The Field of the Cloth of Gold

As the Tour de France convoy returns to French soil via the port of Calais it passes right by the village of Ardres, a nondescript place except it was once the site of an extravagant display of wealth and power between the Kings of France and England in 1520.

The Tour’s visit to Yorkshire and London has its similarities with pomp, sport, business and exchange.

The publicity caravan arrives in 1520

It’s been said on here before and it’ll be repeated too that the Tour de France is a business. It was created as a stunt in 1903 to sell newspapers. We shouldn’t be too cynical about this, sales were dependent on a contest that captured the imagination. Tour founder Henri Desgrange set out to do something amazing and succeeded.

An austere type, Desgranges could have been a character 19th century novel by Emile Zola. When a hungry rider asked for food he told the impertinent rider to eat a lump of coal. He was an ardent nationalist who used the Tour as a vehicle to define the French nation and challenge Germany. But he’d surely have loved to see the Tour’s visit to Britain with the huge crowds for the business and the cultural exchange, a little bit of France invading England.

Yorkshire’s grand départ and the London finish has been a roaring success. It’s yet another triumph abroad. The incursion to Barcelona in 2009 had huge crowds and a Catalan gran sortida is on the menu. The same for the Tour’s visits to the Netherlands, giant crowds have brought the race back again and again since the 1950s.

Why start abroad?
It’s a money-spinner. Start with the reported £4 million (roughly $7m / €5m) fee for ASO for the grand départ in Yorkshire, a tidy fee but don’t confuse the fee with the profit because part of this money is spent, for example booking hotels to lodge the teams and all the organisation from police to publicity caravan staff. However it’s considered worth paying for given the benefits from immediate hotel occupancy rates to longer-term things such as putting Yorkshire is on the map.

In addition there some more subtle gains. The Tour’s visit helps grow the sport in the UK by raising its profile further thus increasing the likelihood of a return visit. Plus ASO is able to offer its corporate sponsors in the caravan increased exposure to the UK market

“Worth paying” is a subjective statement. Cost benefit analyses tend to show a good net gain for the hosts but those working in the tourist industry gain while others facing traffic disruption and high taxes might not share the fun.

So how does the Tour make money?
Amaury Sport Organisation has four prime sources of income from the Tour de France:

  • hosting fees for the grand départ and then stage starts and finishes: The latter cost around €100,000. The race can be in and out in 12 hours, no wonder it’s much less than the start fee
  • TV rights money: channels around the world pay for the rights to show the race. It’s a major sporting event however the income doesn’t rival other international competitions like the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics. For starters filing the race is expensive, no fixed cams in a stadium, the Tour is on the move every day with motorbike cameras, helicopters and aerial relays and more. Also in France, the race’s prime market a government decree from 2004 stipulates the race must be available on a free-to-view channel which means there’s no bidding war for the rights
  • The publicity caravan: if you’ve not seen the race is preceded by a long convoy of bizarre vehicles decked out in the livery of various brands with staff aboard the vehicles throwing out free samples and other promotions. It measures 12km long and contains close to 200 vehicles. The fees vary in proportion to the number of vehicles and their size, from €100,000 for a single car to ten times this for a flotilla of large trucks
  • Race sponsors: if teams are struggling for sponsors there are several giant multinationals pouring cash into the sport. Look at the Tour de France with Skoda, Nestlé. I understand LCL, a French bank, pays around €4 million a year to have its name on the yellow jersey and furnish the priceless lions. The green and polka dot jerseys have a tariff around €1.5 million.

500 years ago Britain and France staged an elaborate show. Today we’ve seen another example, yellow instead of gold. Aside from the odd selfish selfie it’s been great to see the Tour attract such big crowds, the grandest of grand departs. In 2002 Marcel Kittel started cycling with his father, went on a family holiday to France and then dropped athletics for cycling. How many Brits will be inspired to start racing and perhaps in ten years’ time a few will take part in the Tour?

But there’s a business side to it all too. ASO’s decision to visit Britain wasn’t just for the plaisir, it’s part of a marketing and promotion exercise that’s ensured very lucrative weekend for the Tour de France. There’s the immediate cash fee from Yorkshire and various tiers of British government but longer term the Tour’s popularity in Britain means a valuable market for sponsors. As the Tour sets sail to France it’ll say au revoir. The only question is how soon the race will return.

38 thoughts on “The Field of the Cloth of Gold”

      • Finchingfield indeed – magnificent scenes. I never though I’d see Le Tour come through just a mile or two from my house. Friends and I talked about heading to Finchingfield but knew it would be busy – we didn’t expect it to be THAT busy though! We watched just down the road in Rayne instead. Not gonna forget it for a long time.

