As VeloNews recently reported, interest in the Tour de France appears to be on the rise this year. Some broadcasters, for example Eurosport, have reported high audience figures for 2020 – although its reach is limited compared to Europe’s free public channels, which most viewers watch.
But an analysis by Professor Daam Van Reeth of KU Leuven in Belgium – the eminent economist who studies television trends in professional cycling – shows that the global television audiences of the traditional homes of cycling in Europe were in fact down this year. According to Van Reeth, the only European country that saw an increased audience this year was Slovenia – which is not surprising, since two of his native sons were fighting for supremacy in an exciting race.
The confusion arises from the fact that there are several different ways of measuring sports television audiences. The main metrics vary depending on how much time an individual viewer actually spends watching the event. The industry standard, and the one broadcasters use internally to track their performance, is called “average viewers per minute” – the definition goes without saying. But race organizers or teams looking to promote sponsorship deals often cling to other personalities to further support their cause. An often used metric is called “total reach,” which is a rough measure of the total number of people who log into programming for at least some amount of time. Unfortunately, this figure is not very useful from a comparative point of view, as different countries measure it differently; the time required on site to “count” as a spectator ranges from fifteen minutes to one minute. It is a source of endless controversy and argument, and different parties tend to use the numbers that best support their own goal. But according to Van Reeth, total reach is a very unreliable metric and typically overestimates actual audience by a factor of ten or so. Van Reeth’s claims did not make him popular with race organizers, but they were confirmed by NBC Sports executives contacted by The outer line.
Despite this confusion, the interesting fact is that – in terms of more accurate average viewers per minute – the total television audience in the United States was really this year. In fact, the number of American television viewers of around 400,000 spectators per scene is the highest for ten years. This is illustrated in the table below, prepared by Professor Van Reeth for The outside line.
(It’s important to keep the general context in mind here: in absolute terms the European TV audience is much larger than the US market, but in relative terms it was down this year, while the American audience was on the rise.)
This finding is very interesting given the context of the overall sports audience in the United States. SportsPro Media reports NBA, NHL and MLB have all suffered two digits National audiences are declining this year as rescheduled seasons and events were rushed into the second half of 2020. Hockey audiences are down 61% and the NBA are down 51%. The World Series was the lowest rated in history. The Kentucky Derby down 49% and the Masters Golf Tournament, in its new fall spot – despite being the most-watched golf event of the year – had the lowest audience ratings since 1947.
SportsPro Media analysis continued. “One evening in September, for example, American sports fans were able to take their pick from the NBA and NHL playoffs, NFL and MLB regular season games, and Women’s National Basketball. Association (WNBA), Major League Soccer (MLS). , college football, US Open tennis and the first round of the PGA Tour Safeway Open.
In mid-April, we also speculated that cycling TV coverage could suffer if many different sporting events were crammed until the end of the year. “In its normal July period, the Tour doesn’t really have to compete with many other European sports and therefore has traditionally enjoyed wide television coverage. According to Angus Buchanan of The Sports Consultancy, there are at least 15 major sporting events that have already been postponed for September and October. He asks, “How is this extraordinary increase in the number of events in this crowded schedule going to compete with the tighter budgets of broadcasters, sponsors and the ticket-buying public?”
So, looking back at the season now, the question is: why has Tour viewership increased in the US when (1) it was generally down in traditional European cycling markets? Western, and (2) global the sports audience is in sharp decline in the United States? Below we offer several hypothetical explanations.
First, and most obviously, this year’s Tour de France has been a pretty exciting race. It was very competitive, there were a lot of new faces, halfway through the race there were eight riders within a minute of each other. It really wasn’t over until it was over – with Tadej Pogačar taking the yellow jersey off Primož Roglič’s back on the penultimate stage. Plus, an uphill time trial makes for some pretty exciting viewing.
But there are probably other critical reasons, which were verified by the executives we contacted at NBC Sports. First, more people tend to watch TV in the fall – on this year’s tour – rather than during its normal summer time slot. This is for the simple reason that when the weather gets colder more people tend to stay indoors and some of them watch TV.
But perhaps the main reason for the increase in viewership this year – especially compared to the trend seen in other American sports – is simply our longitudinal position on the planet…. that is, the morning viewing window of the Tour in the United States. Almost all of the other American sports listed above broadcast their matches and compete in the afternoon or evening; the Tour essentially had its own exclusive morning time window with little to no competition. (Conversely, increased competition with other sporting events in the afternoon or evening may at least partly explain why European viewing has declined this year.)
And not just that; with so many Americans working from home this year due to the pandemic, there were no doubt many cycling fans who could take advantage of the situation to take footage of the Tour when they would have been less likely to. do this by working in a more traditional office environment from previous years.
All of these factors, combined with the fact that it was actually an exciting race, may possibly explain why this year’s Tour has been the most watched by Americans since Lance Armstrong made his famous comeback effort there. ten years ago.
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