Great Expectations

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As returns to normality go, yesterday’s stage of the Route d’Occitanie brought some familiarity and certitudes with Team Ineos riding on the front of the bunch all day, then setting the tempo on the final climb for their leader to win.

Only it wasn’t live TV, we might imagine the prospect of a summit finish with Bernal, Froome, Pinot, Porte, Bardet, Lopez and Barguil as valuable but it’s expensive too and for many races it’s their biggest cost.

The topic of sharing TV rights income is one that never goes away, a zombie argument that just won’t die. As a reminder only a few races can sell their rights and even if you could somehow confiscate their revenue to redistribute among the teams backed by billionaires, multinationals and nation states the sums they’d receive would not be sufficient to change pro cycling’s sponsorship model. See the Revenue Sharing Revisited post from last year to see how using audited numbers plus audacious generosity can’t get to a panacea.

The Route d’Occitanie is on Eurosport with highlights every night but not live because the race owners and its backers the Occitanie regional government didn’t want to pay for the extra cost this year. It’s a pity given the star names taking part and appetite from fans. More so since the race, formerly known as the Route du Sud, had led the way with a deal with Eurosport several years ago as one of the first of the smaller pro races to get live TV coverage, satisfying both sides as Eurosport needs “content” and the race wanting a bigger audience.

Only TV coverage is expensive, live TV even more so. Usually Eurosport is a broadcaster, not a producer of TV and someone has to film the race and beam the video. Hiring these services means paying for a live production crew, a relay aircraft to fly above the race, and satellite bandwidth. Far from auctioning off the rights for income, TV coverage is an expense and a large one too, typically €80,000 a day at the moment making it the biggest cost for a race by far, way more than paying teams their obligatory start fees, or the hotel bill for the teams and caravan.

Often it’s worthwhile paying, “as seen on TV” is valuable and validatory. TV coverage puts the host towns in the spotlight so the race owners can charge larger hosting fees and mayors feel like paying. Event sponsors with their hoardings can reach millions rather than just locals and maybe some publicity in newspaper pictures. So TV can be an investment, pay €80,000 a day for live coverage and you can hope to attract €80,000 a day in extra sponsorship. But as investments go this is risky rather than rewarding and as we’re seeing several races that have tried it are struggling. This week’s Route d’Occitanie has stopped live coverage, the upcoming Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge has secured live coverage but only just in recent days and this month’s Tour du Limousin is likely to be the last edition with TV as the contract expires and the regional government won’t fund a renewal.

One change coming is the arrival of GCN, the dedicated cycling channel which is part of US media company Discovery, as is Eurosport. Eurosport has been hungry for cycling content but this is now essential for GCN, there are must a limit to the “how to” videos and having regular live racing is needed to bring in paying subscribers so it could in some cases help in cost-sharing for the races like Eurosport did with the Route du Sud in the past. But that’s a maybe, a possibility.

Hungry to see live racing and some of the best names in action this week? Us cycling fans might feel a sense of entitlement and expectation but it’s expensive to make it happen. The Route d’Occitanie is a charming event but remains a modest UCI 2.1 stage race, it’s run by volunteers and the cost of live TV is beyond its reach. As such it’s a reminder that many races don’t get income, instead they have to pay for TV coverage and it’s far from an optional extra that’s nice on top, it’s typically the most expensive cost for an event. There’s been a boom in recent years, we’ve never had so many races live on TV but this could be receding now. More so given the recession, sponsor budgets will shrink and regional government expenditure on live sports coverage is hardly a priority.

45 thoughts on “Great Expectations”

  1. A useful reminder to people – like me – who complain about TV coverage, or the lack thereof.
    Is there any advantage to having GCN instead of/as well as Eurosport? Does GCN have many races that Eurosport doesn’t have? It doesn’t seem to from what I can see on their website (UK). No adverts, though. Do they have different commentators? With no adverts and no Carlton Kirby, I could be tempted to switch once my Eurosport subscription elapses.

    • The advantage for me is that, even if I use a VPN, I can only get Eurosport coverage in Russian. So what? You ask. Well their commentators are awful. At least with GCN I get to listen to Carlton Kirby in all his glory.

    • I switched from £6.99 p/month with Eurosport for £19.99 annual GCN race pass. Beyond the cost saving no ads was a big draw and I’d hoped that, although I knew the feed would be licenced from Eurosport to get different commentary (no Kirby). Sadly that’s not the case.

