U.S. Tour de France Teams Bar TV Cameras in Standoff Over Revenue Sharing

Tour de France teams are pressuring the Amaury family that owns the 108-year-old cycling race to share television-rights income for the first time.

Garmin-Cervelo, whose rider Thor Hushovd wore the leader’s yellow jersey for the first week of this year’s race, and HTC- Highroad showed their discontent by barring broadcasters from their vehicles during some Tour stages, officials of the two U.S.-based teams said in interviews. They’re normally obliged to open up team cars and buses to TV rights holders.

Most European competitors support lobbying for some of the TV income from the Amaury Sport Organisation, although French squads are wary of confronting organizers because they risk having their invitation to ride withdrawn, said Jonathan Vaughters, manager of the Boulder, Colorado-based Garmin team. ASO may get as much as $200 million from TV rights, while the 22 Tour de France teams typically have an annual budget of $10 million each from sponsorships, Vaughters said.

“The athletes and equipment are our property -- why should we give access” to cameras if teams don’t get a share of the television rights, said Vaughters, who’s also president of the teams’ association. He added that most in-car filming is now done from the vehicles of French teams.

The Amaury family has controlled the Tour de France since the 1940s, and manages it through its closely held Amaury Sport Organisation. Paris-based ASO runs additional sports events, including the Dakar rally and the Paris marathon. The family shared in 136.6 million euros ($192 million) of dividends from ASO between 2004 and 2008, according to company filings.

Television Income

Jean-Etienne Amaury is president of ASO, and his mother, Marie-Odile, is on the board of the company. Vaughters said he spoke with Marie-Odile before April’s Paris-Roubaix race, and she said she wouldn’t consider sharing income.

“She said she was confident they could put on a race with amateur riders from France if necessary,” Vaughters said.

Race director Christian Prudhomme said he was unable to speak on the issue and couldn’t immediately make the Amaury family available for comment.

The Tour de France, broadcast in more than 180 countries, gets about 60 percent of its income from TV rights, ASO marketing director Laurent Lachaux has said, without giving financial details. The rest of the race income comes from sponsorship and the fees it charges towns to host stages.

The Tour differs from other competitions, such as the National Football League and soccer’s Champions League, because organizers don’t give teams a share of TV money, according to Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports business strategy at the U.K.’s Coventry University.

Fight Doping

“It’s very, very unusual that the Tour de France doesn’t share its revenue with the constituent parts of its brand,” Chadwick said. “They’re adhering to a model that was first introduced about a century ago.”

By sharing income, ASO could even help fight doping that has tarnished cycling for years because it would reduce financial pressure on riders to win, Vaughters said. A stage win at the Tour can make the difference between a sponsor renewing its backing of a squad or not, Euskaltel team rider Samuel Sanchez told Eurosport after winning a leg in the Pyrenees on July 14.

“Teams are constantly in danger of dissolving as soon as their contract” with a sponsor ends, Vaughters said. “It’s not sustainable.”

Milram Shut

Germany’s Milram shut after failing to find another sponsor last season. San Luis Obispo, California-based HTC-Highroad may have to close after this year if it can’t get more backing, team spokeswoman Kristy Scrymgeour said. The team’s riders include 19-time stage winner Mark Cavendish of the U.K.

HTC barred television cameras from a team car on the first day of the race, although has changed its stance in recent days because there isn’t a consensus among all teams on what action to take, Scrymgeour said.

Luxembourg-based Leopard-Trek, which includes two-time Tour runner-up Andy Schleck on its roster, wants to hold talks with ASO after the 21-stage race finishes on July 24, spokesman Tim Vanderjeugd said.

“We think it’s important but we are not going to go on strike about it,” Vanderjeugd said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Duff in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, France at 9602 or aduff4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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