LONDON (Reuters) - The Tour de France cycling race will remain on free-to-air television in major European markets including Britain and Italy until 2019 after organisers agreed a new broadcast deal on Monday.
Commercial broadcaster ITV will show the three-week Tour in Britain, while state-owned RAI will screen it in Italy. Pay-TV companies have made big inroads into the sports rights market in those two countries.
British riders from Team Sky, backed by BSkyB, have won the Tour in the last two years but the pay-TV company has been unable to secure live rights to the event.
"We are clearly in the midst of a golden era in cycling in Britain and, more than ever before, the Tour De France is a landmark event in the sporting calendar," said Niall Sloane, ITV Director of Sport, welcoming the deal.
ITV has shown the race since 2002 and has benefited from a surge in interest in the sport in Britain, propelled by the Tour wins for Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in the past two years.
The agreement was signed by Tour organisers ASO and the European Broadcasting Union, an alliance of broadcasters across the continent. Eurosport will continue to show the Tour in more than 60 countries under the new terms.
Illustrating the expansion of broadcast technology, rights holders will be able to offer the Tour and a number of other major cycling races online, via smart phones and through social media networks.
(Writing by Keith Weir, Editing by Clare Fallon)