The funny love story between the L’Equipe channel and the French biathlon

Posted on February 8, 2023 at 11:30 am

Fir forests, the dull and regular screeching of skis in the snow and the suspense of a target shot, the result of which could put the race back into play… During the next twelve days, biathlon fans will be partying. on the L’Equipe channel, which will offer 50 hours of live coverage, or more than four hours a day for the duration of the world championships (also broadcast on Eurosport) that begin in Germany this Wednesday.

If channel 21 of TNT offers that coverage to the event, dispatching 30 people on site, it is because the biathlon has become one of the pillars of its offer. “For us, football and biathlon are on the same level,” says the director of the L’Equipe channel, Jérôme Saporito. “In terms of hourly volume, it is even the number one sport. »

It was in 2015 that the channel opted for this less practiced sport than alpine skiing, but where the French also shine. With the support of the French champion Martin Fourcade, favorable to the exposure of his discipline, he then recovered from the EBU (European Radio-Television Union) the rights to broadcast the World Cup and the world championships for a free channel: the contract. was renewed at the end of 2021, until 2026.

Audiences multiplied by five

Audiences start very low: around 200,000 viewers for the first broadcast of the race. But they go up over the years. “In 2022, 18 races have exceeded one million spectators,” says Jérôme Saporito. The most important ones even gather 1.5 million followers in front of the screen, placing TNT channel 21 among the Top 3 channels on certain Sunday afternoons.

This jump owes a lot to the performances of French biathletes, from Martin Fourcade, thirteen-time world champion, to Quentin Fillon Maillet, five-time Olympic champion in 2022, through Julia Simon, current leader of the World Cup overall classification.

But these would not have such an echo without the editorial work of the L’Equipe channel. “With a race of one hour, we have built three hours of program, with special correspondents for each round of the World Cup, it is a real editorial investment”, insists Jérôme Saporito. Some spectators also enjoy simply looking at the beautiful mountain scenery, like in front of the Tour de France.

Biathletes are delighted. “It had a real democratizing effect on our sport,” says Arthur Boeuf, a former member of the French national team and now a consultant for the L’Equipe channel. There are more and more requests for initiation, supported by the craze for Nordic skiing, the practice of which exploded in the winter of 2020, when the health crisis put the ski lifts on hold.

“With the increase in audiences, it was also easier for the athletes to sell themselves” to the sponsors, says the former biathlete. The numbers increase and the young have less difficulty finding a partner for their headband. However, nothing spectacular. “To make a living from biathlon, you always have to be among the four or five best French,” he recalls. Notice to fans.

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