France Télévisions buoyed by minimal Tour de France-Roland Garros overlap

(Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

French public-service broadcaster France Télévisions has issued its support for the Tour de France’s rescheduled dates, saying that the minimal overlap with tennis’ French Open will ease its scheduling headache.

The Tour de France has been moved back by two months to a new slot between August 29 to September 20 as a result of the ongoing ban on large gatherings amidst the Covid-19 crisis.

The new dates means that cycling’s blue riband event will draw to a close on the Sunday that the rescheduled French Open begins at Roland Garros in Paris.

Laurent-Eric Le Lay, head of sports at France Télévisions, told L’Équipe: “We are particularly happy that there is actually a date. Apart from Roland Garros, which very quickly proposed and had dates accepted, all the other events do not have one.

“Avoiding too much of an overlap between the Tour de France and Roland Garros was very important for us.”

The French public broadcaster holds the Tour de France rights in a five-year deal from 2016 to 2020 and has committed to another five-year agreement (from 2021 to 2025).

Last year, the broadcaster attracted strong audiences for the Tour as an average of 3.7 million viewers, equal to a 38.2-per-cent market share, watched the various stages. The France 2 channel attracted a peak audience of 7.1 million viewers for Stage 18 between Embrun and Valloire.

Le Lay said that he was not concerned about the impact on this year’s audience given viewers will have returned to work or school after the holidays. He added: “It will be one of the first very popular major sports events to take place [after the Covid-19 shutdown]. I would wager on the enthusiasm of the public.”

France Télévisions, which has aired the race since 1985, is set to maintain the same programming output from the event, showing each stage in full and broadcasting the traditional Vélo Club and Le Journal du Tour programmes.

Le Lay remarked: “The Tour is an important event for the public service. It is out of the question to have downgraded coverage.”

Possible health measures put in place by the organisers could, however, have an impact on the number of staff that France Télévisions has on site. Le Lay said that Vélo Club could be broadcast from Paris instead in order to cut down the on-site numbers.

Eurosport, the Discovery-owned broadcaster, also holds Tour de France rights in France and across Europe.

Laurent Prud’homme, senior vice-president, general manager at Discovery France, told L’Equipe that the new dates allow fans, cyclists, teams, broadcasters and partners to organise their plans accordingly.

He added: “This edition will certainly be a bit special because the Tour because lots of people will be waiting for the event.”

On the potential scheduling issues, he said: “There may be a bottleneck of sporting events after the return from the summer holidays. We’re talking about the Tour, Roland Garros, and why not the US Open [tennis] or the Le Mans 24 Hours. But we are fortunate to have two linear channels and Eurosport Player [the subscription OTT platform] that can offer countless numbers of different channels.”