In the four years since its 2015 inauguration, the Tour de Yorkshire has grown to become the UK’s most-attended annual sporting event, attracting 2.6 million spectators in 2018, with an estimated economic value just short of £100m (€116m/$131m).
The event, which is held across four days on the first weekend of May, is run in partnership between Welcome to Yorkshire – the body that promotes tourism across that region – and Tour de France owner-operator Amaury Sport Organisation.
It was built on the back of Britain’s largest county hosting the Tour de France Grand Départ five years ago.
Speaking to SportBusiness, Welcome to Yorkshire’s commercial director Peter Dodd said: “It’s easy to get carried away, but the Grand Départ was the greatest event in Yorkshire’s recent history and it was a gamechanger.
“But we didn’t want to just host the Tour. It had to be the start of the journey. We knew it was a huge opportunity for Yorkshire PLC. Our vision was to make Yorkshire ‘The Cycling Capital of Europe’.”
An agreement between Welcome to Yorkshire and ASO to create a legacy event was signed 100 days before the Grand Départ in 2014.
Dodd added: “Externally, there was a slight nervousness that the Tour de Yorkshire would be the same operational scope as the Tour de France. But because it’s a partnership between us and ASO, you can be more proactive.
“Welcome to Yorkshire is responsible for the marketing, securing locations, the routes. ASO will come over to do a route check. Then, on race week, the full ASO team comes over. We have the same race director as the Tour de France.”
Exposure and impact
A large chunk of the value is in the exposure the race gives to Yorkshire and the race has had complete live coverage since 2016, when Welcome to Yorkshire “twisted arms” at broadcasters Eurosport and ITV.
The promise of exposure is one of the ways that Welcome to Yorkshire has been able to guarantee the support of local authorities across the county, who have had to justify the costs involved in staging the race at a time when councils across the UK have been struggling to deal with cuts to their annual budgets.
“The public sector faces huge challenges, with austerity, budgets, closures,” says Dodd, “but it also has to find ways of generating revenue.”
He cites the example of Scarborough, on the coast of North Yorkshire. In 2017, the town spent £100,000 for the right to host a stage of the Tour de Yorkshire, plus another £50,000 in operational costs. The economic impact on Scarborough’s economy was valued at £750,000.
Demand to stage the Tour de Yorkshire comfortably outstrips supply – there were 18 bids to be one of eight host towns for 2019.
Dodds adds: “Brexit also presents many challenges. But Yorkshire is the only county in the UK that is consistently increasing its number of visits and total spend.”
In 2018, the data – conducted by market research firm Grasp and Leeds Beckett University – suggests total consumer spending linked to the race reached £98.3m: £41.1m spent on accommodation and £56.8m on food, drink, transport, shopping and souvenirs, plus £383,670 spent by athletes, journalists and officials.
Last year was the first time the race was extended from three to four days, leading to a 57-per-cent spike in total spend.
The idea of staging a major cycling event and effectively using it as a Trojan Horse to promote tourism was first floated back in 2010 when Welcome to Yorkshire was looking for a grand project to raise the region’s profile on an international scale.
Dodd explains: “We weren’t going to get the Olympics or the Champions League Final. But we’ve got the topography from the coast to the cities to the dales. We’ve got the Peak District and we’ve got the North Yorkshire Moors. Put that into a sporting context, then why not go for the Tour de France?”
The bid to host the Grand Départ was underpinned by a wider vision to promote cycling.
“Right at the beginning, we said we wanted Yorkshire to be the first place where no child didn’t have access to a bike. Yorkshire Bank bought into that and we’re into the sixth year of the Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries with 60 donation stations and over 60,000 donations to date, with 75,000 children getting to ride a bike who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford one.”
2019 and beyond
The profile of this year’s Tour de Yorkshire has been heightened by the appearance of four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, coupled with the debut of Team INEOS following its takeover of Team Sky – a deal that has sparked controversy given that INEOS is a petrochemical company that invests in fracking, which has faced stiff opposition across Yorkshire.
However, the build-up to this year’s event has also been overshadowed by the departure of Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Sir Gary Verity. Officially, he stood down due to health reasons, but it followed allegations of bullying. Verity also agreed to pay back a five-figure sum following misuse of expenses.
It was a swift fall from grace for a man who, only a couple of months ago, was being touted as Richard Scudamore’s potential successor as football’s Premier League chief executive.
And the reputation of Welcome to Yorkshire has inevitably been tarnished. Although it is a private company, 50 per cent of its £4m annual income comes from the public sector, and the fallout from Verity leaving has put Welcome to Yorkshire under intense scrutiny to show that it has got its house in order.
But the show will go on. Indeed, cycling continues to be exceptionally durable in the face of scandal. Also, the cliché that ‘no person is bigger…’ seems apt given how important the sport has become to the people of Yorkshire in such a short space of time.
Dodd concluded: “This is about Team Yorkshire. So, whether it’s about the team here or the wider environment, it’s about relationships, it’s about attention to detail. We’re out there, we’re visible and we’re pushing a positive story.”
Next for the firm is hosting the 2019 UCI Road World Championships at Harrogate in September, raced on part of the Tour de Yorkshire circuit. It will be the first time Britain has hosted the World Championships since 1992. Dodd called it ‘the logical next step’ after the Grand Départ and the Tour de Yorkshire.
Hosting the Vuelta a España, along with another Tour de France Grand Départ, are the next two items on the cycling agenda.
Dodd confirms: “Touch wood, it’s a matter of when, not if, for the Vuelta. With events like that or the Giro D’Italia or the Tour de France, it’s about being flexible, as opposed to saying we want to host it in a particular year.”