously want to avoid any form of public transport, oh, and this week we rose (like a phoenix) from two months of dreadful weather to a week of sunshine! That’s gotta have an impact too.

  2. ITV announced that 3.5 million people watched the last stage in Paris on ITV 1 and ITV 4. Total UK audience would have been even higher when you inlcude those who watched on EurosportUK.

  3. Typical French dislike of Brits showing itself in the ratings. How many days in a row can French turn on TV only to see Brits dominating? I joke of course, but you can’t blame people for not enjoying this edition. Wonder how much worse it would’ve been if it wasn’t for the brilliant performance of Europcar. They may not have matched last year, but they still did great & provided a show.

  4. Return to normal? I see no empirical evidence to substantiate that claim? What is the 5yr historical avg for French viewership compared to this year? That would indicate if this year was normal and last year was an anomaly?

    Dont try and make the facts fit the case that the race wasn’t boring. And I find it even more interesting that the highest ratings were not on Bastille Day. Add that to the boring side of the equation.

    And ASO shouldn’t be trying to have the ratings return to normal or stay average – they should be looking for an increase and more audience. Then again France is only a small piece of that pie for viewership but it is a strong indicator (as you point out).

    • The President of France Télévisions Sport has conformed the return to the norm, I didn’t want cite the whole L’Equipe piece.

      Like you say ASO want higher ratings as does the TV company since it has a paid a lot of money for the rights.

  5. I went for a nice quiet ride yesterday and there were bloody loads of people out on their bikes.

    Wiggins’ behaviour is just gosh-darned inconsiderate. Why didn’t he consider the consequences of his irresponsible actions?

  6. What about DVR/TiVo? To be honest, I have no idea how that affects viewing numbers, but it always seems to be brought up when ratings are discussed.

    Also, in the US, it’s common for the uninitiated to refer to every recreational cyclist as Lance. Are we gonna be seeing Bradley thrown out as a cyclist catch all in the UK?

    • they already yell out “settle down there, Cav …” so “ease up, Wiggo…” might be an added plus?
      the Lance thing in America is really tired at this point … i usually call them Floyd instead, as an inside joke …

  7. Interesting question this TV one. Does anyone know anything about the revenues and how they are divided up? I’m guessing they don’t go to the teams in quite the same way they do in football. It may actually be good for cycling that TV audiences don’t get too large.

    On a different tack I think cycling is a fantastically televisual sport and that quality has improved vastly over the last twenty years. I was at Madrid airport recently and caught a bit of the Dauphine on a large screen HD telly. Looked amazing. Almost too tempting…

      • Yes, that’s true. But note some teams would pay for the chance to ride the Tour de France as the publicity from taking part is so valuable. Indeed they do pay, spending a lot of money on a UCI “Pro Team” licence to ensure they get a place in the top-18 and guaranteed entry for the Tour.

        • Those teams that would pay for the chance to ride and not seek to get tv revenue are the reason the sport will not change when it needs to change. It is a vicious cycle and unsustainable business model – and while this is sport it is a business too.

          HTC obviously didn’t see the publicity as valuable enough to continue sponsoring High Road even with all the good that team achieved. Bravo for Orica stepping up, and Sharp. Big companies coming in with sponsorship dollars is good. But as you have pointed out plenty here – many teams are financed by oligarchical billionaires and while financial support to run a team is good it again is not sustainable – actual business/corporations (and those beyond bike manufacturers too) need to and have to want to invest and sponsor teams but teams shouldn’t be expected to survive on that alone (no this is not Jonathan Vaughters) since those don’t lock in teams budgets for the long term (i.e. >3 years).

          Cycling needs to love and remember its romantic heritage but embrace the need to be run like a business as other major sports are – if it ever wants to be a major sport with the revenue and salaries that those sports have (i.e. F1, futbol, NBA, NFL, MLB, PGA). Hell even U.S. colleges make huge dollars from tv rights! But that is for other blogs…I digress.

          How much money can Andy Rihs burn through with out an outside title sponsor before that team has its financial strains (Highroad is perfect example – Bob couldn’t keep paying out of his pocket – it made no business sense).

          • My guess is that, for Sky, their investment in cycling has been very successful. According to the Guardian they contribute GBP10mio per year which for the last stage of the Tour alone probably justified at least 25% of that spend, with Cavendish’s World Championship and the Olympics (Sky will get lots of mentions) and all covered on free-to-air I should think Sunny Jim Murdoch can expect a big bonus. The value for Orica, for example, is less clear but I am sure they feel it is worthwhile. This could change the type of sponsors trying to get into cycling and change the whole face of the sport.

    • I’d suggest checking with more up to date information than that link. There were some changes recently that don’t make C2W the ‘bargain’ that it once was.

      • With regards to the cycle to work scheme I set up and manage te scheme for my employers. Originally the scheme allowed employees to save on Personal tax and VAT through a salary sacrifice arrangement. Basically the cost of the bike is offset against your wages and by earning less you are taxed less.

        The VAT element has subsequently been removed but the scheme is still tax efficient particularly to higher rate tax payers.

