The Tour de France’s TV Guarantee

Tour de France

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:

  1. The summer and winter Olympics
  2. Any international football matches featuring the French team
  3. The opening game, semi-finals and the finals of the FIFA world cup
  4. The semi-finals and the finals of the UEFA European football championships
  5. The UEFA Cup final if a French team is taking part
  6. The football Champions League final
  7. The final of the football Coupe de France
  8. The Six Nations rugby tournament
  9. The semi-finals and the final of the rugby World Cup
  10. The final of the French rugby championships
  11. The final of the European rugby cup if a French team is taking part
  12. The final of the men’s and women’s singles in the Roland-Garros tennis tournament
  13. The semi-finals and finals of the Davis Cup and Fed Cup if the French team is taking part
  14. The French Formula 1 GP
  15. The Tour de France
  16. Paris-Roubaix
  17. The finals of the men’s and women’s European basketball championships if the French team is taking part
  18. The finals of the men’s and women’s World basketball championships if the French team is taking part
  19. The finals of the men’s and women’s European handball championships if the French team is taking part
  20. The finals of the men’s and women’s World handball championships if the French team is taking part
  21. 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.

Tour de France Alpe d'Huez

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.

Dubai Tour Dominique Kowalski

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.

49 thoughts on “The Tour de France’s TV Guarantee”

  1. InFront Sports & Media, like Sepp Blatter, is deeply embedded in the IOC. It will be very interesting to see if the operations continue as-is past the Rio games.

  2. Britain also has protected events which must appear on free-to-air television. These include the Olympics, football world cup & European Championships, FA Cup final, Grand National, The Derby, Wimbledon finals, Rugby League Challenge Cup final and Rugby Union World Cup final. However, events in which play extends over several days such as the Open golf, Ryder Cup and Cricket test matches only highlights must be shown on freeview television. Does the French law state that coverage must be live? Could the ASO sell live coverage to a subscription channel and daily highlights to a free-to-air channel?

    • Australia has similar protected events but it’s mostly for the main-stream sports.
      The Tour Down Under was sold to the highest bidder a couple of years ago to the detriment of the coverage (11pm daily highlights anyone?) and the national football/soccer league (the A League) has struggled more than it needed to to gain traction because it has limited free to air coverage.

      • The TDU has far more live hours of race coverage than it ever did with the previous broadcaster, SBS. For the first time in Australian TV history, major commercial free to air TV networks have bid to broadcast local cycling coverage.

        Nine has the deal for TDU and other races, while Seven landed the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road race. Sure their coverage ain’t perfect but you have rose tinted glasses on if you think SBS coverage is. They will get better at it. Think about the innovations these networks introduced with many other sports (e.g. motor sport, cricket). Having them work on how to bring cycling to a much wider audience is very good news, rather than be stuck on a niche channel.

        As far as I’m concerned, it frees up SBS’s resources to broadcast on free to air more European tours, one day classics and other big races (e.g. Tour of California). This is a good thing.

      • I think you’ll find they were given the coverage? It was not bid / paid for. ie Given the owner of the TDU is about generating publicity for SA, they punted that more people would watch it on Channel 9 than on SBS.

  3. I think the list of protected events is a good thing but its aim is undermined by other factors which will eventually cause it to come under pressure to be modified.

    In theory it should maintain interest in sporting events and encourage youngsters to take up the sport and ensure a healthy grass-roots scene. Unfortunately if there are other barriers to entry to the sport then interest will become symbolic of what once was rather than what is now.

    An example of this in the UK is Wimbledon Tennis Championships. It is screened on the BBC (free-to-air) but most people don’t play any tennis due to the lack of public courts so you need to join a club which increases the cost and requires a level of planning/organisation. Also most people only watch tennis once a year when Wimbledon is on BECAUSE it is free-to-air as there is otherwise very little tennis on free-to-air TV.
    It is not hard to see a future where Wimbledon is allowed to be removed from the list (or only the final is on the BBC) and sold to Sky because its placement on the list is symbolic of past interest rather than current popular interest in tennis.

