The Wealthiest People in Pro Cycling, Part II

Jean Etienne Amaury

After looking at the wealthy World Tour team owners last week, the people who spend their money on the sport, now a chance to look at the millionaires who make money from the sport. As ever the point isn’t to gawk at wealth but to offer an introductory “follow the money” piece so you know who pulls the strings.

Christian Prudhomme is Monsieur Tour de France and sometimes seen a decisive force but power in the sport 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 who took over the reins when her husband died in 2006, the only woman in this series. Readers probably know ASO owns the Tour de France but it also runs other sports events like the Paris-Dakar rally, the French Open golf and the Paris Marathon and they’ve taken 100% control of the Vuelta a España too. ASO has been a cog in the wheel of a larger media empire but recently the family sold Le Parisien newspaper meaning the Tour de France and sports events have become more central to the business. The Amaury family own the firm 100% after buying out minority shareholders and Jean-Etienne Amaury (pictured) is being groomed for the top job. 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.

If the Amaury family became rich and famous after acquiring newspaper titles and their subsidiary bike races in the post-war period, across the Alps the Bonacossa family are a wealthy clan of aristrocrats who bought into La Gazzetta Dello Sport during the 1920s alongside other activities in politics and sport. They remain the owners today even if they “rent” the paper out to RCS Media in a complicated, and apparently private, pact that includes running the Giro d’Italia but not outright ownership. But RCS is in the middle of a large reorganisation and is said to be close to making an offer to Countess Alberta Bonacossa to buy the paper outright and with it the Giro. What it means is that anyone who wants to buy the Giro has to ask both RCS and the Bonacossa family.

Wouter Vandenhaute

Wouter Vandenhaute is Mister Cobbled Classics. He’s 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. For cyclists, he owns 50% of Flanders Classics, the business that owns the Tour of Flanders and other Flemish fixtures. The other half is owned by Corelio, owner of, among other things, the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper. Vandenhaute’s been snapping up races to package them under the Flanders Classic label and this concentration has allowed extra sponsor sales and other sales tactics like hospitality. If you’re still smarting about the Tour of Flanders moving away from the Kapelmuur to the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg in order to install VIP zones then here’s the man to blame.

Sky Bus

There are others in the sport who are wealthy and have an active role. James Murdoch, son and heir-apparent of Rupert, is still a keen cycling fan and a non-executive director at Sky, the UK television arm of the Murdoch family empire. If “non-executive” sounds passive, he’s CEO of 21st Century Fox which owns 40% of the British broadcaster so he’s arguably the most powerful man in the Sky boardroom. Sky are said to be “exploring options” which could mean a takeover or a sell out as Murdoch doesn’t like partially owning the UK TV arm, preferring all or nothing. We’ll see what this does for Team Sky but in the meantime Murdoch is an active supporter of the Velon venture, his interest in the media and Sky’s transformation of the British football premiership make this natural.

Drapac Team Launch

I don’t know how wealthy Michael Drapac is, the figure is hard to track down. But he’s made a fortune over the years as a property developer in Australia and the West Coast of the US. Some of this is being spent on the eponymous Drapac Pro Cycling team. Another wealthy man with so much money he spends it on his hobby? Yes and no as the team is much more than a glorified version of Velogames. Yes as here’s an eponymous team racing around Asia and the US in the name of the team owner, or rather his business and of course marketing spend is tax-free. But this is more nuanced as the Australian Pro Continental team puts a big emphasis on life beyond cycling with riders encouraged to study and regularly reflect on their certain retirement. This is a philosophical leap from the short termism apparent in cycling and practically every other sport and makes for a fascinating case study. In his words “medals are just a by-product” of sports, the idea being that true success is having a fruitful pro career but then being able to enter the real world with skills and self-belief and for more on this his speech on the team launch in 2014 is worth a read. So perhaps his bank account or balance sheet doesn’t matter?

IMG and its various private owners have a role in cycling with ventures like producing the InCycle video content and working with Velon (which helps explain why InCycle resembles Velon-vision). But for such a large sports agency their role in cycling is a small one, perhaps a way of keeping an iron in the fire in case they want to strike one day.

