Leblanc Made the Tour de France a Top International Television Event

In the article called Liggett and Sherwen Think that Lance Will Not Have a Second Act as a Triathlete, I mentioned that I had passed on a number of follow up questions for Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen to my contacts at OLN and hoped to get at least a few of them answered. Earlier today I got answers to some of my questions from Phil and Paul.

Phil's overarching response to my questions was, "I'm in the car. We can�t answer all these questions as they would take us ages. We are giving short replies. We're getting tired...."

One question I asked was in regard to Jean-Marie Leblanc, the Director of the Tour de France. Leblanc is retiring this year after 16 years as Tour Director.

Do you have any comment on the legacy of Jean-Marie Leblanc as he retires?

Phil and Paul's response was:

JML {Jean-Marie Leblanc} has been largely responsible for opening the Tour worldwide. The string of AMERICAN wins (Armstrong and Lemond) was what he wanted to see. This way he was able to sell the race to bigger sponsors and get the race to grow in stature. The Tour is now one of the World's major sporting events with TV in over 150 countries. This is his legacy.

The magnitude of worldwide coverage is underscored by the amazing growth of the audience in the United States. In 1989 U.S. fans of professional cycling had to tune into one hour of television coverage on Sunday afternoon and viewership was far below that of other mid-Summer weekend sports events. Today, OLN has 1.6 million viewers who watch some of the 14 to 16 hours of daily coverage.

The Tour is one of the biggest events on French television each year, but it's audience is estimated to be only 4 million daily TV viewers. That's a 46-percent share of the French TV audience, but it's still a fairly small group of people from a broadcast perspective.

The only way to find millions of new fans for the Tour de France was to make the event more attractive to international audiences. It was a goal before Lance Armstrong made his comeback, but Lance's repeated victories and the engagement of the general public in America made it easy for the Tour to shatter its growth targets.

Lance Armstrong is a marketing phenomenon, but without the massive international television audience growth sponsors like the Discovery Channel and AMD would never have made the financial commitment that they've made to sponsor the leading professional cycling team in the world. Jean-Marie Leblanc played a key role in driving this growth, and we should say thanks to him for the part he played in creating a boom in cycling interest here in the United States.

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