Who Owns The Tour de France?

The answer has two parts: legal and moral.

Marie-Odile Amaury is the owner of the Tour de France, she owns Amaury Sport Organisation, the company created by the Amaury family to, ahem, organise sports. That’ll answer this blog post’s title question. But there’s more to it….

The tale is very well told in Alex Duff’s readable Le Fric book, the quick version is that the Tour de France was started by Henri Desgranges and his L’Auto newspaper over the winter of 1902-03 and he ran the race until he handed it over to Jacques Goddet in 1936. The Second World War when the event was stopped when France was under occupation. The Tour resumed after the war but only in 1947 when Goddet and his new L’Equipe newspaper got permission to revive the event. Post-war the race was still the property of the state and under the tutelage of the French Cycling Federation: L’Equipe had the right to organiser the race, it didn’t own it.

This is where Emilien Amaury comes in, the son of a road repair man, he started out as a bicycle delivery boy and ended up as a newspaper tycoon in the heyday of print. He founded the Parisien Libéré newspaper after the war and ended up doing a deal with Goddet and his L’Equipe newspaper to take a 50% stake in the Tour de France in 1956 when the pair agreed a deal with the French government to buy the race for 20 million French francs (about €450,000 in today’s money). In 1968 Amaury took over L’Equipe, acquiring the Tour de France stake to own the race outright.

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Ever since the race has been an asset for the Amaury family but for many years it was a still a stunt that helped boost the circulation of their newspapers, a means to an end. When Emilien died in a horse-riding accident, his children disputed their inheritance. His son Philippe Amaury eventually acquired L’Equipe and with it, the Tour. He died in 2006 and his wife Marie-Odile took over at the help of the Amaury Groupe. Today she is the Présidente-Directrice Générale, the French term for chair and chief executive.

Aged 81, Marie-Odile Amaury cuts a relatively discreet figure, it’s rare to spot her at the Tour de France. When the Tour de France Femmes was unveiled last October in Paris she was sat discreetly in the crowd, although amid the senior mayors and senators present.

Her son 45 year old Jean-Etienne has been groomed for the role of taking over at ASO for years, an MBA from Stanford University, working for Bloomberg in London and now in charge at ASO.

ASO itself owns the Tour but also a large portfolio of bike races and other events like the Paris-Dakar rally and Paris-Marathon. Today the Tour de France is the Amaury family’s prime asset, once a gimmick to boost newspaper sales, now a business in its own right. The family Le Parisien to luxury goods company LVMH in 2015.

But there’s another owner of the Tour de France as well: the French public and all the roadside fans, perhaps you too. The race is a socio-cultural institution in France as well as a sports franchise. It’s anchored in French society that in a way has helped it ride out doping scandals and pandemics. Grandparents taking grandchildren to see the Tour de France is a summer ritual for millions.

This romantic aspect also has a practical side, the Tour might owned by a private company but it operates in the public sphere and has to accommodate local customs and rules. The roads belong to the state, départments and local communes. The police close the roads and don’t charge market rates. A large share of the Tour’s income comes from the French state, the TV rights money is from France Télévisions – a government decree states the race must be free-to-air – and hosting fees are paid by local towns and regions. The race is free for spectators and remains a populaire event (the word in French evokes something for the people rather than popularity). “Reforming” ideas from outsiders like closing roads to sell ticket access would upset way more people than any revenue would be worth. The French government is keenly aware of the soft power projection, all those images of France in the glory of summer that are sent around the world. There’s a group of parliamentarians in the French Sénat, parliament’s upper chamber, that looks on like proud uncles at the race. The influence of politicians works the other way too, they helped push the Tour away from having female-only podium hosts, they’re pulling the Tour in a green direction to lower vehicle emissions and using the race to promote cycling as transport. More recently many mayors are a support behind the launch of the Tour de France Femmes, the Tour de France has been able to count on politicians and others talking about gender equality and hold them to their word to ensure they back the new race.

Legally the Amaury family own the race and they certainly get to bank the profits made by the race (latest accounts for 2020 show ASO had sales of €195 million and a profit of €59 million and a portion of this is paid to the family in dividends). If that’s the ownership settled, there’s a kind of oversight from government and population alike. The Tour benefits from the benign support of the French state, operating in the public realm and conducts itself accordingly, it’s not trying to sweat every last Euro. There have been attempts to buy the race in the past but it wasn’t for sale, but if it ever was the government would surely have a role in vetting any bidders, or even placing into the “right” hands.

