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Cancellation of Tour could lead to ‘economic meltdown’ in cycling

Tour de France pulls in huge revenues from sponsors and television rights, while nation as a whole benefits from huge tourist interest.

The Tour de France is not just the center of the cycling season and a celebration of the French nation, but an economic pillar on which teams, sponsors and riders rely.

Tour organizers ASO have been chewing over alternative dates for the race in the past month as the intensifying coronavirus crisis rendered the June 27 Grand Depart increasingly unfeasible. With president Emmanuel Macron’s statement Monday that a national ban of mass public gatherings would extend through mid-July, the Tour’s June start date became a near-impossibility.

What is clear however, is that the show must go on in some way or other.

“Cancelation opens the door to a possible economic meltdown in the cycling sector,” Jean-Francois Mignot said. Mignot works at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, and has written the book ‘A History of the Tour de France.’

The past month has already seen several teams cut rider salaries and sponsors shoot out warnings of recalling budgets as the early-season racing stop took its toll on revenues and publicity. Several team heads have cited the Tour as a possible make-or-break for the sport’s financial model.

“It’s as simple as this. If the Tour does not take place, teams could disappear, riders and staff alike would find themselves unemployed,” Groupama-FDJ boss Marc Madiot told AFP.

Although the Tour pulls in a huge revenue, ASO pays out equally staggering prize monies; in 2019, a total of 2.3 million euros was distributed, with race-winner Egan Bernal netting 500,000 euros along with the yellow jersey. On top of that are the costs of the huge logistical project of managing a race across 3,500km and hosting up to 12 million roadside fans.

Sponsors are paying hard cash for the daily hours-long television coverage and even the smallest teams can get involved in a breakaway and hence command screen time.

“Most sponsors are in cycling for this reason alone, the whole thing is centered around the Tour de France,” Mignot said. “If these sponsors invest money it is because television viewers recognize the team jerseys, it is the only cycling race watched by such a vast audience.”

“There are very few other sports with so much riding on one event,” Bruno Bianzina general manager of the agency Sport Market said.

Estimates at the Tour’s 2019 turnover ranges from 50-130 million euros. Whatever the total sum, it is estimated that income is 40-50 percent from sponsors and 50 percent from television rights, with host regions adding around five percent.

Even the smallest sponsor pays 250,000 euros to ASO while it is estimated that the yellow jersey sponsor, the LCL bank, pay 10 million euros.

Of the 10-12 million estimated roadside fans, as many as a fifth travel from outside France to visit the three-week-long festival of cycling and French culture, pulling monies into hotels, bars, cafes and shops. “The Tour de France is a huge advert for France and French tourism,” Bianzina said.

The Tour de France isn’t just a competition for the yellow jersey. It’s an economic powerhouse on which bodies inside and outside of the peloton depends.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report