- Broadcaster’s events arm confirmed first partnership outside motorsports this month with deal to run new UCI track cycling competition
- Rapid expansion will see doubling of events in portfolio over next two years
- In “unique position” to work as commercial promotor alongside major rights-holders, says Eurosport president Andrew Georgiou
Earlier this month, Eurosport Events announced a partnership with the International Cycling Union (UCI) that will see it become the commercial promoter for the new Track Cycling World League.
It is Eurosport Events’ first contract outside of the world of motorsports, where it has worked exclusively since its foundation as the pan-European broadcaster’s events promotion arm in 2005. The announcement came shortly after Eurosport Events revealed that it was set to launch a new all-electric racing series, Pure ETCR, later this year. In December 2019, Eurosport Events won a tender to take over the commercial operation of the International Motorcycling Federation’s (FIM) Speedway Grand Prix World Championship, adding to the stable of motorcycling events it already runs, including the FIM Endurance World Championship.
This rapid expansion – which will lead to a doubling of events on the annual Eurosport Events slate over the next two years, from 30 in 2019 to over 60 in 2021 – was precipitated by the arrival of Andrew Georgiou as president of the wider Eurosport group in July last year. Georgiou, formerly the chief executive of Lagardère Sports and Entertainment, arrived at Eurosport at a time when the Discovery-owned broadcaster was assessing its place in the market, pivoting toward a digital and streaming future and seeking to diversify its revenue streams. Eurosport Events quickly took a place of prominence in Georgiou’s future thinking.
Eurosport’s unique offering
“I’d just come into Discovery and started to look at all the pieces that we have within the group, trying to figure out what our competitive advantage is,” Georgiou explains to SportBusiness. “I’ve got a background in events, I’ve seen that the value in events is massive. As I looked across the Discovery network, I could see that Eurosport Events sits in a position where we end up being a really unique partner to the sports and federations we work with.”
That unique position is achieved by Eurosport Events’ ability to control the entire ecosystem of an event – from on-ground delivery and organisation through to commercial rights management and broadcast coverage, both through its own channels in Europe and its sub-licensing agreements around the world. As François Ribeiro, who has served as head of the division since its inception in 2005, puts it: “There are many promoters on the market, but the unique selling point of Eurosport Events is that we can control the entire chain of production – calendar control, event implementation, TV production, broadcast promotions, sub-licensing. That’s a very strong position to be in.”
While Georgiou feels that it is unlikely that rights-holders at the “premium end of the events calendar” would turn to Eurosport Events, the direction of the industry in recent years has led to “the long tail getting longer” and a greater proliferation of mid-level events, with more sporting federations who are “underfunded, under-resourced”, and simply don’t have the ability to put on events in the way they’d want to. “We can do things to a level, to a quality, that most federations can’t achieve on their own, because they can’t afford to take the kind of financial risks we can or make the investments that we’re prepared to make,” he says.
“If you put a federation into the centre of our network, and you said, ‘what is it that you need in order to grow your sport?’ I would say Discovery is the only media platform that has all the ingredients that you would need in order to be successful. No one else has got all those ingredients, and Eurosport Events is one of those key ingredients that pull that all together.”
That is why Georgiou – encouraged by Discovery president JB Perette – has begun to step up Eurosport Events’ attempts to broaden its horizons and work with a wider range of rights-holders. “Its not just about diversifying revenues,” he says. “It’s about looking at the way the market is changing, at the ability of rights-holders to put on events of their own at a mass scale. We have an audience we need to serve, and if the events aren’t out there for us to broadcast, we can help to create those events.”
This has long been part of Eurosport Events’ strategy. Ribeiro explains that from the start, “the whole idea was to secure long-term IPs to diversify revenues” within Eurosport which at the time, he says, “was looking at what ESPN was doing in the US with the X Games, and wanted to do something similar in Europe under the Eurosport umbrella. We identified motorsports because, at the time, the biggest sector of advertising revenue [for Eurosport] was the automotive industry, but there was only two global world championship in motor racing: Formula One and the World Rally Championship.”
