When it signed a 10-year deal to continue with the Tour de France last year, NBCUniversal may have felt there was at least some shot of cycling holding more than niche appeal. That has to lanced.
So much faith was put in Lance Armstrong as a hero doing it the right way that even another outstanding American with a phenomenal story is likely to simply be met with a shrug. How much reason is there to believe anyone is or will be clean? Sadly for current champion Bradley Wiggins (assuming he is clean), there is guilt by association with the once-sainted Lance. With all the sophisticated doping agents and masking abilities in the sport, cycling may be more suited to the Science Channel than a sports network.
NBC had to have made its deal knowing there was the possibility Armstrong would emerge as a doper, which could have a detrimental effect on the sport. So, it must have decided that even so, there would be enough interest in the Tour among the sport’s devotees – the ones who have stuck with it even as doping evidence has kept rolling in – to make its investment worth it.
It will be interesting to find that out come next summer. With his lying and cheating, Armstrong’s legacy may well include irreversibly hurting cycling’s appeal in the U.S., not just to a mainstream audience, but among the extremely devoted who break down each stage of the Tour and wonder how various Pyrenees climbs will impact the standings.
With future Tour coverage, technology may prove to be a savior. At least in the first couple of years, the chance to watch live coverage on mobile devices may generate more interest than the racers. For who can believe they’re doing but spinning around earning what amounts to drug money?