While an early exit by Lance Armstrong took some of the air out of Versus’ tires, the network’s coverage of the 2010 Tour de France still drew one of the largest aggregate audiences since the lanky Texan won his last yellow jersey in 2005.
Per Nielsen ratings data, Versus averaged 456,000 viewers over the course of its 21 live Tour telecasts, down 14 percent from the 530,000 it averaged during Armstrong’s comeback run a year ago. Viewership peaked during Versus’ July 11 coverage of stage 8, as 724,000 viewers tuned in between 8:30 a.m. and 12:04 p.m. After getting snarled up in three separate crashes and taking a nasty spill during the mountain stage, Armstrong told the press that, for all intents and purposes, his Tour was finished.
At the end of stage 8, Armstrong was 13 minutes and 26 seconds behind the leader.
While casual fans may have steered away from the Tour once it became apparent that Armstrong wasn’t going to take his eighth title, this year’s race easily outdrew the three previous Tours that the American skipped between 2006 and 2008. In the first Armstrong-free Tour since he began his winning ways back in 1999, Floyd Landis was disqualified after testing positive for tetosterone. The 2006 Tour drew an average crowd of 310,000 viewers, or 47 percent fewer viewers than this year’s coverage.
The following year Versus drew 343,000 viewers, or 33 percent fewer fans than the 2010 Tour. The 2008 Tour marked a low-water mark for Versus, as the net averaged just 268,000 viewers––a delivery that was 70 percent smaller than this year’s average.
While the linear TV numbers fell a bit from the year-ago average, the network’s digital extensions performed ably. Coverage of the Tour on Versus.com resulted in increased traffic, with the average pages per visit up 12 percent from 2009, while the average amount of time spent on the site improved by 6 percent.
This year’s Tour is believed to have brought in a good deal more ad sales revenue for the Comcast-owned Versus, which for the first time since it began covering the event a decade ago began offering clients integrated branding opportunities. Racing bike manufacturers Trek, Specialized and Cervelo signed on for integrations in this year’s race, and all three sponsors invested in standard :30s as well.
Versus also expanded its endemic base to present opportunities for purveyors of cycling accessories. These include saddle manufacturer Fizik, Easton Wheels, water bottle designer Clean Bottles, the Camelbak hydration system and Headsweats, the maker of the official Tour headgear.
Heavy hitters like Nissan, General Motors and Anheuser-Busch InBev also bought up time in the 2010 Tour. Comcast does not disclose its ad sales figures for the Tour, but Kantar Media estimates that last year’s race brought Versus some $9.5 million in sponsor dollars.
When the race began on July 3, Steve Margosian, svp, marketing solutions & sports sales for Comcast Sports Sales said he believed Versus had a shot at doubling last year’s Tour take.