The network, its former monikers and corporate entities, have been airing the race for years. A niche, but loyal number of viewers regularly view -- averaging around 250,000 Nielsen viewers in recent years for its live airings, boosting to over 400,000 for the last day of the 21 stage race.
But for years, the road cycling event on U.S. airwaves hasn’t mentioned one of the most recognizable cycling athlete names: Lance Armstrong.
Armstrong won seven Tour de France races before being stripped of those titles after his revelations and confession of performance-enhancing drugs. His name has barely been mentioned since he left the sport in 2011. In 2013, he admitted to performance drug use. Since he retired, TV ratings of the race have dipped.
Then, on Tuesday, the live broadcast of this year's stage 4 of the Tour De France had Lance Armstrong on camera offering some analysis of the race -- but nothing of his controversial past.
After this interview, there was an on-air promo read by NBCSN Tour de France announcer Phil Liggert about an upcoming special on NBCSN: “Lance Armstrong: The Next Stage” -- a 30-minute interview shown directly after the live airing of stage 4.
It was a bit of product placement/branded entertainment for NBCU’s other cycling programming, and additionally, for Armstrong, in part to hype his own YouTube TV series “The Move.”
All this isn’t unusual for video promotion. Time can heal lots of wounds, especially when contrition is in abundance. Armstrong did much of this, and continues to do so.
But what does it mean to networks when they highlight specific athletes performance endeavors for years -- when PED use or other inappropriate behaviors are later revealed?
We are not just talking about cycling.
In baseball, for example, we had Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, all being associated with PEDs. Then there is Pete Rose, who admitted to betting on Major League Baseball games. Rose is still trying to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Rodriguez, for one, figured out a way back -- to the TV airwaves. The former New York Yankee is currently an ESPN analyst for Major League Baseball games.
Many athletes can show lots of remorse in the press and elsewhere after their misdeeds. But what actually comes next for them and the TV networks they appear on? Perhaps some daylight.
For instance, Armstrong and his YouTube show do have sponsors. His YouTube “The Move” show has Tequila Patron as a main on-screen logo sponsor of show, as well as a sponsor/product-placement deal from cold-brew brand High Brew Coffee.
So, maybe there is another story to tell — with less of a race to the finish line.