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.