SBJ/May 31 - June 6, 2004/Media

No word could describe the Tour de France, so OLN made one up

Outdoor Life Network is hoping the made-up word “Cyclysm” becomes standard lingo to signify both an epic event in cycling and the Tour de France itself. Network executives compare the tour to the NCAA basketball tournament and the phrase “March Madness,” which OLN officials point out was merely a CBS marketing tag line until it became part of the vernacular.

A “Cyclysm” ad campaign breaks this week, promoting this summer’s coverage on OLN of Lance Armstrong’s historic bid for a record-breaking sixth straight Tour de France title. The ads, from OLN’s agency of record, McCann-Erickson, will run mostly on OLN and other Comcast-owned networks, and through inventory controlled by cable operators. A heavy print and outdoor component will see ads surface in major markets and in USA Today, Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine, among others.

Lance Armstrong’s quest for another Tour de France title is central to the campaign.
OLN officials said the total value of the advertising inventory used in the campaign is about $20 million, but they would not say how much they were spending out of pocket.

The television spots will focus on what OLN identifies as the three key components of this year’s race series: Armstrong’s quest for the sixth win, his rivals and the historic nature of the event.

The network describes the campaign as “mythological” in look and feel, “conveying a sense of global drama.”

Gavin Harvey, who joined OLN as president in early March, said the goal of the campaign is to broaden the appeal of the Tour de France beyond cycling fans.

“We wanted to really evangelize it hard,” he said. “We needed to invent a word for it. The Cyclysm came from the idea that great forces are gathering and colliding in an historic moment.”

Asked whether OLN will be able to insert a word into the American vocabulary without making a heavy cash advertising buy — most of the television spots will be delivered via barter deals with cable operators — he said that approach fit OLN’s strategy because they would rather have the exposure in markets where OLN has stronger distribution. Therefore, he said, working out deals with cable operators rather than rival networks makes sense. OLN is in 58 million homes.

OLN, which averaged a 5.0 cable rating for its live Tour de France coverage and a 0.58 for its prime-time repeats last year, up 92 percent and 71 percent, respectively, will air more than 300 hours of Tour de France coverage, including a new show called “The Roadside Tour” that is from a fan’s perspective.

The tour itself runs July 3-25, with OLN doing live race coverage of every leg, usually at 7:30 or 8 a.m. ET. It worked out a deal with CBS this year so it does not have to skip its live shows when CBS is doing afternoon coverage on tape delay.

COMCAST’S NEW CHICAGO NET: Comcast’s new regional sports network in Chicago is asking DirecTV and cable operators to pay $3.50 per subscriber a month for the new service, a source said.

Comcast Regional Sports Television President Jack Williams would not confirm the number, but he said Comcast is not looking to charge significantly more than what Fox Sports Net Chicago has been getting from operators in the Chicago inner market.

The network will be the local cable home of the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks, all of whom will jump ship from FSN when the new network launches Oct. 1.

“It’s not like we’re revamping the whole thing and upping the rates considerably,” Williams said. “It’s a major market, and the price is going to be in line with where it has been.”

He said there have been no indications that Comcast will face the sort of fight other regional sports startups have, such as the YES Network in New York or Victory Sports One in Minnesota. They went toe-to-toe with cable operators and came to different outcomes: YES went to arbitration before getting full distribution, and Victory quickly was shuttered.

Williams also said the Comcast network is close to signing a lease for a new 40,000-square-foot broadcast facility that it will completely remodel and outfit for high definition. Until that facility is completed, it will rent space from Chicagoland Television, a news channel owned by the Tribune Co.

Meanwhile, the Rainbow Sports-run FSN Chicago is expected to continue as a home for local college sports programming and national programming from Fox Sports Net. Most area cable operators are expected to drop the service when their contracts expire at the end of the year, as will DirecTV. But Comcast, which has about half the pay television homes in the market, has a longer-term deal to carry FSN in Chicago. While it is expected to get some rebate because the network does not have major league professional sports anymore, Comcast is still obligated to carry the channel and pay some licensing fee. This was through deals that dated back to when AT&T Broadband, later acquired by Comcast, serviced the area.

Andy Bernstein can be reached at abernstein@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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