Monday, April 12, 2010

Andrew Messick has reoccuring nightmares of Henri Desgrange

History is a funny thing - ya know, the way it keeps repeating itself, but nobody bothers to listen, or read, or watch.

Look around, far and near, choose a subject, it's not hard, and you'll find historical stuttering. Sometimes it takes a few months or years, but if you can step away from the myopic perspective we 60-year-lived humans have, you find history weaves a pretty nice sin curve over and under the x-axis of all time.

Today AEG Sports president Andrew Messick denied rumors that ASO, Amaury Sports Organization, the French events and media mega-conglomerate that owns the Tour de France, Dauphiné Libéré, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice and other major cycling events (as well as the French Open in tennis, is positioning for a takeover of the Tour of California, calling it only a
“media partnership.” (Messick denies ASO takeover of California Tour) You, and Mr. Messick, might want to post those words up on the bulletin board for a future re-read, maybe under the header "History Repeating Itself."

Just a brief ride down the muddy cobbled road of cycling history might shed a little light on the new business arrangement AEG and ASO are team time trialing into. The ASO, or the true grand patron of the Tour de France, began life in the marketing madness of the Parisian newspaper L'Auto. A century ago L'Auto was being gapped off the circulation wheel by rival L'Velo. To avoid DNFing L'Auto's heads Victor Goddet and Henri Desgrange masterminded a race called le Tour de France and went on to demolish the competition and create a race legend.

For the next 50 years L'Auto dominated the sport print media in near monopolistic fashion - and fever. L'Auto ceased publication in 1944, a by-product of its ambiguous allegiance during the Occupation, with Liberation its assets were sequestered. In Phoenix-fashion it rose 18 months later from L'Auto ashes as L'Equipe, at it's helm Goddet's son Jacques. The 1960's telecast economic woes for print media with television assuming a more attractive role -
L'Equipe was struggling, prompting Tour Director and L'Equipe head Goddet to capitulate to a merger of the paper and subsidiary cycling gemstone to Émilien Amaury (1965); with whom he had earlier made his successful bid to relaunch the Tour de France after WWII. Over the next decade and a half the two men transformed the conglomeration into the Amaury Group (ASO). The Amaury Group is owned by French publicity and marketing entity EPA (Éditions Philippe Amaury).[1]

In the past few decades le géant de sports de la France has been gobbling up events most recently the Dauphiné Libéré, and driving interest in Vuelta a España. “(UCI president Pat McQuaid) has heard these rumors too,” Messick said, referring to the ASO takeovers. “He and I talked about it, and I told him they are false.”, from the VeloNews article. Of course McQuaid heard them, he is having the same Desgrange nightmares. ASO is cycling, and has reduced the UCI to as insignificant an organization as can internationally exist. McQuaid knows once ASO has Tour of CA, and Australia that doesn't leave the UCI with any toys to play with. Kinda like the early days of the Tour and being a Isole - good luck on getting anything but the broom wagon to show up when you have a mechanical.

ASO has continued to grow, becoming more powerful, controlling more and more of what is professional cycling and spreading the sports media marketing tentacles first unleashed by Henri Desgrange. So Andrew Messick, those reoccuring nightmares you keep having, the ones where the ghost of Henri Desgrange keeps taking everything you own, take note, history says the giant he left behind is looking west, all the way to the coast of California.

PS - Andrew, how's your French?

[1] drawn from a fascinating book The Tour de France 1903-2003: A Century of Sporting Structures, Meanings and Values, editors Hugh Dauncey and Geoff Hare.

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