Words by Nick Bull | Photo by CorVos/SWpix.com
This week’s announcement confirming that Eurosport x GCN had secured live coverage of both the men’s and women’s editions of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (27 February) followed social media outcry earlier in February when it was revealed that neither had the broadcast rights at that time.
La Course En Tête spoke to those involved behind-the-scenes for this explainer guide.
What was causing the uncertainty with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad?
The race’s international TV rights are being managed by Infront Sports & Media, an agency providing that service on behalf of event organiser Flanders Classics.
While Eurosport x GCN have an existing agreement in place for both men’s and women’s Tour of Flanders (Sunday 4 April), as of this week no deal had been signed for a package containing Omloop, Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen, Scheldeprijs, De Brabantse Pijl and the Brussels Cycling Classic.
As Infront announced earlier this year, they’ve been tasked with selling the packaged international rights over the next eight years for those aforementioned events (with the European rights for the Tour of Flanders included as part of that from 2022).
It’s worth remembering that Omloop coverage in the UK and across mainland Europe has been hit and miss in recent years. The now-defunct BIKE Channel had the UK men’s rights in 2016, and L’Équipe TV had similar permission for France three years ago, for example.
What’s the deal with the other Flanders Classics races then?
Because time was fast running out, a separate rights deal was made solely for the 2021 edition of Omloop this week given that no agreement was particularly close for the full package.
This shouldn’t be cause for concern – particularly since the next of the Flanders Classics events, Gent-Wevelgem, is still four weeks away – but it outlines how complicated rights agreements can be and how late deals are signed. Given that Infront are trying to sell a long-term, high-value package it’s understandable that talks been the respective parties did not come to an immediate resolution.
Disclaimer: last-minute broadcast deals are nothing new in cycling. In 2001, British Eurosport (as it was then known) only secured the Giro d’Italia rights three days before the race started. It’s a good job social media wasn’t around then…
Don’t Flanders Classics and Infront care about the audience outside of Belgium?
Of course they do. But, in this case, it’s worth remembering that Sporza in Belgium is the key broadcaster for Flanders Classics (especially once again in 2021 given that the start, finish, climbs and cobbled sectors will be closed off to the public). Helped by similar restrictions being in place for last year’s Tour of Flanders, Sporza’s broadcast recorded a staggering 86.4% marketshare at its peak and the women’s race generated record numbers (over 738,000 viewers in Flanders alone).
This approach is no different to how A.S.O (Tour de France on France Télévisions), RCS (Giro d’Italia on RAI) and Unipublic (La Vuelta on RTVE; the two parties unveiled a new deal running between 2021 and 2024 worth €2.5 million per year) operate.
All three broadcasters are free-to-air in the respective countries and this is the obvious route in ensuring that event stakeholders generate a return on their investment. After all, when it comes to Omloop Het Nieuwsblad’s partners, fans outside of Belgium won’t be signing up for banking accounts at KBC, internet and TV packages from Proximus nor taking part in Lotto.
Elsewhere this week, the Healthy Ageing Tour (UCI 2.1 race) launched a crowdfunding campaign to help it pay for live TV coverage after organisers confirmed that this year’s edition (10-12 March) will take place behind closed doors. As of Friday morning they had raised €2,083. More updates are expected on this in the coming days. Click here to donate.