In the wake of an announcement that Tour de France owners Amaury Sports Organisation will oversee all aspects of television production at this year’s Amgen Tour of California, AEG Sports president Andrew Messick denied the rumor that the French events and media conglomerate is positioning for a takeover of the American stage race, calling it only a “media partnership.”
“In addition to production of the broadcast, ASO will continue to assist AEG with the international distribution of the Amgen Tour of California television and digital media rights,” AEG’s announcement stated. “ASO will develop, produce and distribute a portfolio of programming formats, including a daily highlights and recap package.”
ASO is bringing over its technical team from the Tour de France, including cameramen, motorcycle drivers and its own radio system. As part of the enhanced media partnership, the entire Amgen Tour of California will be shot and distributed in high definition, showcasing the event to a global audience, including Eurosport in Europe and Versus in the United States.
However rumors have been swirling within the inner circles of the American bike-racing scene that ASO is interested in assuming ownership of the event, which began in 2006 with a five-year, $35 million commitment from billionaire Phil Anschutz’s events company Anschutz Entertainment Group. That initial investment period concludes with this year’s event.
“It’s a complete fabrication,” Messick told VeloNews. “I have no idea if ASO is interested. There have been no conversations whatsoever. We are happy owning our race and we intend to own it into the long term. Rumors of an ASO takeover are nonsense. ”
Asked why or where these rumors might have begun, Messick suggested that perhaps AEG’s relationship with ASO leads some to draw false conclusions.
“We’re partners with the Tour de France,” Messick said. “And ASO has expanded its portfolio of cycling events. So maybe people are connecting dots.”
One group that would likely have something to say about a possible ASO-AEG deal is the UCI; ASO and the UCI spent the better part of the last decade in a power struggle over the sport, and ASO has only grown stronger, with investments in the Vuelta a España and the Dauphine Libere.
“(UCI president Pat McQuaid) has heard these rumors too,” Messick said. “He and I talked about it, and I told him they are false.”
Messick did acknowledge that though the Tour of California has had a five-year partnership with title sponsor Amgen, the event has struggled to break even.
“Financially 2009 wasn’t a good year (for the race),” Messick said. “In the sports industry it was a pretty bad year for everyone. I think 2010 will be much better, and I can envision us being profitable in 2011.”
Messick also responded to further questions about changes in leadership at the event, particularly the details over decisions like team selection.
“There is a committee of AEG and Medalist people who meet every week to discuss, among other things, teams and riders, both ProTour teams and domestic,” Messick said. “As a group we make decisions as to what teams we are going to invite. Obviously I am deeply involved, as are (Medalist Sports’) Jim Birrell and Kevin Livingston and others are very involved as well. It is true that I more involved in team selection than in the past, but there is no aspect of this race I am not involved in. We trust Medalist for many, many race-related activities. They are exceptionally competent, and it’s hard for us to imagine not having Medalist as our partner at the Amgen Tour of California.”
Responding to allegations that opportunities for sponsors to partner with the race is prerequisite for some teams to receive an invitation — a point some raised after 2009 top NRC team Jamis-Sutter Home was left off the invite list while Jelly Belly and Team Type 1 made the cut — Messick said, “There are teams in the race in 2010, both international and domestic, that have no business relationship whatsoever with us. We choose our field to have a compelling race and a good mix of international and domestic teams. And frankly, I believe that teams and sponsors who do not activate around our race are short-sighted – it is in the teams’ and sponsors’ interest to participate in our race.”
Messick added that AEG has abandoned its controversial “concierge fee”, which was seen as a masked approach to billing Continental and Pro Continental teams for lodging and meals — costs the race is required to cover by the UCI.
“We’ve dropped the concierge fee, which is something we’ve historically had,” Messick said. “In part to demonstrate that there isn’t pay-to-play happening.”
As far as the event’s television coverage is concerned, Messick said AEG wasn’t completely satisfied with the final product delivered by its former production company Hatch TV, adding that ASO’s crew is the best in the business.
“Frankly I think ASO can do a better job than we historically have,” Messick said. “I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the TV production last year. We are going to spend less money this year, and we’re going to shoot the entire thing in HD. I don’t think anyone does a better job at televising cycling events than the guys from the Tour de France. We’ve been exceptionally pleased with our partnership with ASO; they’ve done a fantastic job helping market our event by expanding international TV distribution. They’ve helped us in many ways and will continue to. I’m looking forward to working more closely with them moving forward. They are the best in the world at what they do, and for us to avail ourselves to the knowledge and skill they bring is sensible.”