Wang Jianlin (pictured, photo by Word Economic Forum/Natalie Behring) also has a small role in the sport. He’s the Chinese billionaire behind Wanda, he began as a Chinese border guard and went on to command a regiment before going into business and owning hundreds of shopping malls, hotels, cinemas and karaoke bars in China and now he’s on a shopping spree around the world buying a real estate plus stake in Athletico Madrid football team. Wanda’s bought Ironman, the branded triathlon events company, and recently the endurance-race division of Lagardère Sports which runs several unloved pro races like the Hamburg Cyclassics or the Velothon Wales. It also owns Infront, a Swiss sports marketing agency with has a joint venture with another Swiss firm Ringier and InfrontRingier run the Tour de Suisse so technically this large race falls under Jianlin’s umbrella too. For now his presence in the sport is small but this could change. Described by The Economist as a man with “Napoleonic ambition” it seems fitting that he expressed an interest to buy the Tour de France.

Mike Sinyard sponsors three World Tour teams (Astana, Etixx-Quick Step, Tinkoff) via his Specialized firm but doesn’t venture many public opinions on the sport; 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. King Liu is the boss at Giant but again it’s a marketing operation without much power or politics. The Galbusera family aren’t big names but owning laminated steel maker Lampre gives them the wealth to back a pro team for 20 years and they’re the only remaining Italian top squad. The Carretero Napolitano family of Panama own sports shops and restaurants and are multi-millionaires and have backed the Southeast team, normal since their son Ramón rode for it until he was rumbled for EPO. Doug Ellis has been a generous backer of Slipstream but his wealth doesn’t put him in the same bracket as others above. Bahamian fund manager Mark Holowesko also sponsors the Cannondale team and also George Hincapie’s team, Citadel-Holowesko but he’s not active in directing the team; still it seems he’s helped introduce Citadel to cycling, it is a giant hedge fund run by Ken Griffin who the internet says is worth $25 billion and worth watching to see if Griffin gets hooked. There are more sponsors of course of other teams but they don’t take such an active role in their teams yet alone the wider sport.

This two-part piece isn’t to wow at wealth. Instead it explains the backgrounds of some of those sponsoring the sport, an introductory “follow the money”, highlighting the “sugardaddy” phenomenon and the conservative families owning many of the sports assets. But for all the business brains on board, many of these people are spending with little hope of a real return, highlighting the awkward nature of being a sponsor. They go where corporate sponsors won’t, despite the giant publicity generated by the Amaury’s Tour de France, many teams struggle to find buyers for the naming rights and the “real estate” on the team jersey. Yet for all the billionaire oligarchs used to clicking their fingers and getting what they want there are still some things you cannot buy. Surely the Amaury’s are the richest people in pro cycling. Not on account of money or “net worth” but because they own the sport’s prime asset: the Tour de France. As such they’re the only ones making money while everyone else is spending it.

This is the second part of a two-part series. Part I is here.

37 thoughts on “The Wealthiest People in Pro Cycling, Part II”

  1. Inner Ring
    If Mr Jianlin, for instance, ever made a very attractive offer to the Amaurys to buy TdF, do you think they’d ever sell up?
    Does Le Tour have a price?

    • Why not? They’ve looked at selling before and the review only made them see how valuable the Tour could be so they sold down their print newspapers instead so the offer would have to be too good to refuse. The race is very much part of French culture so this could be a stumbling point but other French assets have been sold to the Qataris and others paying high prices.

  2. Everything has a price. But the idea of a French institution like the TdF being sold overseas prob wouldn’t work with the public. Might as well sell the Eiffel Tower. When Abramovich tried to buy Courchevel 1850 some years back he was met with a polite but firm ‘Non’

  3. We’re far better off with the ‘conservative families’ than the businessmen (they all seem to be men) – it might not be ideal that they have so much power, but look at the alternatives: people whose primary interest is money, not ‘conservation’.

    ‘Murdoch is an active supporter of the Velon venture’.

    Another reason not to trust Velon.

    Not saying the others in this article are angels (Wang Jianlin’s history of commanding a regiment before suddenly doing very well in business sounds ‘interesting’), but google ‘James Murdoch phone hacking’ and you’ll get only a fraction of an idea of what kind of person he is. And as for his father, if you thought some of Tinkov’s public proclamations were bigoted…
    People (even on this forum) act like Sky’s sponsorship has nothing to do with Rupert – even though he’s the real power behind Newscorp – and say it’s all down to James; as if he’s all sweetness and light.

    ‘[Murdoch’s] interest in the media and Sky’s transformation of the British football premiership make this natural’.

    Newscorp’s interest in the media is financial and the dissemination of their very right-wing ideals.

