'Tour de Lance’ Pays Off for OLN

Even though Outdoor Life Network’s coverage of the Tour de France posted lackluster ratings during the first week of coverage, the network said ad-sales revenue is pacing at four times the level it saw with last year’s race.

After the first nine days of the Tour, which features American Lance Armstrong vying for a record sixth championship, OLN averaged a 0.4 rating and 301,664 households in primetime, down from the 0.5 rating and 410,000 households that it drew for the first nine days of last year’s tour.

Decreased viewership over the July 4th holiday weekend and NBC’s coverage of the Wimbledon tennis championships affected this year’s ratings, OLN spokeswoman Amy Phillips said.

The first-week ratings were low enough for OLN to push back the start of the network’s daily taped primetime coverage from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Phillips said the network changed the start of the 2.5-hour primetime show after finding that the HUT [households using television] levels improved in the 9 p.m. hour.


At 8 p.m., OLN is now running a rotation of two of its new series: extreme sports show Saturn’s Gravity Files and Outside Magazine’s Ultimate Top 10.

A half-hour pre-race show kicks off at 8:30 p.m.

With marketing campaign valued at $20 million, OLN is banking heavily on using the Tour de France to drive ad revenue and to market its new programs. Its 340 hours of live and taped race coverage began on July 3, and will end on July 25 when the race concludes in Paris.

One of the biggest advertisers of the race has been Diageo’s Crown Royal whiskey, which has run as many as five 30-second spots one night (July 7) and even ran two spots before noon on a recent Sunday (July 11).

The Crown Royal spots were part of a broader year-long media buy from Diageo, said OLN senior vice president of advertising and sponsorship sales John West.

West said 70% of OLN’s ad inventory for the race was sold to Tour sponsors Subaru, Energizer, Nike, Subway, Infinity, Trek, Pacific Life, Expedia and AOL Broadband.

The remaining inventory is comprised of OLN’s rotational schedule of advertisers, such as Diageo.

The network is running nine minutes of commercials per hour, and it gives cable operators three minutes per hour of advertising time to sell locally.

“We have not increased our commercial load,” West said.

OLN is its own biggest advertiser, running more than five minutes per hour of promos for new programs and its Tour coverage. The channel also has integrated ad placements into the Tour coverage, with on-air talent donning clothing from sponsor L.L. Bean and color commentator Bob Roll responding to questions on the air from America Online users.

Roll, a former teammate of Armstrong’s, also stars in Tour-themed commercials from bike maker Trek.

Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service Team bought few spots on OLN’s coverage this year, said West, noting that this is the last year that USPS will sponsor Armstrong’s team. Discovery Communications Inc. recently cut a deal to sponsor Armstrong’s team, which will don race jerseys with a Discovery logo beginning next year.


Discovery didn’t buy spots in OLN’s Tour coverage, but the network did sell a Tour sponsorship package to rival cable network Home & Garden Television, which has been running spots touting its new Curb Appeal program.

Much of OLN’s coverage is focused on Armstrong’s quest for a sixth consecutive win. The network is also running a new program, Lance Chronicles, a behind the scenes look at how Armstrong and his team prepared for the race.

One Lance Chronicles episode last week featured a press conference Armstrong attended recently at Discovery’s headquarters where Discovery executives Billy Campbell and Judith McHale announced the team sponsorship.