      The GCN app race pass is pretty flakey at the moment. Crashes etc. are common along with “tech issues” that seem to be disrupting the race streams and highlights available.

      • Eurosport is £19.99 too (when you get a deal, as with GCN) so it’s all sports and ad’s, or just cycling and no ad’s. The latter would be better for me, but I’m not forking whilst I still have a Eurosport subscription.

        • I let my Eurosport subscription lapse early during lockdown, so now have a choice between renewing that and starting GCN. But it would appear that GCN is only currently available via a mobile, so for me the bigger screen availability leans me towards Eurosport.

          • Casting isn’t great on iOS. While the cast to Airplay works you can’t background the app so can’t text friends during the race without stopping the stream and then having to restart. That might not seem so bad but the app forces you to try twice each time before the stream is ready to view again. Eurosport has Chromecast on iOS that allows background in gif the app while streaming.

  2. I’ve paid for the GCN pass thinking it will show more racing than the Eurosport subscription but it seems the same content for now so not sure if I’ll keep it any longer than a month. The previews and written content is good but not a patch on what you get here 🙂

    • I thought Eurosport owned GCN (or is it a good share of GCN?)

      If so, I wouldn’t expect much racing to be available on GCN and not on Eurosport. I’d see it as a plan to try and get the Youtube followers to buy into a paid subscription model, with a merger planned in a couple years.

      • They’re both part of US media company Discovery now. But we could see different content. There’s a trend for sports channels to go from being general to sport-specific, we should see more of this in the coming years and here GCN can become Eurosport’s dedicated cycling channel, it allows them to reach a dedicated audience, which is valuable.

  3. The arrival of the GCN Race Pass is curious in some ways. As someone who has a Eurosport Player subscription that’s paid through until late March 2021 (they’ve extended it due to the pandemic), there would seem to be lots of duplication.

    But GCN does already seem to have races that Eurosport doesn’t. No women’s Strade Bianche on Eurosport TV or on Eurosport Player, in the UK at least. Eurosport Player did sometimes have ad-free streams, and now offers multi-language on some races.

    But it sounds like the various cyclocross races that Eurosport Player used to have will be shifting to GCN – although Red Bull TV had some rights in the UK last season.

    Assuming you mostly pay for Eurosport Player for the cycling, then GCN would seem to be the way to go. Except Eurosport has a much better selection of apps. It’s on lots of connected TVs, and on devices like the PlayStation 4. Right now GCN seems to be only on iOS and Android phones, with only the latter being able to properly “cast” itself to a TV. That’ll all no doubt come.

    I know that pulling the trigger on the discounted £19.99 offer they have right now is pretty minimal. But I’m slightly annoyed to be paying twice for a lot of the same thing. I can’t shift my Eurosport Player subscription to GCN Race Pass. And in fact, I’d actually be paying a third time, because I also get Eurosport via my Sky TV subscription with digital access via Sky Go (The Sky Go app is a lot more limited however – not much catch up or non-broadcast streams).

    Incidentally, @inrng mentions the Route d’Occitanie being available in highlight form on Eurosport. Not in the UK though. I don’t know if GCN Race Pass has this – it’s not listed on their UK calendar. Short highlights are on YouTube though.

    • You can watch extended highlights (45min or so) on Eurosport France, if you can tolerate the commentary (i.e. the intern babbling in the background over recorded footage)

  4. The GCN Race Pass is a great idea and hopefully will only grow.. however there is a big gap depending on what market you’re in.

    As a US customer, it doesn’t really seem to offer value when the bigger races are still covered by NBC, and some of the smaller ones covered by Flo – GCN is just paying for more of the same thing. Hopefully in years to come they can own more of the content as their production and knowledge is top class.

  5. The big benefit of GCN Race Pass is for those countries outside Europe. I have a Eurosport season pass, but to access it I need a VPN and to pay for it I had to transfer money to my brother in Ireland and get him to pay as it wouldn’t accept my Australian credit card.

    GCN Race Pass is available locally in Oz and carries all races except the Tour and some other ASO races for which terrestrial broadcaster SBS has the rights.

  6. I just signed up for GCN Race Pass and am very happy so far. I’m in the US and don’t have a tv, although sometimes I can use the family xfinity account to watch on my iPad, but lots of content is not available streaming. And NBC has so much advertising it’s almost impossible to enjoy watching bike racing. I’ve now enjoyed Strade Bianche and the last stage of d’Occitanie, where I can fast forward if I want or savor everything, with no ads. However, now I know what you Euros are talking about regarding Carlton. Only two races in and I’m pining for Bob Roll 😂.

