I could not believe my eyes this morning when I read this headline in the USA Today , "T-Mobile Suspends Ullrich for Tour". So I went to cyclingnews.com and the news got worse, "More riders suspended: Basso and Mancebo out"
In the last couple of years I have learned not to jump to conclusions regarding the athletes in these doping 'scandals' so I will not focus on that here. As a former event organizer and someone who is in the position to support and sponsor events I can say that the news could not be worse for tour organizers and sponsors the day before the big event.
I'm not particularly fond of the Tour organizer, especially after I read this comment about Lance Armstrong in the USAToday yesterday.
"For the riders of the Tour de France, the month of July 2006 should be something like the 14th of July was in 1789 for the prisoners of the Bastille: a time of newfound liberty ... after seven years of domination and sometimes oppression," race director Jean-Marie Leblanc says.
That pretty much says a lot for his character. However, there are more people than just him that are effected by today's news.
Organizers. Hundreds of organizers around the country and thousands of volunteers, I'm sure, will be in hectic, panic mode for weeks. This is a very, very dark day for all of them. Your biggest stars are OUT of your event. Possibly whole teams. This throws off your entire game-plan for three weeks. Think about that. They are normally in scramble mode for three weeks, but this will be like anything they have experienced before.
Sponsors. Wow. Entire marketing campaigns out the window. T-Mobile have placed much time, effort and money into their campaigns with Jan Ullrich, especially during the summer months, for years. I'm sure they had some great things planned for this July, too. As did his other sponsors and Basso's sponsors.
I'm not just talking advertising either. Sponsors will have made plans to fly in for portions of the race, some for the whole race. They will have set up receptions with athletes and customers, dinners and viewing spots. Yes, if you are a sponsor your customers will be effected by all of this, too. Some customers may have made their whole summer plans around a trip to Le Tour only to have their excitement dashed. There will be some backlash there, too.
Media. There are television stations and networks all around the world that have marketed this event for months and sold advertising dollars to companies that expect millions to be watching. Will they watch now? For those of you in the US - think about this. People have speculated that OLN might not cover Le Tour without Lance. They did this year. If viewership isn't up will they cut out their cycling coverage all together in '07?
The fans. Event organizers are now hoping that the race can be as popular without the marquee names this year to draw in the crowds. People plan their whole summer vacations around the Tour - traveling from stage to stage to cheer on their favorite rider. The disappointment will be monumental for them.
Well, folks, there is still one very good reason to watch the Tour DAY France in the States on OLN. Bob Roll. His partner, Jessi, says that he did get to France and is ready to go. It will be interesting to hear his take on all of this tomorrow.
This is truly a dark day in the sport of cycling. My heart goes out to all involved.
Just a yucky tidbit for today. Thanks for stopping by.