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The coronavirus pandemic presented the peloton with unprecedented challenges throughout 2020.
Yet there was a silver lining in the string of rescheduled races and months-long lockdowns — TV ratings for the Tour de France and other major races saw big increases across Europe.
With many other sports across Europe shut down or were forced to be contested without any fans in stadiums, the allure of racing on open roads seemed to catch on with fans hungry for sport.
Officials from different broadcasters confirmed that 2020 was a banner year when it came to viewership for the Tour and cycling’s other major races despite being rescheduled on unfamiliar dates on the international calendar.
Tour de France fans were told to stay at home, the publicity caravan was reduced, and the major climbs were off-limits to everyone except the race circus. Often times, the TV commentators called the race remotely from studios or in improvised broadcast booths in spare bedrooms.
Cycling unrolled its “bubble,” but that only appeared to heighten interest in racing.
If there was some concern that seeing the Tour de France in September might have a negative impact, it never came to fruition. Quite the opposite.
Add the pent up demand among viewers hungry for some live sports, and broadcasters saw near-record or record numbers throughout the rescheduled 2020 WorldTour calendar.
Eurosport recently confirmed very strong numbers for the so-called “COVID season” in all of its major televised racing events.
“We’re delighted to see such consistently strong results across all areas of the business,” said Simon Downing, head of Eurosport UK. “We’ve been working tirelessly to ensure we can still provide the best possible viewing experience for fans despite the unprecedented circumstances.”
Eurosport‘s numbers were up 68 percent across all three grand tours, with the Tour up 48 percent, the Giro d’Italia up 82 percent, and the Vuelta a España nearly doubling, up 95 percent over last year.
And interest wasn’t up just because cycling was the only game in town. A new generation of riders coming to the fore coupled with nail-biting action across the entire season delivered tantalizing racing dynamics on almost every race day that made professional racing sport’s version of “Must See TV” in 2020.
According to ASO, organizers of the Tour de France, the 2020 edition of the Tour saw record viewership in France. The race, broadcast live on national channels France 2 and France 4, saw 7 million more total viewers than in 2019.
Even more encouraging was a big increase of share among younger viewers, with 55 percent of all audience share between 15 and 24, officials said.
Average viewership per stage was 3.5 million viewers, with the largest share tuning in for the decisive climbing stage ending atop Grand Colombier, with 6.3 million viewers.
French TV also saw a big spike in its audience in its online users via its website and app, with 25 million video viewings during the Tour on its virtual platforms. Tour de France officials said there were 14.5 million unique visitors to its website, while the official Tour app had 1 million active users. The Tour’s official fantasy league also saw 60,000 more users than in 2019.
That success translated across many events in the rescheduled race calendar. On the men’s side, only a handful of one-day races were canceled — such as Paris-Roubaix and Amstel Gold Race — as part of the reshuffled calendar that resumed in August.
Other races saw solid numbers. In Spain, more than 2 million spectators watched the final mountain stage at La Covatilla broadcast on Spain’s national public channel.
“The audience numbers were very good during this edition of the Vuelta,” said Vuelta race director Javier Guillén. “The public wants to see the spectacle. Every day during 18 stages something interesting was happening, and the GC was wide open. Fans were hooked from the first day, and I believe this year everyone was talking about the Vuelta.”
Organizers are hoping to build on these encouraging tv viewership numbers across Europe for 2021.