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although French squads are wary of confronting organizers because they risk having their invitation to ride withdrawn, said Jonathan Vaughters, manager of the Boulder, Colorado-based Garmin team.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 ($194 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. She referred him to other ASO officials, who haven’t shown a willingness to negotiate, Vaughters said.

The common conception “is that they could put on a race with amateur riders from France if necessary,” Vaughters said.

Garmin’s Hushovd today won his second stage of this year’s Tour de France, outsprinting Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen in the rainy 16th stage.

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

Fight Doping

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. Most of the rest of the race income comes from sponsorship and the fees it charges towns to host stages. ASO distributes 3.4 million euros in prize money, while the teams get an appearance fee of about 55,000 euros each, RadioShack team manager Johan Bruyneel said.

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.

“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.”

Milram Shut

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.”

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 it has changed its stance in recent days because there isn’t a consensus among teams on what action to take, Scrymgeour said.

Revise Model

Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong’s former team RadioShack isn’t allowing France Television to film in its vehicles. Its stance is partly motivated by the broadcaster starting a move to ban radio contact between teams and riders in an effort to make racing more unpredictable, the team’s manager Bruyneel said in an interview.

Bruyneel said it’s time for cycling to revise its business model.

“You have to take a stand at some point,” Bruyneel said. “The prize money we get is insignificant. It’s normal that someone who gets the biggest part of the cake doesn’t want to share it but the riders and the teams are the key players in the biggest races in the world.”

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

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.