Publish date:

All Lance, All The Time For the last three years, the Outdoor Life Network has closely tracked Lance Armstrong's rise to an American idol. This year OLN will follow him more exhaustively than ever

With his distinctive pipes and Churchillian presence, Phil
Liggett, the 59-year-old Englishman known worldwide as the Voice
of Cycling, is the second-biggest star on the Outdoor Life
Network. The biggest star? That would be four-time Tour de France
champion Lance Armstrong, whose pedaling has largely powered the
growth of the 24-hour outdoor-adventure channel from a start-up
that reached one million homes in 1995 to a network with an
audience of 52 million households today. With distribution deals
already in place, that figure should grow to nearly 60 million
households by year's end. "We tried to design a
lifestyle-oriented network that was not your traditional
stick-and-ball-sports network," says OLN president and CEO Roger
Williams. "We looked to find sports that had strong consumer
appeal but were underserved by the cable and broadcast networks
out there."

Cycling was one of those sports, and OLN was quick to tap into
Armstrong's iconic status, purchasing the rights to the Tour for
$3 million in 1999, only days after the Texan had won the
first--and, given his victory over testicular cancer, most
dramatic--of his four yellow jerseys. The move has paid off. Last
year, OLN averaged an 0.8 rating for its three tape-delayed
prime-time telecasts of the Tour. That's the same rating that,
for example, ESPN received for its live Game 3 coverage of this
year's NHL Western Conference finals between the Minnesota Wild
and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Williams refers to the Tour as "our Super Bowl," and OLN's
exhaustive coverage reflects that. From July 5 through 27, the
station will air 12 hours of coverage each day, including live
daily feeds from 9 to 11:30 a.m. While 500 hours of Tour TV might
sound as exciting as a C-SPAN telecast of Senate budget hearings,
OLN's coverage is invariably lively thanks to the inimitable
tandem of Liggett and Phil Sherwen, two of the best-kept secrets
in sports broadcasting. Liggett has covered the Tour for ABC, CBS
and ESPN, among others, since 1973 and has served as OLN's
spokesman since '99. He and Sherwen are former British pro
riders, and both possess an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport
as well as a gift for storytelling.

The biggest question facing OLN is whether the American public's
appetite for the Tour will still be there when Armstrong calls it
quits. "Right now the Tour de France is a marquee event in the
U.S. because of one person," says Tom DeCabia, executive vice
president of PHD USA, a major ad-buying firm. "As soon as he is
out of it, it's not the event it is now." Liggett is more
optimistic. "I think Lance's story has introduced a lot of people
to the sport," he says. "And I think we will hold on to a
reasonable percentage of those people when Armstrong stops being
a winner." --Richard Deitsch

COLOR PHOTO: BRUNO FABLET/REUTERS THEY RE-CYCLE With 12 hours of daily broadcasts, OLN will haveArmstrong covered from every angle.



COLOR PHOTO: FRANCK FIFE/AFP [See caption above]