13 thoughts on “Who Owns The Tour de France?”

  1. Obviously they have a number of businesses but 59 profit on sales of 195 is pretty high margin for a business this size. I guess the french government gets a significant proportion of that 195 as well.

    • For a unique asset that is generating real cash flow, the asset value could easily be in the billions.

      The unfortunate problem is that cycling is a combination of many events, not just the tour, as such they are extracting value, from everyone else. As an unequal analogy, the NY Yankees have a huge following, in a strong market, and thus can spend and make much more than rival teams. However, if they were to go it alone outside of the MLB, the would-be worth a fraction.

      The TDF/ASO is a big bully, ASO realized the position they were in and moved to run other races, that likely run at much lower margins or negative, but help subsidize the gains that the TDF gets. It is what it is, but they deserve to be shamed and thus share their spoils around.

      • ” The TDF/ASO is a big bully, ASO realized the position they were in and moved to run other races, that likely run at much lower margins or negative, but help subsidize the gains that the TDF gets. It is what it is, but they deserve to be shamed and thus share their spoils around. ”

        Surely, if they are subsidising unprofitable races with the money earned from the TDF, they’re supporting the wider cycling world and deserve praise. ASO may be bullies in other ways, but your argument – as stated in that paragraph, at least – doesn’t add up to me.

        • From my understanding, they run some of these other races for a fee, others they purchased the rights (I am unclear on who and which ones). Thereby leaving the fundraising and TV split revenue separate from the TDF, sometimes left to the race ‘owner’.

          I am sure Inrng has much better info than I do.

        • We don’t have many separate accounts for all the other races but it looks like Paris-Nice runs at a loss, the Dauphiné is breakeven but the Tour’s largesse helps keep parts of the calendar afloat. A generous subsidy? Yes but also astute as it gives ASO clout with an enlarged calendar. RCS also do something similar, income from the UAE Tour helps keep Tirreno-Adriatico going and so on.

    • The sales is normally about €240m a year but 2020 was the pandemic so revenues were cut, eg the Tour’s caravan shrunk, but profits held up that year. A 25% margin is good but looks comparable to the entertainment sector.

  2. I was interested to see the provision about free to air TV. The Giro was absent from TV in Australia for a number of years because they would not deal with free to air.
    The TdF definitely hads the feeling of a national festival about it.

    • Free to air in France only. Several other countries in Europe have laws stating races must be free to air, eg the Giro in Italy. Belgium, unsurprisingly, has the longest list with Flanders, Roubaix, even Milan-Sanremo has to be free… when it’s not obligatory in Italy.

  3. Sadly, none of this will cool the fever-dreams of Velon. They seem obsessed with getting their greedy mitts on the vast fortune that they think ASO somehow hides. I’ve tried to stop arguing with those who wish pro cycling would join F1, FIFA, NFL, NASCAR, etc. in the insanely-big-piles-o-money sporting world. How would this make the sport better? I’ll admit it might make some people very rich but the world is already full of rich plutocrats and oligarchs who throw vast fortunes around in sports…why does pro cycling need to join this club?

  4. Bought this book after reading your review. Interested to finish it. Thanks for promoting it.

    Years ago I interviewed Vaughters, Wagner with T-Mobile, and the CSC marketing team. All shared how hard it is to play ball with ASO as a team sponsor.

    Pro cycling is going the way of F1. Bike makers use it to sell more expensive products. Sponsors use it to get cheap exposure.

    ASO seems to hold all the Aces in this poker game.

    Wonder when all the tours and classics are wrapped up in one organization like F1 did? Pro tennis did it to?

    • Funny you (and others) have mentioned F1. That is part of the FiA (4 wheel motorsport’s UCI) who also has responsibility for other motorsport series…like the UCI has other disciplines.
      However, while they are responsible for the rules, they have people run those series on their behalf; Liberty runs F1, WRC Promoter/RBMH runs WRC, ACO runs the WEC, etc

      The World Tour needs ONE sole company to run the whole thing; a company who are bigger than ASO, RCS; considering how big people think the Tour is; the money is poor for a global sporting event. Their running/ promotion of the Dakar isn’t brilliant, we still have the same patchy highlights even now in 2022.
      I recall a discussion on Cycling Tips podcast a year or so ago; the feeling was a company outside of cycling could blow ASO out the water if they felt there was money to be made in the sport.

  5. If you think ASO are bad, you should see
    …any other sport that has money

    And sure, if you are ASO and you don’t want to let the sport go the same way as all the others why would you not use your influence to prevent it?

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