      • Yes, Huge support here in Essex. Looks like the photo was taken by the shops on the B1053. Looks like no pros have uploaded to Strava yet on the small bump up by the church lol

  1. The same principle as Big H’s FoCoG applies to the Grand Depart. It’s a case of ‘let’s show Frenchie that we’re not all football hooligans’. Also, there is the little-brother mentality. Just like USA cannot help but want to be involved in soccer, so we cannot avoid cycling. And lord knows we tried. Just like USA with soccer, we wilfully ignored cycling until it became too much to bear. Curiosity got the better of us. Pride got the better of us. We want to show the French that whatever they can do, we can do at least equally well. And as with USA’s new obsession with being good at soccer, there is an acknowledgement that these are the most global and epic of sports.

    And as for the financial side, this would have been a massive boost to tourism in Yorkshire. £4mil is actually money well spent when you consider the type of images that were broadcast worldwide. And although they can be belligerent blowhards, I must give credit to Yorkshire folk – I doubt us southerners could have pulled it off as well as you did. You put on a superb show.

    As for the tifosi, yeah British fans can be just as stupid/brilliant as continentals. The ‘my fans are better than yours’ shit is a bit pointless. Karlton Kurby was made to look predictably stupid after his claims that you’d never get an Englishman mugging to camera. Have a word with yourself. But the whole over-enthusiastic/naive fan thing did give birth to what is a truly wonderful phenomena – pelo-rage. I think there should be a jersey for whichever rider slaps the most fans upside the head per stage. Aggression towards fans should be encouraged.

    • They could give a jersey to whoever slaps Carlton ‘The man doth be a twat’ Kirby the most. The public could compete in that one.

  2. Do you know if any of the convoy sponsors can pay less and miss stages? For example a French bank might not want to bother sending a float across Yorkshire, but instead join the race from tomorrow onwards. Or a British food company might want to catch the 2.5m Brits on the side of the road but not waste their cash on the next 2.5 weeks in France.

    Excellent choice of photo with ye olde English buildings to draw your parallels with history.

    • I don’t know how flexible the contracts are but yes, some brand don’t want to promote in places where they don’t operate. But there are crossovers, Teisseire sirop drinks are owned by a British firm Britvic and I gather were promoting British products on the roads to the domestic audience.

      • If the caravan contracts are not flexible, there could have been the possibility of some companies with no business in Britain and no cross-ownership selling on their slot to a British company for the first three days.

      • They were promoting “Fruit Shoots”, a similarly sugary kids’ drink, in the UK stages, with no sign of Teisseire.

        The caravan did seem shorter than we expected, so I guess a load of French brands will have joined in from today onwards.

        • The Teisseire tat is in French and features said drinks with French labels, so I presume they’re selling it in France now. My four year old saw two stages but his favourite thing was the giant mobile Fruit Shoot bottle/car. He giggles just thinking about it. We also got some Yorkshire The. But the rest of the box was in English. That’s too good for mere Europeans. ‘Appen I’ll mek mi sen a cup reet now. (I am not from Yorkshire btw)

        • Au contraire mon cher Nick. Teisseire definitely had a vehicle in the caravan in Leeds. There was no sign of Fruit Shoot. The local people next to me actually said “what’s Teisseire?” Although born in Leeds I live in France and so was able to tell them.

    • Indeed. The Yorkshire Tea floats got the loudest cheer in Harrogate and Sheffield but I can’t imagine anyone in Reims or Nancy knowing who they are. Similarly the closest us Brits get to a Carrefour is a booze cruise to Calais.

  3. Thank you inrng, I was hoping you might cover the impact of the TdF visit to the UK. However, I think both the potential and implications are far, far wider than just lining the pockets of ASO. This is one of the problems a somewhat insular sport has inherited. Only the present day financial powers are considered. Sometimes this blinds analysts to other opportunities. It must be a truth that something that attracts millions of people to the roadside must have unchartered potential.

    It is a little early to get a figure for television viewers, but roadside spectator’s were massive.

    How many additional bike and kit sales will be generated ? How many would be sponsors have been stirred by the potential ? How many future potential champions were roadside ? How many other areas/regions in Europe will want a slice of the action ? How have the regional Authorities garnered such support and passion ? What is the potential for improved technology ? How can the French stranglehold on TV production and distribution be challenged ? The questions are as endless as one wants to make them. If the sport is to move forward in the future, some questions require answering.

  4. Yorkshire, a tidy fee but don’t confuse the fee with the profit because part of this money is spent, for example booking hotels to lodge the teams and all the organisation from police to publicity caravan staff.

    Are you sure? Because we know at lower-ranked WT events the local government picks up the tab for many things including police, barriers, road closures, pretty much everything. Also, hotel rates are fixed (and incredibly low) to the promoter and left for the municipality to sort out the rest.

    What about power and data for ASO and sports writers? They require a very high speed connection, nothing like home Internet. Mechanics have requirements too. All paid by the municipality.

    Google this phrase: “”If you look at the money given to comparable events such as the Rugby League World Cup, that’s about half-a-million pounds, £10m is a very generous grant from central government that will enable Yorkshire to run an absolutely fantastic event next year.” That should point you to the BBC article. I don’t know what has transpired since.

