Outdoor Life Rolls Up Tour de France Prices

Mar 15, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The Tour de France bicycle race has long been one of Europe’s biggest sporting events and a highly rated attraction on European television. But until recent years, it attracted only minor interest in the United States.
Now several elements have converged to change that. The most important is the emergence of American cyclist Lance Armstrong, who took a record-tying fifth title last year. Another is the growing interest in participatory and extreme sports. Finally, there is the growth of basic cable TV, which unlike broadcast offers airtime to build interest in the event over its three-week run each July.
Now the Outdoor Life Network is ramping up advertising, marketing and programming efforts for the 2004 Tour, which has become its biggest programming event of the year. The wholly owned subsidiary of Comcast Corp., with 59 million subscribers in the United States, is on track to almost double its Tour-related advertising revenue from a year ago, advertising buying executives said.
Among those already committed to major advertising packages are Nike, Trek Bicycle, Subaru of America, Infinity Motors Co., Subway Restaurants and L.L. Bean, at an average of $3.5 million per deal. Advertisers get commercials in multiple airings, some on live reports and others as the show is repeated throughout the day.
“The Tour de France is critically important to us,” said Gavin Harvey, who was named president of OLN in February. “It’s more than a tentpole, in terms of programming. It’s bigger. It’s a telephone pole, I guess. It brings in great ratings and great demographics.”
Most of the racers are Europeans, and the event itself has complex rules and multiple phases, all of which made it difficult to translate to Americans. That changed with the success of Mr. Armstrong, who overcame cancer and other obstacles to achieve numerous Tour victories over several years. His victory last year was full of drama, including major crashes, near-crashes and surprise endings.
For the 2003 race, OLN promised advertisers an average 1.1 rating. Instead, the 23-day race posted a 1.63 average rating, according to Nielsen Media Research, double 2002’s 0.8 rating. OLN’s average prime-time rating for all programming is between a 0.2 and 0.3.
“Lance certainly brought new viewers to the table, and once they started watching it, they get pulled into it because of the drama,” said John West, OLN’s senior VP of advertising sales.
Rare are the TV shows or sporting events that overdeliver on ratings projections by 50 percent. With that track record, OLN is projecting a super-size 2.5 rating this year. Some advertising agency executives have been astonished that OLN can raise its ratings estimate-and its pricing-so high.
“They said, `How can you do that?”’ Mr. West said. “We thought it would have a 38 percent growth, and it did 96 percent growth. This year the network is in 10 million more homes than last year. And Lance is not going for a record-tying win; he is going for something that’s been unprecedented. Mr. Armstrong will be going for a record-breaking sixth Tour win.”
To extend its hottest brand and advertising opportunities, next month OLN launches two weekly 13-episode series leading up to the race. “The Road to the Tour” will chronicle Mr. Armstrong’s main competitors, some of whom are American and are former teammates. OLN will have “embedded” reporters following the teams during the spring European racing season. “The Lance Chronicles,” another limited series focusing on Mr. Armstrong’s training and his team, will be the first OLN series produced in high definition.
Marketing efforts, said Wendy McCoy, OLN’s VP of marketing, will double those of a year ago. That means more off-air marketing, including guerrilla marketing efforts, programming stunts and public relations efforts to get the word out as the race approaches.
Mr. Harvey wouldn’t reveal details of the plan, but much will stem from the theme that “viewers shouldn’t miss this.” “It’s a moment in sports history that can’t be missed,” he said. The tour will be used as a marketing platform itself for OLN’s upcoming Gen-X sporting event, “The Gravity Games,” that will air on OLN for the first time this fall.
OLN’s marketing campaign was revamped late last year with its tagline “Out You Go.” For this season leading up to the Tour de France, already the network is using Lance Armstrong in its on-air promos.
In selling to advertisers, OLN did research that showed Tour viewers-in particular males 25 to 54 with incomes above $75,000-indexed higher than all major golf and tennis events.
OLN’s inventory for the Tour de France is about halfway sold. Other advertisers include Energizer batteries, the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, Bissell carpet cleaning, Serta mattresses, and Cliff Bar.
The Nike, Trek and Subaru deals complement separate endorsement agreements each advertiser has with Lance Armstrong himself. OLN is also seeking a technology company and a wireless phone company as major sponsors. The network looks to re-sign a sponsorship with the United States Postal Service, which has been a major sponsor of Mr. Armstrong’s U.S-based cycling team.
OLN research shows that while Mr. Armstrong has been a natural draw, viewers have been attracted to other parts of the race as well. “Lance only figured dramatically in five or six days of the three-week race,” Mr. West said. “The other days we still had [good] ratings.”
The Tour de France represents a significant segment of OLN’s annual advertising revenue, about 20 percent. Last year OLN pulled in more than $50 million in advertising revenue, according to TNS/CMR Market Intelligence.