  7. I did not know about the GCN Race Pass thingo. I’m in Australia and watching races here can be a challenge sometimes. SBS show some races and Eurosport is available but you need to faff about with a set-top box, etc. This seems like a good backup for the stuff that SBS doesn’t broadcast.

    By the way, lovely to have live racing back AND lovely to have you back Inrng.

  8. Is the €80,000 a day at the moment factoring the extra costs of needing to keep things ‘Covid-secure’? Presumably this will have inflated the expense and made it even harder for races to justify?

  9. Obviously more coverage is a better thing with possibly more money being channeled into cycling. Hopefully there won’t be a situation where GCN vies for exclusivity on broadcasts so that it fosters competition for live coverage and highlights, rather than the Old Sky Sports Monopoly we saw with the Premiership.
    I still think Carlton Kirby gets a bad rep from people on this site which is a little undeserved.
    Anyway, good to have you back and good to have cycling back.
    Who’s going to poke Larry and wake him up? I imagine he’s been fomenting with opinions in the lockdown.

      • I don’t think anyone’s view on a cycling commentator is down to ‘fashion’. It’s just a subjective opinion on whether or not you think he’s good at his job/annoying/hilarious, etc.
        He also seems to have at least as many fans as detractors: 47,000 followers on Twitter and at least two fan sites on there. So I doubt he’s too concerned about some negative opinions.
        Me, I’d like to be able to do something away from the screen during a race and still have an idea of what is happening in the race: that’s generally not possible with him because so often he’s not informing you of what is actually happening.

        • You can’t deny his jokes are often dry (well, there are fans of that), and he can be more enthusiastic and excited than the situation warrants as well.

          It can be charming at times. Otherwise it is downright annoying.

  10. I have Eurosport included in my Sky TV package, but still pay for Eurosport Player as it enables me to watch in HD rather than the terrible quality feed from Sky.
    Just renewed for the £20 deal and did think about going for GCN Race Pass instead as the same price, but as I can watch Eurosport Player directly via their app on my TV I stuck with Eurosport. Will be a shame to miss out on the Cyclo-Cross this winter though if that is only on GCN.

    • It’s hard to overstate how technologically behind the times and incompetent i am. I still just watch TV, so that means I watch cycling on Eurosport. It comes with my Sky subscription which I pay an extortionate amount for. If i got rid of Sky and therefore Eurosport I’d be relying on this GCN pass thing, which wouldn’t be too bad if they have the cyclocross. But how do I watch it?!

      • I feel your pain, brother.
        I get Eurosport online and watch it on my laptop. Much cheaper than Sky TV. Good thing is that they have videos of the races so you can watch them later.

      • In order to watch it at the minute you need to download the GCN app to a smartphone. There you get the chance to sign up to the Race Pass (if you click on the Race TV button at the bottom of the app it will take you to the page you need). If you do sign up, you watch the races on the app, which at the minute means using the phone.
        They say they are developing a web-based player which would at least allow it to be watched on a bigger screen- at the minute you either need to have a smart TV and “cast” it there from your phone, or do what I do and use the “Link to Windows” option to connect your phone to a computer where at least it will be a wee bit bigger.

      • Richard S – the grass might be greener on this one.

        I consider myself reasonably competent and well-informed on all things digital and have been working in digital content for 15 years.

        I still prefer to fork out the extra cash to have Eurosport on the old-fashioned telly, having tried Eurosport Player for a year or two.

        That gets me cycling live, almost live, recorded for as long as I want it, on demand, downloaded for the train when I have patchy wi-fi, on big TV, laptop, iPad, phone, no crashing, no casting, no delays to wait for videos to come online, no whirring wheel of death.

        And can I add a thumbs-up for Carlton Kirby as well – love Carlton and his eccentric ways. The Kirby/Kelly combo is unbeatable.

  11. In the US, between NBC Gold and FloBikes, I can watch just about everything there is. And even caught stage 1 of Route d’Occitanie on YouTube, “Ligue Nationale de Cyclisme” – sans commentary. I appreciate GCN but can’t justify another service and so far not motivated by the ancillary content to usurp an existing. Even though I’m in the fan of Carlton Kirby camp. I’m sorry I don’t get Carlton as a commentator as much any more over the last number of years. (However HUGE fan of Matt Keenan and Robby McEwen). I understand the detractors but find his enormous “useless knowledge” for the locales and cycling as well as his genuine passion for the sport truly entertaining.