    • has an article saying the final budget is £26.5 million. Quite a bit (10x?) more than the last remote Grand Departe on Corsica!

      Google the phrase:
      Update on Tour de France Grand Départ – including how the £26.5m budget is being spent

      Organsisers TdFHUB2014 Ltd say plans are on time and on budget as they issue progress report

      You should get the story.

  5. Seemed to be a lot less vehicles in the caravan than normal, so I guess a few didn’t bother sending vehicles to Yorkshire, which makes sense given they’d pay a lot to get on the ferry and may not fit on the channel tunnel? Certainly not the impressive site I saw on the TT last year in Leeds and Sheffield this year

          • There were plenty of local ones that won’t make it to France, some probably not even Cambridge: Sheffield Hallam University, Yorkshire Building Society, Yorkshire Tea, British Cycling

          • Bonne Maman have been making cakes and biscuits for years. I’m sure you can buy their madeleines in the UK.

            But, yes, the thought did strike me that the caravan was predominanlty Brit-brands who wouldn’t make the Channel crossing. Yorkshire Tea could be conceivably be using the Tour as a bridgehead to displace Lipton in French tea drinkers’ affections, but I can’t imagine Sheffield Hallam University or Yorkshire Building Society will be wanting to pay for the remaining 18 days aorund France.

          • Phil S, yes you can buy many of their products over here, it was more that Le Tour has official Cake and Chips sponsors. Two lovely healthy products that I didn’t expect to see – but then I often think this, how sport can have things like official booze sponsors, and also cigarettes back in the day. Often its apparent that some sports fans take the advertising on board but not the encouragement to take up the sport and the accompanying healthy lifestyle message, if you see what I mean….

  6. What a phenomenally nice historic comparison!! Do you still have time to watch the Tudors next to the Tour or are you just extremely erudite?

    • I know Ardres, but I didn’t know the Field of the Cloth of Gold took place there. I go to the excellent wine merchants to stock up from time to time. The traiteur is good too.

  7. “As the Tour sets sail to France it’ll say au revoir. The only question is how soon the race will return.”

    Of course there’s the “3 days of de Yorkshire / criterium du Yorkshire” coming up annually, and I hope uk sport / british cycling builds on this and goes for the world road championships next. I expect the tour to be back around 2020.

  8. This weekend has seen a seismic shift in the UK. We were on Oxenhope and then smashed it back to Otley and were looking for a TV to catch the finish. Over a pint of KOM in a working men’s club we were discusing Jensie’s chances of hanging on to the polka dot jersey, with some locals. Surrounded by pictures of proud steel mill workers and their Rugby League Trophies. These great Yorkshire Lads and Lasses were as enthusiastic as anyone. They may not know the sport, bu they get it. There were coppers on bikes giving daft Benny hill salutes. Police cars blaring out the Bergerac theme tune. It doesn’t matter if it don’t translate, it was beautiful to see,hear and be a part of. We are already planning to go back. Hopefully UK Government will take note and we will get better cycling infrastructure, more awareness. I saw a wee one on a wooden balance bike her dad painted yellow. Imagine be 2 or 3 year old and already you have seen the mightiest bike race on the planet and the ol fella has you on bike. I hope there are many who will go on to get a bike and enjoy the journey.

    • Let’s hope not too many of the local authorities involved take the view that they’ve used up their budget for cycling infrastructure, etc, in supporting the Grand Depart. Hopefully, the £6m that Transport for London has allegedly spent on posters and advertising banners doesn’t mean £6m less for making highway junctions more cyclist-friendly.

  9. It was a truly stunning experience, to witness the Tour in the city where I live and around the areas I ride. I managed to take in the start in Leeds, get up on to the moor tops for stage 2 and then down to London for stage 3. I think the thing that really stood out for me was the whole of Yorkshire bascially coming out for one big party, the atmosphere on the roadside was something I’ve never experienced before and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people smiling and happy. I’ve seen lots of sporting events in all sorts of venues but never anything like this. A very very special weekend.

  10. Why can’t there be bidding on the French tv rights? Is there only one free channel? In the US free channels bid up sport events right all the time.

    • In short because it means few channels, therefore fewer bids. Several channels have the same owner so there’s no bidding between them which leaves 2-3 bidders maximum. But the big money has come from Qatar-backed BeIn Sport and local Canal+ bidding for the rights for sports events.

  11. My understanding is that French law has a say in how TV rights can be appropriated. I am afraid I can’t recall the exact conditions. European television is something of a mystery, given the purported free internal market in Europe. For information to non European readers. You can not legally watch British SKY broadcasts, even though the satellite footprint covers much of the continent and is readily available to those in the know. In the case of France, I may be wrong, but I recall there are fairly strong conditions laid down which favour’s the home nations companies, both private and national. Nothing new or surprising there !

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