    If you think British football has been improved by Sky’s control of it, then you’ll enjoy what Velon have in store.

    The British cycling media and fans are much quieter about Sky’s involvement in cycling than they are Tinkov’s or Makarov’s (is that due to nationality?) – taking the shilling and ignoring where it comes from. As ever, when money’s involved morals take a back seat.

    • We get it J Evans. You don’t like Murdoch. Apparently this means you think “conservative families” are better. To my mind its all just private ownership of things the public might enjoy. And your private idyll where cycling is an amateur thing done for the fun of it has never existed. Ever.

    • 100% in agreement with this comment, I don’t agree with ASO in lots of things but between them and this businessmen (specially Murdoch), it’s a very easy choice to make

    • Ecky Thump doesn’t own a Sky tv box, so doesn’t watch their programmes, and doesn’t buy their newspapers.
      But if Sky want to use other peoples’ money to improve British cycling, that’s OK by Ecky, there’s worse things they could do with their brass.

    • J. Evans. I am no supporter of Rupert Murdoch, but you are incorrect about his public political right wing leanings. I am at present in the USA where Trump and Murdoch’s Fox channel are at loggerheads, resulting in a big falling out and Trump throwing his toys out of the pram. When I am in the UK I never cease to be amazed that the Sky News Channel appears to vie with the BBC in pushing the lefties/lovies/celebratory political point of view.

      Murdoch will go where the money is. He is a hard bastard and a very successful businessman first and foremost. Where money is concerned politics comes a distant second. You would probably do well to remember the number of people this businessman has on his payroll worldwide, in addition to the small matter of a bike team !

      You should not display your emotions concerning financial power too much. It is after all, together with love what makes the world go round !

      • A lot of right wing people are against Trump – because they see him as an electoral liability.
        If you don’t think ‘The Sun’, ‘Fox News’ or R. Murdoch’s personal views are right wing then OK.
        Not displaying emotions – just not ignoring what is there to see.

        • Murdoch’s political views take second place to his and his companies ability to make money, was the point I was making. He is a business man first and last. If he see’s a possibility to make money from politics he will.

          Off topic and delete please INRNG if inappropriate. Talk to the ‘man in the street’ in the USA about Trump. No he is certainly not popular as a person, but his arrogance, financial independence and ability to chime with popular sentiment and to not take the accepted political line, but say simply what he thinks, is proving extremely popular.

      • Rupert Murdoch has backed almost every Conservative PM since Margaret Thatcher…. he’s completely right wing. He identifies himself as a libertarian, the type who believes in as little capitalism oversight as possible, with very little government, a very right wing ideology.

        Saying that Murdoch is at loggerheads with Trump has got nothing to do with political ideology, Trump is a lunatic and ZERO right wing politicians in the US are backing Trump (Sarah Palin doesn’t count for obvious reasons).

        Sorry bud, but Murdoch is right wing, regardless what Sky reports on. Sky has to cater to a very mixed (liberal and conservative) viewership.

        • Whoops, good point Inrng – you have to admit though, doing a piece on the people financially backing cycling would easily lead to discussions about those people/groups. This isn’t an entirely cycling heavy topic.

          Thanks again for this piece though, it is really interesting. I’ll hold off on further comments until we get to sporting topics! Back to accounting.

  4. Nice feature – both parts. I think it’s important to point out the idea of multinational, corporate sponsorship of pro cycling was a unique phenomenon rather than the norm until doping scandals put an end to it. When I went to watch my first TdF in 1988, the cars were Peugeots, the official drink was Perrier and you could still buy a mini-velo from a guy pulling them along the race course. All the corporate money came flying in when Greg LeMond first put pro cycling on the radar of the North American corporate world and it reached its peak with BigTex. Otherwise, as you point out, the sponsors tend to be people with some level of interest in the SPORT rather than just its publicity value. I think we need to be reminded that this situation is more normal and stop pining away for the days when the sport was awash in corporate cash and assuming that if the sport just does something “right” it will all come flooding back. Other than some fat rider salaries, I don’t see where the corporate money (or the globalization) has really improved the sport in any way.

    • Hey Larry – quick point and I understand why you’d forget this. You say you “don’t see where the corporate money (or globalization) has really improved the sport in any way”, but without either (assuming their tied together), the following wouldn’t exist:

      a) cycling fans outside of the core cycling countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and maybe Britain), and therefore,

      b) your company wouldn’t exist. I’d bet $1 billion USD (that I don’t have mind you) that a cycling travel company from Iowa would not have a customer base if cycling had no global (US is included here) fans.