Cycling a ‘key vertical’ for Eurosport
That helps to explain why cycling made sense as a next move for Eurosport Events. Cycling fans – particularly fans of track cycling – are presently an under-served audience, says Ribeiro, comparable to motorsport fans in the mid-’00s. One of Eurosport Events’ intentions with the World League is to “revitalise” track cycling, addressing the “lack of narrative between the Olympic Games” in the sport and introducing a simplified new format to appeal to newer fans.
The deal struck to promote the series reflects the UCI’s confidence in Eurosport Events’ ability. Running for eight years and taking in two Olympic cycles, the division, together with Discovery’s digital channel Global Cycling Network, will be responsible for almost every aspect of the league’s organisation and distribution. Eurosport and GCN both have significant experience in producing cycling broadcasts, both road and track, as well as strong existing relationships with advertisers, sponsors and venue operators from across the sport.
Cycling forms one of Eurosport’s key verticals, and track cycling in particular has long been seen as lacking a high-profile, year-round series, despite being a major broadcast draw during the Olympics. With Discovery having acquired Olympic rights in Europe in 2015, and Eurosport already having the rights to air the UCI World Championships , the new Track Cycling World League represents a way for Eurosport to gain a stake in the whole track cycling calendar and direct the narrative throughout the Olympic cycle.
“We started looking into this two years ago, when Discovery president JB Perette said we should look to move Eurosport Events to reinforce the strong cycling vertical that we have,” says Ribeiro. “We sat down with the UCI and understood that one of the main properties in their portfolio was track cycling – it’s their biggest Olympic category, delivers very high audience ratings – but there was not consistency in the sport.
“There was scope for Eurosport Events to improve the storytelling of track cycling. We found that the there was a lack of narrative in between two Summer Olympics. Track cycling is very, very strong – really a pillar property of the Olympic Games every four years. It delivers very high audience very high ratings, it’s a great atmosphere on events. It’s truly global; you have Europe, Asia, Americas involved in the sport. But you only hear about track cycling at the Olympics and once a year at the World Championships.”
The UCI, he says, “saw in Eurosport Events a perfect partner because we have the ability to take over a property, find individual event promoters locally and, at the central level, keep the calendar definition, the TV production, the media distribution, the promotion, the marketing, the sponsorship. The UCI shares our vision to bring track cycling to the next level, and that’s why we’ve signed a long-term contract beyond the Los Angeles Olympics.”
The Track Cycling World League’s format has been devised by Eurosport Events in collaboration with the UCI, and is built from the bottom-up to be a fast-paced, engaging TV product. No team, pursuit or endurance disciplines will be included, with Ribeiro describing them as “sometimes hard to understand even for cycling fans”, while each event will last a maximum of two-and-a-half-hours, “so that when we go on air, it is easy to be very dynamic, very compact, very easy to follow and very engaging for the viewership.”
Events increasingly important to Eurosport
While Georgiou declines to comment on where Eurosport Events may look to expand in the future, he does outline motorsport, winter sports, golf and tennis as Eurosport’s “key verticals” which would appear to be the most likely areas of potential expansion. The UCI partnership is a toe in the water outside Eurosport Events’ comfort zone, and will, Georgiou hopes, help to present a calling card to other rights-holders to demonstrate the “unique proposition that we’ve created.”
Eurosport Events’ niche within the wider group is, he believes, “only going to grow in importance” as it continues to expand its reach.
“I’m looking at Eurosport Events and I’m thinking, ‘how do we double down on this?’” Georgiou says. “How do we use this as the centre of our relationship with federations, to help drive new IP and new events, and grow these things throughout our network over a long period? And I think that once we demonstrate properly what we are able to do, then I think it’s a more interesting proposition for rights-holders to say ‘right, how do we tap into that capability moving forward?’ So there is real focus, a real intent, and there will be the opportunity for real investments for the right projects with the right vision.”