  8. Having followed the Tour for about a dozen years, this was easily one of the boring editions. The following factors were the off-putting for viewers:

    1) Uninteresting domination of Team Sky, plus the handcuffs they had on some of their best riders
    2) Race favorites being wiped out early on in crashes
    3) lack of serious sustainable attacks from GC contenders
    4) Absence of top riders like Contador, A. schleck, Boonen and Hushovd.

    thank God for TiVo. I did a lot of fast forwarding this year!

    • The tactics of Team Sky were interesting and well thought out, and they had the horsepower to pull it off without a hitch. But by suffocating their competition they also suffocated the race- it was boring to watch the yellow jersey contest. It was just like the old flat stage days where a break went away, got caught, sprint finish- Cav! It was perfectly controlled, a tested formula with no margin of error, as predictable as watching paint dry. It was a work of art the way they controlled everything, but I’d never want to look at that “art” ever again. Boring. The only real drama in the contest for the overall was debating the deserving wearer of the yellow jersey- Wiggles or Froomie? I’m not convinced the best guy won but we’ll never know.

      The best part of the race for me was for the other jerseys. There were some great contests being fought with strength, skill, and tactical cunning that were missing from the yellow race. Nobody was staring at a watt meter and heart rate monitor, they were busy battling their fellow racers one on one. No team put Sagan in Green, or Tommy V in Polka Dots, and certainly not TJ in White. For those parts of the race I say this TdF was really fun. I really hope someone like Contador can disassemble the Sky game plan next year because you know they’ll try it again.

      • Most races are now well planned out affairs that sometimes don’t go to plan, however to win a race you must have great fitness, a great team and above all luck. I can appreciate that there are local TV changes depending on who is leading any race, like when Ryder H won the Giro, Canada actually starting reporting about the race in the last few days on regular news broadcasts. But he won, barely, given that there were time bonuses early in the race but he managed to win. Now if had lost by 1 sec but Purito had gain so many bonuses who would have been the better rider? race situations happen and rules are there to change the race or control it. Wiggins won, plain and simple, could Froome have won? don’t know but he lost time to Wiggins in 3 seperate times, due to a late flat, and in both time trials, total time lost = 3:28 – a large ammount to make up on few montains. we’ll never know. BUT Wiggins won and deserved the win. Does the (assumed) increase in British viewers make up for the decrease in French viewers? to compare year to year look at total viewership, not regional viewerhsip.

  9. Does a publication like Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRAIN) stratify turnover (sales) in country segments, year on year trends, etc? This could be a useful quarry of data to mine. A few weeks seems a bit early to have a data to imply correlations between the 2012 TdF statistics and bicycle-related retail business.

  10. For once, I have to disagree with your analysis – not about French TV viewing (I take your word for that), but about UK reports on rising sales/revenue.

    As well as the VISA report, Halfords (not a favoured UK venue for the serious cyclist, but for the mainstream) reported “an 18% increase in sales of bikes and related equipment over the last seven days.”

    There seems to be a positive “Wiggo” effect, at least in the UK.

    • There may well be some Wiggo effect, but you cannot discount the effect of a 200% increase in traffic congestion, or a 900% improvement in the weather (figures estimated, but you get my drift).

    • “As well as the VISA report, Halfords (not a favoured UK venue for the serious cyclist, but for the mainstream) reported “an 18% increase in sales of bikes and related equipment over the last seven days.”

      Halfords ‘Tour de Francis’ commercials must have had an impact. I suspect that there are a large number of wannabes who bought bikes on the spur of the moment. In marketing terms, a case of ‘Mission Accomplished’.

  11. Last year was an exceptional year for the TdF, this year was not. That’s not to take anything away from Wiggins, but it was a boring race, partly because of the fact that so many top riders dropped out.

    • ‘Eurostar said it had been flooded with last-minute bookings. A spokesman added: “Ticket sales have gone through the roof due to the Wiggins effect.”’

      Post-Tour report in the Daily Mirror.

  12. I don’t think Wiggins and Sky made the race boring, what we needed was a classic battle between 2 contenders for the GC. I rememeber watching the tour every year to see if Jan would finally beat Lance. In this tour Evans v Wiggins or Nibali v Wiggins just didn’t make the grade.

    Yes there are more out cycling in London at least but then due to the weather the numbers have also been up at my local Lido, 2 weeks ago there would be maybe 10 people swimming (almost all with seasonal passes), today at least 50 (most paying on the door for the session). I don’t think the wiggo effect did this.

  13. Note that Orica -Greenedge was boosted financially by Orica because of the ability for its name to be broadcast on a world scale ‘Does’nt that also suggest the power of TV

  14. American coverage of pro cycling and the TdF is pretty much Lance and drugs, if mentioned at all–I didn’t hear anything about Tejay at all on ESPN.

    This year, a major network, NBC, did show a couple of stages on the weekend live, and the rest of cable. While it was *seriously* commercial heavy, I was glad that they did show it, and I’m glad to see that the ratings went up over last year.

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