  4. i imagine there might be some room to manoeuvre around the french rights restriction with the “added value content” that is starting to come up eg in car, on bike, drones etc. have basic coverage free to air, maybe highlight/key moments as noted, and then full coverage with special footage/content and full coverage available via a “premium service”

        • I’m actually surprised that the US numbers are as high as reported. Why? Unless you have cable, and the right cable provider, and are willing to pay for a certain level of service, watching the TDF in the US is not an option. Then there is also the time issue. Any event in Europe is not on at a good time for North America. So for me, I read the feed of the stage, the minute by minute version as I eat breakfast. Until the US changes its cable set up, its the best I can do for in depth coverage. Thanks Inner Ring!

  5. English premiership football rights sold for £5.7 BILLION over 3 years today. Broadcasters paying something like £10million per game. No idea how that money is spent but it’s a crazy amount

      • No, no, the problem is exactly that this amount of money in reality isn’t in sport. It is just hard to get a grip on it, because the sums are so high. But if it weren’t for some superwealthy people who own and sponsor teams – from footballteams to the NBAteams, the whole scenery of professional sport would look totally different. There are only a few global or big players who are able to make real money by themselves.

        • Why do you think Sky just paid £4bn for English premier League football? They didn’t do it because of a few rich people, or out of charity. They did it because they think they need football to attract subscribers (who they can then try and sell mobile and broadband packages to also, plus advertisers who want to reach those subscribers).

          So Sky think there people *will* pay up to watch sport (and so far they’ve been right, at least in the UK). But as INRNG has pointed out many times in the past, part of the way to make them pay up is to be innovative and creative in how you televise and package it – something cycling has been very slow to do.

          And also as INRNG describes above, restrictive coverage rules like the ones in France reduce the incentives for anyone to do that. Football in the UK was similar when the terrestrial channels had the monopoly. (But that’s not to say what’s happened since has been an unalloyed Good Thing… English football has many new problems that all the money has brought with it…)

    • Apparently the UK football rights fetch such a high sum because they allow the broadcasters to sell advertising for beer. I wonder if a cycling audience lowers as many beers per head as a football audience….

  6. Small apples compared to the recent Super Bowl american football game viewed by supposedly 100 million worldwide. Small wonder the advert commercial slots were going for $25 mil for 30 seconds of air time.

    • well, according to NBC it is actually around 4.5 million for a 30 second commercial. However, when one considers the right to the ENTIRE tour de france in Germany were just sold for 5 million euro, you can see the difference between cycling and other sports, and how (comparatively) little money there is in TV rights. I mean, teams are saying they want a slice of the pie, but say they got 50% of the revenue from TV rights (which will never happen) they would then divide that by 18, and get practically nothing.

  7. Just makes me wonder even more about the aims of Velon. The perception is ASO/TdF is a huge cash-cow but the reality seems rather different. Even if they gathered enough loot together to buy it (as it was rumored BigTex and Co. tried to do awhile back?) entirely it’s hard to see where all the money they blather on about would come from to finance their cycling super-league dreams.

    • Germany’s list suck. I know, football is by far the most popular, and I don’t mind, but only football events with the exception of the Olympics is a bit narrow minded. I know Germany is not the country with the biggest cycling history, but it is a shame that at least stuff like handball or field hockey, which do have a tradition in Germany are not on the list.

    • Maybe, but it feels like the rules keep changing. Home test matches (cricket) used to be on the protected list, then they weren’t, and now they are only on Sky. The Open golf has just gone to Sky, even though it used to be protected. It feels like the list is open to manipulation as soon as the commercial pressure builds sufficiently. Why have it at all?

  8. Agree Inrng, The Tour is more than a bike race, it has an important socio cultural past, present and long live it a future. So it should be available for the mass audience to watch for FREE.

  9. Maybe this is just the American in me, but to have these protected events list seems absurd to me. Besides the Olympics, the rest just seem like someone passed laws to pander for votes. Why should entertainment be free. I pay to see a movie, why shouldn’t I pay to watch an event. Cyclists don’t work for free, but countries give away their product for nothing?

