The Economics of the Tour, 1930–2003

ERIC REED





INTRODUCTION


The 100th anniversary of the Tour de France provides an ideal
opportunity to examine the evolving relationship between business,
sport, and culture during the last century in France.
From the instant that Parisian journalists created the Tour, it was
a commercial, for-profit event. The business needs of the event’s
primary stakeholders—Parisian race organizers, the media, corporate
sponsors, provincial host-towns, and the race’s professional stars—
shaped the Tour as an entertainment spectacle from its inception. The
stakeholders’ practical business decisions had important cultural
ramifications: their interests and influence forged the event’s
underlying business philosophies and determined how the Tour was
organized, who became sports celebrities and heroes, what areas of
France the race visited, how the event’s myths were perpetuated, and
how the average fan experienced and participated in the spectacle.
Over the decades, the race evolved from an event staged in order to
spur sales of bicycles and sports newspapers in France into a globally
televised spectacle that generated publicity for a wide range of
corporate sponsors in France and from around the world. The success
and popularity of the Tour undoubtedly spurred the
professionalization and commercialization of other sports in France,
and the event helped to acclimatize the French to key trends in
twentieth-century culture like mass company substance and
the commercialization of leisure. Because of its central position at the
intersection of business and culture, the Tour’s evolution illustrates
how industrial interests formed France’s widespread culture in new

ways in the twentieth century.