LONDON Italian media company RCS has signed an eight-year agreement with sports marketing group IMG to try to boost broadcast revenues for its cycling events, capitalizing on growing international interest in the sport.
The sports event arm of RCS, which publishes Italian newspapers Gazzetta dello Sport and Corriere della Sera, is seeking a bigger worldwide audience for races it organizes, such as the three-week Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy).
"We are sure that IMG Media's expertise will help us to improve the value and increase the international visibility of the Giro d'Italia and other RCS races," said Giacomo Catano, the RCS Sport chief executive.
RCS Sport runs 32 days of international cycling each year, including the Milan-San Remo one-day classic.
Catano said he did not believe that the Giro, held in May, was condemned to live forever in the shadow of the Tour de France, the world's best-known cycle race, which begins this weekend. The Giro is currently broadcast to 165 countries, compared with 190 for the French race.
"We don't feel in competition with the others. We want to increase the value of cycling," Catano told a press briefing in London. "In the United States, cycling has a fantastically positive trend. Some say cycling has become the new golf."
Traditionally popular in continental Europe, cycling has also enjoyed a boom in Britain, where it is attracting growing numbers of amateur riders keen to adopt a healthier lifestyle. British success in the sport at the Beijing Olympics has also added to the momentum.
RCS Sport's managing director, Michele Acquarone, said the deal with IMG would build on efforts to bring more international riders to the Giro in recent years and experiment with starting the race in other European nations.
"We are sure that IMG can help us to improve our product," he said.
RCS has worked with Italian state broadcaster RAI to produce and distribute content internationally.
The agreement with IMG runs until 2020 and covers global distribution of audiovisual rights in all forms - to broadcasters and digital media.
Acquarone said he did not believe that the Giro would follow Formula One motor racing and move to pay TV company Sky Italia, part of News Corp, in its home market.
"I think the Giro d'Italia has to be on national TV," he said, adding that RCS was talking to RAI about its commitment to the event.
(Reporting by Keith Weir; Editing by David Goodman)