    • You’re right. It is the American in you. You’ve been trained like sheep to accept the commoditization of everything. You see, we socialists know that watching professional sports either *in situ* or on TV is an important human good, without which human beings will fail to achieve true, authentic self-realization. The state has a moral obligation to protect and promote the self-realization of human beings. Therefore, the state has a moral obligation to protect and promote the ability of human beings to watch pro sports either *in situ* or on TV. Simple truths combined with iron-clad logic, mate.

      • It is worth noting that free to air doesn’t mean the broadcaster hasn’t paid for the rights.
        In the UK the BBC and ITV (and others) still bid for the rights of the protected programmes. The viewer of free to air is ultimately also paying for them in the end via tax (UK TV licence) or adverts.

        My view on having a protected events is about their value beyond just the hardcore fans. As anonymous notes a couple of posts above the Tour is so much more than a race in France as the fact everybody can see it protects that status. I would think the superbowl is something similar in the US. I dont expect it would be such a nationwide ‘cultural’ event if the game was only on HBO or another subscription channel.

        I would accept free to air doesn’t guarantee the popularity of the sport or professional success. Wimbledon has been free to air for years and Murray is all we have to show for that but expect there would be even less player if coverage was pay per view.

    • “but countries give away their product for nothing?”

      How much is the Tour de France charged for the *exclusive* use of French roads, because they are closed when the riders are using them?

      • Well, maybe, specifically, the TdF makes for a bad example. But something like F1 would unlikely “cost” the taxpayers anything if its on a private track. why shouldn’t Bernie be able to sell the rights to the highest bidder and not only the highest bidder who will show it on free tv.

        • Like noted above, that law means that the broadcaster who purchases the right can’t broadcast it per Pay-TV (and in some cases it also has to be live and full coverage). And that’s a good thing. Not everybody can pay for TV or go to the movies, when they feel like it. Especially these days where a fulltime job often doesn’t earn you enough to live. In the very end it means we as a society pay for it, so everybody in our society can participate. The reason that there are not more events on the list is of course that not everything is attractive for Pay-TV. These are events that are and they need to be protected. And I think you are very, very wrong about F1 not being paid for by taxpayers.

          • +1 I wonder if the NFL’s Superbowl were to be sold to a pay-per-view broadcaster would we hear Americans screaming about their patrimony being hijacked by a greedy corporation? Not that this isn’t already the case, but pay-per-view would be a different, more direct way.

          • I feel like you’re missing the point I’m making. Yes I think it’s nice that everybody gets to see these events on free-TV, but it’s nobody’s god given right to have free entertainment. Sports is for profit entertainment (mostly). It’s like telling a movie maker that they can only show their movie in a theater that charges $1, and not in the one that charges $10. But no government does that.

          • It does change the model for cycling which relies on teams to sell jersey space on the promise of mass audiences, go to pay-per-view and you have a smaller audience so less value to sponsors. Of course TV revenues can be shared etc but this is dependent on people paying up.

            As for the Tour, it is part of the landscape and it along with other races are cultural events, even if they’re owned by private businesses.

          • Anon – you’re correct that I’m missing your point. But when you write “Sports is for profit entertainment (mostly).” you make it clear that we have vastly different ideas on the purpose of sport. Movies and things like WWE are merely entertainment, but sport by definition is much, much more.

        • F1 are pretty clear when talking to new potential venues that substantial govt investment is required in the circuits and surrounding infrastructure, and a tax-break or two for the competing entities wouldn’t go amiss either.

  10. Ummmmm it seems to me you’re confusing selling the ownership of the event, versus the TV rights of the event.

    Yes, being able to exclusively broadcast the event via Pay TV would likely increase the value of TV rights, but that doesn’t mean you’d sell the to a Pay TV company.

  11. Wouldn’t the US viewership numbers be deceptively low due to viewers recording the TDF on their DVR’s. Living on the west coast, I have always recorded the TDF stages and then watched them at night. I am sure I am not alone in doing this. Maybe I am mistaken but I thought that recorded shows aren’t counted as views because of the method that views are measured.

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