Tour de France 2020: are sporting events without spectators the future?

We're all used to images of what the world of sporting events was like until just a few months ago: spectators and fans as far as the eye can see. Isn’t it crazy how quickly things have changed in the past months for both sports fans and event organizers?

Initially planned for the 27th of June and reprogrammed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Tour de France 2020 was started a couple of days ago with the Grand Départ taking place in Nice. It will cover the 3.470 km between Nice and Paris, going through more than 500 cities and picturesque villages in southern France, with the finish date being the 20th of September. This world-famous bicycle race is known for bringing together more than 12 million people each year, not to mention the 4500 souls working to make the event happen between riders, teams, organizers, journalists, sponsors, and staff.

This year, though, things will be a bit different: the Tour de France will be held without spectators for the first time in its history. During the 1990s and a good part of the 2000s, I was myself 15 times a commentator and presenter of the Tour de France for the German broadcaster ARD, and the image of the ocean of spectators is still imprinted on my memory. It is very hard to imagine that this event is taking place and there will be no people flooding the streets to enjoy the race and cheer for their favorites. But this is the new reality for the world of sports at the moment. Does this mean we are headed for a future of sporting events without spectators?

As much as I would like to share the definitive answer to this question with you, the truth is that all of us are adjusting to completely new game rules that are being set as we go. Our best bet right now is to be more mindful of the risks involving big gatherings of fans, developing new tools and protocols to tackle this unprecedented situation, and more importantly, staying hopeful for the future.

Sports and the Bauhaus: an unexpected connection 

I was at the Bauhaus Museum at Dessau last Saturday with a good friend from Barcelona. The way in which sports and arts intersect is a notion that has always fascinated me. Where do the first ones end, where do the others begin, and at which point of the performance do they become one and the same? You just have to look at disciplines like artistic gymnastics or synchronized swimming to get a sense of what I’m talking about. The Greeks spent a fair share of their time under the Mediterranean sun marveling at the wonders of the human body and its ability to create beautiful figures through movement. And as I found out last weekend, there was a group of artists - in more recent times and much closer to home - who were also captivated by the fusion of sports and beauty.

On 4th December of 1926, the industrial city of Dessau saw the opening ceremony of the Bauhaus building, which lasted two days. The Staatliches Bauhaus, the German art school whose vision was to combine aesthetics and functionality, had to leave its birthplace in Weimar due to political pressure from the rising NSDAP. Dessau was selected then as the new location for the school, and the film programme for the opening aimed at connecting images of acceleration and intensity with the aesthetics of fast-paced modernity.

At the opening, three short movies were shown: How do we live in a healthy and economic way?, The growth of crystals, and Nurmi, the world’s fastest man. This last one was interestingly shot in slow motion to convey a message of contradiction between image and reality. The Flying Finn, as they called him, Paavo Nurmi was a Finnish runner 8-times Olympic champion who dominated long distance running in the 1920s. I was at the Bauhaus Museum and I noticed that this footage had been replaced by a different one, Le Mile, shot in 1932 and featuring French runner Jules Ladoumégue, who broke a series of world records and even ousted Nurmi as the world’s fastest man.

Both footages, nevertheless, open a door for us to wonder about the link between sport, image, and art. What are your thoughts on this?

1st anniversary of Die Finals

I hope nobody minds me getting a bit emotional here for a minute, but August is a very special month for me. The 3rd and 4th of August of 2019 saw Die Finals, a combination of ten German national championships in Olympic summer sports, come into the world after six years of hard work, a fair share of market research and lots of planning. Today Die Finals, my most ambitious project so far, is turning 1 year old.

Just like ESPN created the X Games and the EBU came up with the United European Championships, Die Finals is a child of that interesting trend that has been happening worldwide in recent years where innovative sporting event ideas are being developed by broadcasters and media companies, rather than by sports federations. In our case, I worked with the German broadcasters ARD and ZDF to help them grow the concept of this new event and take care of the media strategy. And today, as Managing Director of Die Finals GmbH, I couldn’t be happier to celebrate its first anniversary. Although, truth be said, these are uncertain times for the world of sports.

With the current pandemic, the second edition of Die Finals scheduled for June 2020 had to be postponed for 2021. However, my Finals team and the broadcasters ARD/ZDF are working relentlessly to finally see the event happen, though the dates are not known yet. In total, 17 national championships in Olympic and Non-Olympic sports are planned; among those, some newcomers like 3x3 basketball, table tennis, taekwondo and rhythmic gymnastics. Exciting, right? To be honest, I can’t wait for the second edition of this huge project to come to life. So stay tuned for upcoming news.

Boxing: Is TV still relevant for sporting events?

I’ve found this poster at my gym. The year is 1953. Rocky Marciano and Roland LaStarza meet for the second time in their careers at the Polo Grounds in New York City, and the fight is historic. The whole of the United States follow every single one of the boxers’ movements closely, hooked by the show either in situ or at the movie theaters across the country, and Marciano wins the fight with the last agonic blows to a defeated LaStarza in the 11th round. The showdown, sponsored by Philip Morris, has one peculiarity: it is televised live on the big screens of over 30 cities from Chicago to Los Angeles, but not on TV or radio.

TV didn’t explode in the United States up until the 1960s, but for 1953 standards, not having your sport event aired on the radio was a huge deal. Exactly the same happens today with television: in the year 2020, no event that aims to have some relevance can afford to take such a risk as not signing a contract with a broadcaster. Even with the surge of the internet, a huge amount of people still get their entertainment in the form of TV content. It is estimated that as of 2015, 1.57 billion households around the world owned at least one TV set (with the US as the world leader in watching time). So this essentially means that if you didn’t get a deal to have your sport event televised, did it really happen?

The past 18th of July of 2020, the first boxing fight after the current coronavirus outbreak took place in Magdeburg, Germany, involved were heavyweight European Champion Agit Kabayel and heavyweight Junior World Champion Peter Kadiru. It was streamed live at and broadcasted on TV by MDR Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk. The event was promoted by SES Boxing, with whom I work closely as a consultant for national and international media rights for all their boxing events since more than ten years. For security measures around COVID-19, the fight took place before a small audience of about a thousand people. Which leads us to think that in these new times of sports with no spectators, broadcasters will be the ones to save the day for the fans and businesses alike.