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bike racing article in today's NY TIMES-business section(2 posts)

bike racing article in today's NY TIMES-business sectionohmk1
Jun 3, 2003 4:55 AM

June 3, 2003

Breaking Away, With a Sponsor

STI, Italy, May 28 — It's 90 degrees in the Italian countryside, and a lonely cyclist is laboring as he speeds by town after town, sweat dripping from his brow, all the while knowing that his breakaway is about to be erased by a pack of other riders behind him. He has cycled 1,800 miles in the last 19 days, and his time so far in the race puts him only 135th out of 138. But a smile can almost be seen on his face, because today he has accomplished what he set out to do.

Martin Hvastija, a 33-year-old Slovenian, had one goal: to leave the rest of the riders behind, at least for a few miles, in the Tour of Italy, the three-week bicycle race second in fame only to the Tour de France. The point was to gain his team a bit of fame and, more important, to let the millions of people lining the course or watching on television see the names of the sponsors printed on his jersey.

Mission accomplished. For 35 miles, Mr. Hvastija, who studied journalism for two years before deciding to concentrate on cycling, was alone ahead of the pack, with his yellow team jersey there for everybody to see.

"The breakaway was useless, because I never stood a chance of winning; it was just a question of time until they caught me," said Mr. Hvastija with a smile as he rested in this town known for its sparkling wine after the day's stage of the race was done. "Of course, the sponsors will be happy to see their name getting some publicity."

As with so many other sporting events, at this 94-year-old race, the Giro d'Italia, advertising has come to play a dominant role. The sponsors' names on the jerseys are the tip of an iceberg that includes advertisements in every imaginable spot along the course and at each day's finishing line.

The most curious feature is a caravan of 66 vehicles, each done up to somehow represent the product it promotes. From the caravan, which travels the route of the Giro about an hour ahead of the racers, promoters toss samples and gadgets to spectators, who clamber over each other to get a tiny tube of free skin cream or a small flag with the sponsor's name. The Giro organizers took in almost 7 million euros ($8.3 million) in fees this year from the companies in the caravan, the same as last year and down about 5 percent from 2001.

"Like everybody else involved in advertising we have felt the economic crisis, but advertising revenue has held relatively steady because this is more than a race, it's a piece of Italian culture," said Simone Lotoro, the head of sales at RCS Sport, which sold the advertising for the race. "This is much more than a sporting event, and that explains why the advertisers haven't abandoned us."

And that also explains why Italy's state-owned television broadcaster, RAI, signed a four-year contract in 2002 to broadcast the Giro, even as doping scandals were cutting into the popularity of the race. RAI paid about 10 million euros, or $11.9 million, for this year's rights. RAI also resells the images to foreign television companies and splits the proceeds with the race organizers. So far the broadcasts have done well, drawing larger audiences this year than in 2002.

The business of the Giro is not just about team sponsorships and other forms of traditional advertising. The race also gives 30 cities and towns the chance to be the center of Italy's attention for a few hours by having a race stage start and end there, and they pay about 100,000 euros ($118,720) apiece to the Giro organizers for the privilege. Towns with smaller budgets can get just the start or just the end of a stage for about half price. The host towns paid a total of 2 million euros ($2.4 million) in fees this year.

[The tour concluded Sunday in Milan, won by Gilberto Simoni.]

The last time Asti played host to a tour stage was 40 years ago. Judging by the
Good article, but . . .ms
Jun 3, 2003 5:04 AM
what does it say about the US level of interest in cycling when the longest article about the Giro in an American newspaper is in the business section rather than the sports section?