Bike race

Allez allez allez! Why the Tour needs to really aller in a new direction

Another year, another Tour. Sadly this year’s is mired in controversy once again, with Team Sky exonerating Chris Froome from his alleged salbutamol shenanigans and the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) changing the rules regarding the technology that can be used. Alongside these issues with the Tour itself, TV audiences are becoming increasingly frustrated with the viewing experience, risking fans abandoning the sport altogether.

The sports technology

But it’s not all doom and gloom.  In recent years, technology has become an integral part of the Tour, making the event an exciting place to see the latest in velo-tech. The race now counts a host of technology and software companies amongst its backers, including new addition, cyber security company, Sophos, sponsoring Team BMC. Old favourites Team DimensionData are back once again, sporting rather snazzy new helmets from Oakley with no less innovation in them than the skinsuits that are used for the Individual and Team Time Trials.

It’s not surprising that these technology companies are involved, given the impressive range of tech used by each and every team. For example: helmets. Oakley has been developing a new offering to the world of road cycling, and this year Team DiData are sporting the particularly panache Aro 5, with MIPS technology. MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System, which is a leading slip-plane technology inside the helmet designed to reduce rotational forces that can result from certain impacts. This is very fancy sounding, and undoubtedly high tech.

The thing is, unless you’re a cyclist who enjoys donning the lycra now and again and having to eat dust for a month because you’ve, *ahem*, “invested” in some Carbon wheels, the above paragraph won’t be of much interest.

What if you just like watching sport? Unfortunately, when it comes to cycling, the innovation on the screen doesn’t match that on the roads. Whereas other sports such as Formula 1 have sought to enhance the viewing experience through different driver streams, personalised content and post-race interviews, rights holders for the Tour have yet to think outside the box.

The broadcast technology

For broadcasters, driving interest in sports in the age of OTT providers, particularly amongst younger viewers, presents an industry-wide challenge. Research from Ampere Analysis found that young millennial identification with strong sentiment questions is lower for sport than it is for other forms of content. As a result, it is critical that broadcasters find new ways to engage with younger audiences, who have come to expect personalised, on-demand services.

These challenges are further compounded when it comes to cycling. The sport is already seen from the outside as elitist, and the UCI isn’t known for being that progressive as a sporting body. To keep the sport moving forwards and bring in new blood- and, crucially, new ways of doing things – something needs to change for the fans. Those who line the route get an excellent experience. Those who can’t be there, I’m afraid to say, do not. I only got into cycling due to watching the Tour a couple of years back when AR and VR weren’t quite there. But now, with AR apps on smartphones (which are pretty ubiquitous), why are we not seeing more official apps? Even something as basic as a team profiler would add to the whole thing. I have to use my iPhone 7plus for something, right?

Sports broadcasting generally could do with more supporting technology, and this is undoubtedly an argument that will be going on for a number of years into the future. eSports is probably the newest development in sport, and it is doing a lot right. Maybe the more traditional offerings can learn a bit from these upstarts? We will have to see. For now, I guess I’ll have to make do with ITV Hub.

Find out more about Babel’s experience in the broadcast technology space.

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