SHOWCASING YOUR COUNTRY
A LESSON FROM THE TOUR DE FRANCE
Plunging down the precarious descents of a narrow mountain road, the cyclists reach speeds of over 100km/ h. Even the daring motorbike riders with their cameramen are unable to keep pace as these daredevils throw their bikes around the hairpin corners of the mountain’s switchbacks. The aerial scene, beamed from one of the many helicopters above the race, reveals the tricky, technical descents on the snaking mountain road that these riders charge down at breakneck speed. With no barriers to prevent the cyclists from catapulting over the edge and into the ravines below, it is not for the dizzy or the nervous. Panning around, the helicopter cameras reveal magnificent vistas of mountain peaks with their nimble mountain goats and soaring eagles, plunging waterfalls, age-old chateaux and abbeys while the commentators seduce viewers by regaling them with juicy rhetoric about these spectacular sights. Back to the motorbikes whose cameras pick up the chase across the valley before the cyclists come to an almost grinding halt as they hit the slopes of the gruel- ling climbs that will take them through a wall of colourful, cheering spectators and ascents that veer upwards at impossible gradients into the rarefied air of the high summits with their lunar landscapes.
Compelling? It is, and it is the live coverage of the world’s premier cycling race, the legendary Tour de France. Chances are you will be hooked after a stint or two in front of the TV even if you are not a cycling fan.
Perhaps it has something to do with the seductive and spectacular aerial images beamed from the helicopters, or the personal agonies and triumphs of the cyclists, captured as they happen by the motorcycle cameramen covering the peloton. Whatever the reason, it is a sensory overload and the most watched sporting event in the world. Roadside spectator numbers alone reach a staggering 12m to 15m and TV viewership is estimated to be 3.5bn. Nope, it’s not small, not by any stretch of the imagination. It is after all, the world’s largest annual sporting event.
The three-week annual event has grown from humble beginnings in 1903 to the world’s most iconic and captivat- ing cycling event that it has now been for decades. It showcases not only France and the other countries that the Tour visits, but also the many sponsors who appreciate the return on their substantial investment and value the Tour holds for marketing and building their brands.
Cycling is big business. Team Sky’s title sponsor initially committed £40m (R725m) to fund the professional World Pro team for f ive years but that f igure is likely to have swelled as 2011 figures reveal that the team’s income from their title sponsor for that year amounted to £10.5m (R109m) with another £ 3m (R54m) coming from co-sponsors.
But it is not only the cyclists whose actions on the road provide much-needed coverage and brand awareness for their sponsors. As much a part of the event as the race itself, is the Tour de France publicity ‘caravan’, a collection of some 200 decorated vehicles representing around 40-odd brands. The caravan, in true festival nature and f loat style, precedes the cyclists by about an hour and distributes about 15m gifts to the throngs of spectators lining the route.
Major sporting events generate global media attention, and the publicity of the event and the event itself is an exceptional channel for country, region and city recognition internationally as well as for promoting tourist attractions in these areas. The events are often accompanied by related activities and entertainment, regeneration of areas, employment and general upliftment of communities. The initial short-term boost to an economy often becomes long term.
Plenty countries view cycling as an ideal medium to promote tourism. Unlike other famed sporting events such as Wimbledon, cycling’s drawcard is the aerial coverage by helicopters as well as the motorbike cameramen who track the cyclists along the route each day during the three-week race. The superior feed not only allows viewers to see live imagery of the race unfolding, it transports them into the heart of the peloton and takes them on a journey that includes breathtaking views of the surrounding terrain and the points of interest through which the Tour passes.
Cycling races and the Tour de France in particular, attract a growing number of tourists even to areas that typically could expect to see little revenue from tourism. Even little villages and towns that the Tour passes through, as well as those near the race route, benefit from a healthy injection of funds. With cycling fans arriving well in advance of the Tour, hotels, caravan parks, restaurants, supermarkets and even temporary businesses thrive as a result of the Tour bringing in vital income to even remote areas along the route. These areas also benefit significantly from the TV network coverage. With billions of viewers around the world introduced to a region they may not have been aware of or thought of travelling to, it’s a helping hand to the regions that the Tour passes through. Its impact is felt as tourist numbers to these regions grow as a result.
As the popularity of the Tour de France grew, so did the broadcasting rights fee for French television. From a mere € 250 000 (R3.6m) in 1986, by 2009 that fee, which included the rights to other Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) events – like the famous cycling classic Paris-Roubaix and the Dakar rally – had grown to a staggering € 23m (R330m). Even small countries like Israel, realising the value that could be generated from the Tour de France coverage, paid € 500 000 (R7.2m) to broadcast videos and commercials about Israel throughout the three-week race, in a bid to encourage tourism to their country. It’s no wonder the scramble to secure advertising space, broadcasting rights or the hosting of a stage. The French have found a money-spinner in the Tour de France and everyone wants a piece of it.
The peloton meanders through the undulations
of the Yorkshire dales in what proved to be a more testing course than was initially envisaged.
The jersey leaders line up at the start of Stage 2 where 25 000 spectators packed York’s racecourse to see the start.