      PS, we wouldn’t have Inrng either!

      • Good points, but you’re wrong my friend. My first trip to LeTour was in 1988 BEFORE any multi-national, corporate involvement. That company got started due to LeMond’s victory in 1986, but corporate, multi-national business involvement/sponsorship had little to do with it. 10 years later we began CycleItalia and while we DID offer a “Tour de France in Italy” itinerary (seeing Tex destroy all at Sestriere) the numbers involved client-wise were not enough to base our business on. We eventually moved on from “race-chasing” though dabbled in it when we wanted to see a stage or two of the Giro (last time was when Nibali won, we were there in the snow at Tre Cime Lavaredo) but our business is based on clients wanting to enjoy la dolce vita in bicicletta more than anything else. As much a pro cycling fan as the two owners are, our clients demonstrate very little interest in the sport, so other than a general increase in interest in cycling (but not as much as you’d think from the BigTex daze) in the USA, which can’t really be credited to CORPORATE involvement, our business doesn’t (and didn’t) really exist as a result. Our business goes up and down with the general economic situation in the USA rather than the ups or downs of corporate sponsorship of pro cycling. May it ever be so.

        • I am very happy you’ve been able to build this company, and that it continues to have success. Please do not misinterpret my comment, I’m not trying to criticise you.

          Globalisation in cycling was well on the way in the mid-80’s as you proved. Greg Lemond, Andy Hampsten and the 7-11 team IS GLOBALISATION. Don’t forget, there was a Canadian and a Mexican on that squad as well.

          In 1971, the Tour de France’s competitors (and sponsors) were only from traditional cycling countries, such as French, Belgians, Italians, and Spaniards. Sometimes Dutch and Danes.

          By 1986 there were Americans, Columbians, Swiss, Danish and other Europeans. Plus, sponsorship now included Panasonic, Coca-Cola, Perrier had globalised, Peugeot had globalised.

          The fact that your company exists proves that globalisation does have many benefits. I understand that your clientele are not rabid cycling fans, but because they’re travelling to Italy from Iowa and other American states proves my point. Without globalisation your company would not exist in its current format. Your company is the definition of globalisation. I think I saw your logo on the Merriam Webster dictionary beside globalisation.

  5. “British football premiership”? No such thing. Football is one of those sports that was codified by the British before others started playing, so the component countries have kept their own identities. The English football premiership has done well out of Sky; the Scottish league less so, and I doubt they cover the Welsh league at all.

  6. I’d rather stick with the ‘old money’ over the neuveaux riche any time. They appear happy just to run/own these things out of some sort of inherited responsibility. The money involved with the Tour probably doesn’t hurt for the Amaury’s. Businessmen by their very nature are obsessed with money. Everything has to become bigger and make more money year on year. So things get gaudy and overly promoted and eventually annoying. The old English Football League first division had one purpose, to find who was the best football team in England each season. It was followed by the media becuase people wanted to know about it. The Premier League on the other hand is a business, or even worse a brand, seeking out new ‘markets’ and whatever else and constantly being pushed and dramatised in a way that football, as by far the most popular sport in the country, doesn’t really need.

    • I can see where you’re coming from, but note that the people in the old English football league were the same people who set up the English Premier League, so I’m not completely convinced that the old money and new money are fundamentally different.

      And while celebrity culture (and indeed globalisation) are much more noticeable now than previously, there was an awful lot of drama about and around football even then – George Best being seen as “the fifth Beatle”, football teams having no. 1 records, and so on.

  7. Thank you Inring, I have learned more about pro cycling reading your column
    the last couple years than the previous thirty following the sport.
    A big thank you to all commenters also, the knowledge displayed with comments describing tacticts
    is not matched elsewhere, and even the back and forth between individual posters is done in a mostly civilized way. Hats off to all involved.

  8. Mike Sinyard sponsors three World Tour teams (Astana, Etixx-Quick Step, Tinkoff) via his Specialized firm

    Clarification: Specialized is majority owned by Merida. Sinyard works for Merida.

    I’m not sure how many bikes Trek makes any more. They are a huge Giant customer.

    As you’ve posted before, top end carbon product comes from companies with almost no Western visibility. They concentrate on manufacturing and leave the Marketing to others.

Comments are closed.