The Tour de France has posted viewership increases on Versus through the first nine days of competition. Average viewership is up 83% to more than 481,000 compared to last year’s nine-day average of 263,000. The network has also seen a 138% increase in the men 18-49 demographic.
What can one attribute to the ratings bump? The return of a certain 7-time Tour-winning American could have something to do with it, but Versus President Jamie Davis says it is more than just the man whose name “starts with an Arm and ends with a Strong.”
“Lance is a big part because Lance is bringing in the casual viewer as well…like what Michael Phelps brought into the Olympics. The die-hard swimming fans are going to watch the Olympics no matter what,” Davis told B&C, saying cycling in the U.S. is a growing sport with a loyal and passionate fan base.
Davis admits that Armstrong–appearing in his first Tour de France since winning it in 2005 and grabbing headlines for a tension-laced feud with Spanish teammate Alberto Contador–has certainly been a ratings grab. But he credits Versus multi-platform successes on cross-promotion during the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the presence of interactive maps with GPS tracking and live chats on the Versus Web site with contributing to the surge.
The site has seen 6 million video views through July 12, the ninth stage of the Tour, after drawing a total of 6.5 million for the entire race in 2008.
The numbers for this year’s tour, compared to the last time Armstrong appeared in 2005, also back up Davis’ claims that interest in the event is rising again in the U.S. Viewership has increased by 18% compared to ‘05 numbers, including a 20% bump in men 18-49 and smaller increases in all major men’s demos.