5 year deal in place as viewership increases

This year’s Tour de France bicycle race ended July 26, but niche cabler Versus should be feeling good for a long time afterward.

The sports channel reupped last year to cover the Tour for five more years, and the extension is already paying off. Viewership for live morning coverage of the race is up 134% in the 18-49 demo from 2008’s record. Morning broadcasts — part of 14 hours a day of Tour coverage — average 500,000 viewers each.

Net extended the deal with the Amaury Sport Organization without the assurance of Lance Armstrong who stepped away after the 2005 race — coming out of retirement. But he returned when this year’s Tour began July 4 and was vying for a record eighth win.

Versus prexy Jamie Davis says it’s not Armstrong’s participation, per se, that’s drawing viewers but several intense battles with his own teammate.

“He might bring in the casual fan,” says Davis. “But what drives ratings is the competition between him and (Alberto) Contador.”

Versus also rose with spring’s contentious National Hockey League playoffs.

Says Davis: “We’re about taking sports that have long been underserved.”

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