  12. Ive also got both GCN & Eurosport, the reason I signed up to GCN partly to support the channel but mainly for the cyclocross races that were mostly not shown on Eurosport live with good UK commentary. Also the womens CX races are some of the most competitive and I feared they would go behind the paywall or not be shown at all. Eurosport however for me wins for road cycling as its on my TV and the live rewind works and on demand is available instantly after broadcast, I work all day so watching live is not normally an option for the grand tours and you can fast forward the ads on demand for the weekend classics etc if you watch an hour behind. I’ll review my subscriptions next spring when Eurosport renews, by that time the bugs should be ironed out…

  13. have been checking daily waiting for the next post however silly that sounds when no racing was taking place! Great to have you back INRNG.

    assuming you’d stayed out the Froome/Ineos saga on purpose! looking forward to Tour form predictions soon.

    Has anyone noticed Youtube Lantern Rouge has been taken on by ITV sport to do their youtube analysis? It’s quite odd, I find his manner a little off putting, especially calling Bernal’s attack “thermonuclear” but don’t want to speak negative of a clearly fanatical young cycling fan doing his best and making his way in the world.

    My reading of yesterday was Froome won’t be anywhere near Yellow in a month and will be lucky to make the first climbing group if he’s swinging off after 4mins as the forth climber down the Ineos train. Sivakov made a statement, although shame to see so many other climbers seemingly so far off at what is (correct me if I’m wrong?) only a few weeks before what would be their Dauphine form in a normal year? Bernal’s attack seemed to look better than the time it took, but maybe Sivakov had already done the damage?

    Surprised to see Wiggins backing Froome so vehemently and talking down Bernal – I saw no indication Bernal would crack last year so assume this is in support of his mate Geraint. On Froome, I wondering if Wiggo is cheekily heaping some pressure Froome’s way as there seems to be no evidence as yet Froome can reach his previous form.

    • To me, it would seem more sensible for Froome to go for the Giro – more time to prepare and a better shot at leadership.
      I think Wiggins is stirring the pot, as usual. I think he’s a very entertaining pundit, but Thomas looked nowhere near winning that Tour.

    • Unfortunately Lantern Rouge’s video and analysis had became less entertaining since he went more commercial. It is odd that ITV decided to pick him for their YouTube channel when they clear has more experienced pundits.

      It’s difficult to tell where Froome is. But I sense he is purposefully hiding his form. Whether it is to hide its inadequacy or try to appear weaker than he really is, I can’t say. And there can be benefits if either is the case.

    • It’s not a lot of money but Inner Ring’s article is to point out that there may be a whole lot less live racing around in the near future.
      My literary take on ‘Great Expectations’ is of a love left unfulfilled, alas poor Pip.
      And it so could be with us cycling fans?

  14. Agreed that a lesser cost for a specialised sports channel is a consumer benefit of the dispersed media landscape. Meaning, I’m much more likely to pay €10 /month to see cycling or the same for cricket than €40 /month for a load of Premiership or Ligue 1 footie plus the same amount of cycling or cricket.
    (I know the idea of a cricket channel here in France is stupid, but I can dream…!)
    However, Inrng is very prescient to question whether what we viewers would like (‘demand’) can really support the ‘supply’ of race organisers and their huge costs. When drones and a network of roadside spectator camera phones can be linked up live, the dream scenario of cheap production and cheap consumption might exist, but we’re not quite there. I can imagine smaller races streaming this type of coverage first and it then catching on as the quality improved. Soon, I hope!
    Meanwhile, I’d like to add my message of support to Inrng. Do you know how many of us checked in every day or every other day? I’m not on Twitter but I had to check out your feed to be sure you were active and well. So glad to have all this back! Hope to be at the roadside on the 29th August if it’s legal here in Nice.

  15. I’ve been like a kid waiting for his friend to get back from a trip out off town!

    Welcome back all hope you and yours are safe and well

  16. I’d not heard of this GCN race pass, but then I stopped watching the channel on YouTube a while back. It just wasn’t the same without Matt Stephens. Any road, Eurosport Spain has pretty much all the cycling I want to watch, albeit often with English commentary which means Kirby sadly, and any of the big races are on terrestrial TV anyway so plenty to get stuck into!!

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