L' Équipe

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A French daily newspaper dedicated to sport, founded in 1900 as L'Auto-Vélo, reflecting the popularity of motor vehicles and cycling, and from 1903 the promoter of the Tour de France, the success of which rapidly established the paper as France's primary sport-based publication. The spectacular initiative of the Tour undermined the dominance of Le Vélo, which had been founded in 1892 and had established popular long-distance bicycle races between French cities. Legal action by Le Vélo led, ironically, to L'Auto-Vélo dropping the second term from its name in the same year as the inaugural Tour, and as L'Auto driving Le Vélo out of business the following year. The editor of the paper, Henri Desgrange (1865–1940), represented powerful economic and political interests on the centre-right of the political spectrum, and though the initial daily circulation figure of the paper was 20,000, with the advent of the Tour its daily sales rose to 30,000 during the build-up to the event, and 65,000 during the race; by 1913, its average daily circulation was 120,000, and in 1914 during the race itself in July its average daily circulation was 320,000, a pattern sustained up to World War II. L'Auto organized the Tour from 1903 to 1914, and 1919 to 1939.

Association of the newspaper with the German occupation saw the title banned in post-war France, but in 1946 one of Desgrange's chief assistants of the 1930s founded L'Équipe, which, following national legislation, bought up the assets of L'Auto and acquired half of the rights to the Tour. The other half was owned by a Parisian daily paper (Le Parisien Libéré) with which L'Équipe organized the event for close to two decades, until in 1964 L'Équipe was bought by Éditions Émilien Amaury, owner of Le Parisien. The Amaury Group established the Société du Tour de France to run the Tour and other races (Christopher S. Thompson, The Tour de France: A Cultural History, 2006). L'Équipe has also stimulated international sporting competitions in football (soccer), basketball, and skiing: drafting a template in 1955 for the football European Champion Clubs' Cup, popularly known as the European Cup, and then the UEFA Champions League, first contested in 1955–6; providing the trophy for the European Cup for Champion Clubs, an annual inter-club competition for basketball clubs first staged in 1957–8; and innovating and sponsoring (jointly, with a mineral water company) the World Alpine Ski Cup in 1967.

The longevity of the dominance of L'Équipe, despite challenges from rivals and dips in circulation figures, constitutes a form of monopoly; economists identify market dominance when a company secures at least 50 per cent of sales, and in France at the end of the 1990s Amaury/L'Équipe held more than 70 per cent. In this sense the group defies any neoclassical model of perfect competition, representing a ‘compulsory partner for readers, for the sports movement and for advertisers;…even more so, since this hegemony is enduring, even growing’ (Frédéric Bolotny and Jean-François Bourg, ‘The Demand for Media Coverage’, in Wladimir Andreff and Stefan Szymanski, eds, Handbook on the Economics of Sport, 2009). In achieving this hegemony, L'Équipe has exploited to the full its combination of quality production and low price (there was no increase in daily price between 1988 and 2002, and sometimes prices were actually lowered). Defending its monopoly in 1987 when a potential rival Le Sport was launched, it introduced layout changes, new headings, colour, more pages, and added to its staff and correspondents throughout the world. By 2003, its sales stood at 327,000, and the Amaury group was embracing rather than jeopardized by the internet; its website L'Équipe.fr was a market leader with sixty million hits per month. Amaury also established specialist titles for football, tennis, and cycling, as well as its magazine edition, and its own television channel. It could generate as well as report the sports news; and at special moments, such as the victory of the French men's national football team at the 1998 World Cup, achieve astronomical one-off sales of more than a million and a half. The story of L'Équipe's dominance in its national market, and its role in the emergence of international sporting competition for more than a century, is an illustration of the economic and entrepreneurial influences on the making of modern sport culture.


Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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